Mark Tabakman Takes Big Money Cash Games on Consecutive Days; Three Grand Prizes for 2021 HT Tour Champ Jorge Cruz-Aedo; Brutal Beat in Sunday Monmouth Qualifier (Weekly Recap, March 2-6)

It was a smooth double play turned by Mark “Santana” Tabakman on Friday and Saturday.

In Friday’s HT Tour event, our $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, Tabakman was leading going into the final race, then he put an exclamation point on his triumph by nailing Board Certified ($25.00, $9.80) in the nightcap.

The 4-win, 2-place day earned Tabakman $9,276 from a total final purse of $20,615.

Operating with the nimbleness of a middle infielder, Tabakman received the cash, pivoted, and then threw $1,150 at the next day’s Big Bucks tourney in hopes of completing a difficult twin killing. 

It looked like it was going to be a close play at first, but Tabakman’s attempt was ultimately in time for a $2.60 victory over Michael Somich in the $10,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray that wound up with a pot of $16,284.

The total haul for Tabakman across the two days was $20,675—once again proving the old adage that, at HorseTourneys, double plays are a picker’s best friend.

Like Tabakman on Friday, Ken Zelin had the lead going into the final race of Wednesday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier…and THEN he hit his biggest winner of the day.

Zelin (2 wins, 2 places) earned a $2,000 seat to the June 4th Jersey Shore contest—which can also be played at Xpressbet and 4NJBets.

Drew Keaton (3 wins, 1 place) also had Gulfstream race 8 winner Entwine at the end.

The 8-1 shot got Keaton up for a victory—and a $2,000 entry—in Wednesday’s Players Championship qualifier.

Wednesday’s biggest winner was Ronald Wissig.

Three firsts and two seconds got Wissig the top prize of $3,919 in Wednesday’s $5,000 Guaranteed cash game, which finished up with a total of $8,709 in the kitty.

None of Bill “BC” Chenvert’s Wednesday winners went off at more than 5-1.

Fortunately for Chenvert, he had five winners (plus a place). The six collections added up to a $3,500 Keeneland Grade One Gamble seat.

Thursday was a weird day with Aqueduct not running, Turf Paradise canceling its card due to a problem with its starting gate, and Gulfstream and Sam Houston offering up beaucoup de chalk in the seven contest races that were left.

Given the above, perhaps it is no surprise that John Kennedy’s biggest return came not with one of his 2 winners, but with one of his 3 places. At any rate, pretty is as pretty does, and Kennedy got himself a $2,000 seat to the $350,000 Guaranteed Players Championship once all the chalk had settled.

Michael Lynch Jr. had that same $13.20-to-place horse in the 9th at Gulfstream that Kennedy found.

Lynch (2 wins, 2 places) needed every penny of that $13.20 too. He escaped with a 10-cent margin of victory in Thursday’s $6,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, whose final purse was $7,742. Lynch’s share of that came to $3,483.

On Friday, the final race was key in our Players Championship Pick & Pray.

The two to earn $2,000 berths were David Barnier (4 wins, 1 place) and Marco Cipriani (4W, 4P). Barnier hit Board Certified ($25.00, $9.80) in the 10th at Gulfstream and Cipriani made a $10.00 place collection in the same race to secure their respective prizes.

The first contest race was the best race for John Kaiser, who found himself on a roll in Friday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier.

Kaiser started fast with Hot and Heavy (22.40, $8.40) in the contest opener, the 6th at Tampa, and that proved to be his best return of the day on the way to a $3,500 Keeneland seat.

Steven Culhane’s approach combined the best of David Barnier and John Kaiser. He had both Hot and Heavy and Board Certified.

The bookend winners for Culhane (plus one in between) earned him a $2,000 Monmouth Pick Your Prize Handicapping Challenge berth. 

Over at HorsePlayers, the $75 NHC qualifier was again a crowded function with enough entries to award three spots.

Karen Carey (6 wins, 1 place) led the way a Friday-best score of $133.40.

Also earning 2023 NHC spots (plus a lot of NHC Tour points) were Bradley Cressey (6W, 2P) and 2021 HT Tour champ Jorge Cruz-Aedo (3W, 3P) All three seat winners had both Hot and Heavy at the beginning and Board Certified at the end.

For Cruz-Aedo (who finished 26th in the most recent NHC), Friday’s seat was merely the first of three grand prizes he amassed during the weekend. The other two came on Sunday.

Michael “The Coach” Goodrich (3 wins, 2 places) and Cruz-Aedo (3W, 1P) were the two recipients of $3,500 seats in Sunday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier. None of their combined 9 total collections was held in common between the two players. 

Cruz-Aedo added a winner to his Keeneland scorecard in Sunday’s Sam Houston Texas Champions Day qualifier.

For Houstonian Cruz-Aedo, it was the second $1,000 seat he has earned to the March 26th event—and he certainly won’t have to invest much to get himself to the contest site.

