The BIG One has always been one of Ken Seeman’s very favorite tournaments. He has participated in all but two of them.
“It’s a small field in a big contest world,” he said. “You don’t have players throwing bombs left and right. And I really enjoyed playing it at Laurel with the camaraderie of that smaller group down there.”
Throughout his many contest pursuits—and a professional career that has seen him spend the last 23 years as the Director of Engineering Service for MSG Network—the 59-year-old’s closest friend and confidant has always been his father Jack. Whenever Ken did well in a contest, his first order of business upon returning home to his Wantagh, N.Y., residence was to call his father and tell him all about it.
“My dad has always been my biggest fan,” Ken said.
This past June, Jack passed away, leaving behind—among others—a very devoted son in Ken.
“It was sad, but I was able to be with him for the last couple of weeks of his life through hospice and all of that,” Seeman said, his voice trailing off.
Long before Jack’s passing, Ken’s relationship with his father was such that he would sometimes play horses in a contest if they had “Jack” in their names—even in the NHC.
“For some reason, I still remember playing Jack’s Wild in the Sunshine Millions Turf in a mandatory race at the 2009 NHC. The horse lost, but I really didn’t care.”
As Seeman began preparing for last weekend’s The BIG One, Seeman couldn’t help but think about his father a lot. “Wouldn’t it be great,” he thought to himself, “if I could find a ‘Jack’ horse sometime during the weekend?”
Seeman opened the PPs and—boom—there it was. In the very first contest race, Saturday’s 5th at Laurel, was a horse named Jack Gave Back.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Seeman said. “And the fact that the race was at Laurel, the longtime home of The BIG One just cinched it. As it turned out, the horse was 21-1 and ended up nowhere. Afterwards, I thought, ‘Jack Gave Back was up the track!”
A wasted pick for Seeman? Hardly.
“I know most players would think it’s crazy to give up a play like that, but that’s just me,” Ken said. “I know my dad would have been cheering me on, and when the race was over, I smiled and thought to myself, ‘Okay, NOW I’m into my contest mode!’”
Jack Gave Back may have been up the track, but he got Seeman on the right track. Just four minutes later, Ken pulled the trigger on his second of 12 plays and watched as his pick Forest Drift took the 4th at Woodbine at odds of 11-1. Seeman was on his way.
Seeman zeroed in on mid-range-priced horses that he deemed live. The one exception was 3-1 winner Candy Overload in Saturday’s final race, which enabled him to safeguard his $4,578 Day 1 bonus payout for having the top score on Saturday.
“That was purely a protection play…a most-likely-winner play,” he said. “If I had been 6th or 7th at the time, I never would have played that horse.”
By the end of Saturday, Seeman had recorded four wins and one place—and all of those winners came at Woodbine which, as Quincy might have said, was no accident.
“I like betting into big fields, and there were plenty of those at Woodbine on Saturday. Plus the Saturday Gulfstream turf races had been washed off the grass, and I hadn’t handicapped for wet. Had the Gulfstream races stayed on the turf, I would have played more there,” Seeman said. “The All Optional Live format is really in my wheelhouse, I can play just the races I like, and there isn’t really a need to bomb away. In one race, I noticed that only one person even had a play.”
So while Seeman had to feel good about taking a $20.20 lead into Day 2, his fortunes took a dip after he whiffed on his first six Sunday picks. Nevertheless, he tried to stay optimistic.
“I try to stay even, especially in a contest, and not go on tilt. Halfway through Sunday, I saw that no one was making up any real ground, and I still had the lead. But then Howard hit a couple…”
The Howard in question was Howard Welsh, who vaulted himself into the lead with Fight on Lucy ($32.80, $7.50) in the 8th at Belmont. Seeman was now back in 5th place, $32.80 behind Welsh.
The problem for Welsh, though, was that he had just two plays left with 10 contest races to go…and Seeman had six.
“On Saturday, I pretty much played what I liked,” Ken said. “but going into Sunday, I knew I wanted to save some picks for strategy at the end.
Seeman’s first of those six remaining selections was Small Hope ($13.60, $6.40) in the 10th at Gulfstream.
“When I bet him, he was 8-1, but he went off at 5-1, so you could say I had a small hope for a bigger price there,” he quipped. “I was never going to get off that horse, though. The horse had been running marathons, then had a 2-month layoff, then came back in a 5-furlong sprint, which seemed odd, but the horse was never more than eight lengths behind despite the turnback in distance. Today, he was getting blinkers going a mile with Edwin Gonzalez, who I like. In a contest, I’ve switched off horses many times when the odds dropped only to see the horse go on and win. This horse I wasn’t coming off!”
Small Hope got Seeman up into 3rd position, although Welsh had chipped up with another $11.60 thanks to a place collection in the 10th at Belmont. Still, Seeman now had five picks left to Welsh’s one.
If Seeman thought about chipping away at was now a $23 deficit, the notion didn’t last long…in part because he didn’t really like anything in the late races at Los Alamitos. What Seeman DID like was a horse in the 10th at Woodbine—Silence Breakers.
“Andy Beyer might have referred to it as ‘The logic of illogic.’” Seeman recalled. “The horse had run last year at Woodbine, at the same distance, and ran an 81 Beyer. This was his third start off a long layoff, and I thought that if the connections didn’t think he was ready, they could have found a softer spot. Sometimes I overthink trainer intentions and I’m off base, but I love the concept of “dirty form” because that’s how you get the odds.
The odds Seeman got in this case were 11-1 and he now had a lead he would never relinquish.
He did have a bit of an anxious moment in Woodbine’s 11th race. Now once again the hunted instead of the hunter, Seeman was torn between the #1 horse and the #6 horse. He opted for the 6, True Credit and was disappointed to see once the gates sprang open that Welsh was spending his final play on the 1, Loaded Sniper. But neither horse did much running and Welsh was out of plays. Seeman then used his remaining picks at Los Alamitos as protection against price horses and victory in The BIG One (worth $74,514 plus a $6,000 Pegasus entry) was soon his.
When it was over, Seeman was thrilled.
“It’s my biggest win,” he said. “The BIG One had always been on my bucket list,” he said.
It’s also the most prize money he has ever earned…though he has no immediate plans for the windfall.
“I might treat myself to a new guitar,” he said. “I’m the type of person who has had pretty much the same hobbies since when I turned 18—I workout, I run, I play the guitar and I play the horses.
Seeman is also extremely grateful.
“The support I’ve gotten from my mom, my brothers, my coworkers and other tournament players has been incredible.”
It was a great ending for one of the most respected and well-liked players in the tournament world. Yet one of the ironies of being a lifelong racing fan is that—even more than Silence Breakers or Small Hope or Candy Overload or any of his other winners this weekend—Ken Seeman is likely to forever remember a 9th-place 21-1 shot at Laurel named Jack Gave Back.