As for Saturday, it was another largely chalky day (though this time we can’t ascribe any of the blame to Turf Paradise). The high score (over 15 races) was turned in by Drew Kocsi in the day’s free NHC qualifier.

It should not be surprising that Kocsi had the day’s one real price, the 12-1 Fitzpatrick (#2) in the 8th at Aqueduct. So did the other four seat winners.

Congratulations to Joseph Cucinotti, Steve Leeper, Gus Meyers and Chad Scianna. Almost incredibly, all five of the newly-minted 2023 NHC participants compiled precisely 7 winners and 3 runners up.

Rick Vasquez (6 wins, 3 places) opened up with 3 straight winners and 4 of the first 5 en route to victory in Saturday’s other feature at HorsePlayers, a $179 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier.

Vasquez prospered without the benefit of Fitzpatrick in the 8th at Aqueduct. Dennis Clark finished 2nd behind Vasquez to earn a $5,000 partial BCBC entry. 

Another who captured a featured event despite missing out on Fitzpatrick was Corey Esquerre. How’d he pull that off? By picking 8 winners out of 12 races!

The high-end handicapping marksmanship came in Saturday’s Players Championship qualifier that saw Tim Moline (5 wins, 1 place) and William Price (5W, 5P) also pick up $2,000 seats for the middle jewel of the 2022 Tourney Triple.

Turner West DID take the more conventional path to Saturday success by picking Fitzpatrick ($26.00, $8.00) in the 8th at Aqueduct.

In all, West smoked out 5 winners, all of which followed his 3 place collections, and he was rewarded to the tune of $18,572 in the week’s richest tourney, our $30,000 Guaranteed cash game, which closed with a pot of $41,272 and doubled as the day’s HT Tour event.

Fitzpatrick was one of two Saturday winners for Stephen Thompson.

Thompson also had 4 place collections—which served as additional shovelfuls of dirt over his vanquished opponents in Saturday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble play-in.

Nick “529” Fazzolari can often be seen at Monmouth Park.

The Garden Stater will be in an especially good mood when there on June 4th for the Pick Your Prize Challenge, however. That’s because his $2,000 entry will be on the house thanks to his 3-win, 4-place performance on Saturday.

Neither Richar Loftus (2 winners)…

…nor David Herberholz (also 2 winners)…

…submitted a perfect ticket while winning the weekend’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourneys. Since no one went 4-for-4, next Saturday’s Pick 4 Jackpot game will begin with a carryover of $864.

On Sunday, the player with the highest score was Dan Horvat.

The showy total earned Horvat (7 winners) a spot in the 2023 NHC.

Joining him there will be runner up Patrick Cronin (4 wins, 2 places). They both came up with Here Comes Bailey ($35.20, $8.80) in the 8th at Gulfstream.

Here Comes Bailey also sent a pair of contestants on to a lucrative future event in Sunday’s Players Championship qualifier.

Congratulations to Anthony Shiavone (4 wins, 2 places) and Nick “48 Hrs.” Noce (2W, 4P). They’ll be playing for a piece of at least $350,000 here on April 9th and 10th.

Michael Gotkin and Jim Trepinski each parlayed Here Comes Bailey into some significant Sunday cash prizes.

Gotkin and his 3 firsts and 4 seconds cashed for $12,107 in Sunday’s $20,000 Guaranteed tourney, which closed its doors with a total purse of $26,906.

Trepinski registered 4 wins and 2 places to take home $5,699 in Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks game. Final pot here was $8,142.

Late-game tension was present in the two Sunday features heretofore unreported.

Max Schnepf (3 wins, 2 places) blocked Becky Mulligan in the final race and thereby held on for a narrow triumph in Sunday’s Low Ratio Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier at HorsePlayers. Mulligan did not go home empty-handed, though. She earned a $5,000 partial BCBC entry.

In Sunday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier—which awarded a $2,000 entry to the player who finished first—Jared Black trailed leader Terry Jerge by $10.30 heading into the final race, the 12th at Gulfstream. 

Jerge’s selection in the race, Righteous Roy, finished up the track. Black, meanwhile, watched as his pick, Eagle Chief, got up to win as the second choice at closing odds of 5-2. Making matters better for Black, it was a 12-horse field, so money in the place pool figured to be nicely spread out. Surely the combined win-and-place payoff on a 5-2 second-choice in a 12-horse field would exceed $10.30, right?


One of the fun things about contest play is that it can give you certain feelings of exhilaration that regular parimutuel play cannot provide. Big contest or small, it’s always a great feeling to see your name on top of a leaderboard—and that’s just one such example.

Unfortunately, it’s a two-way street, and every good contest player knows what that other side of the street feels like. We leave it to the racing gods to make sure some good karma is headed Jared Black’s way…preferably sooner rather than later.