Three More Victories for Ron Tang; Michael Solakis Captures Players Championship Qualifier and Unusally Rich Sunday Cash Game; Louis Masry Wins $16,950 by 70 Cents (Weekly Recap, February 22-26)

It was a re-peat three-peat for Dr. Ron Tang. One week after enjoying three triumphs spread out over two different days, the Southern California oncologist did the exact same thing this past week.

Tang’s broadening portfolio of future contest seats increased by two on Friday.

On a generally low-scoring day, Tang found two $13.00 horses to capture Friday’s 1/ST Ultimate Betting Challenge play-in.

And he utilized the same Pick & Pray selections to annex a $2,000 seat for the June 3 Monmouth Pick Your Prize Challenge. 

Instead of sitting back for a couple of days like he did the previous week, Tang came firing right back the following day.

Buoyed by I’m Buzzy ($27.80, $9.50) in the 7th at Aqueduct, Tang ruled the roost again in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray, which closed with a purse of $16,284. Tang’s winner’s share came to $11,398, and—based on recent results—one can assume that at least some of those winnings will soon be reinvested in additional qualifiers and cash games…and why not? Lately, it seems as if it has been “Tang’s day” as often as not.

Bobby Shoemaker thought it was going to be his day a week ago, but he wound up suffering a tough beat in our Presidents Day cash feature. Shoemaker wasted little time, however, in avenging that setback.

All four of Shoemaker’s Wednesday winners were of the double-digit variety, including Third Moon ($14.00, $7.00) in the final contest race, the 9th at Tampa. That win helped Shoemaker avoid what might have been another frustrating defeat, given that he failed to get a pick in for the next-to-last race, which he was in the midst of his late rally. All’s well that ends well, though, and the triumph brought Shoemaker a payday of $3,639 in the day’s $5,000 Guaranteed tourney, which finished up with a prize pool of $8,087. 

Mark Winland (4 firsts, 3 seconds) also got up late with Third Moon.

He was the recipient of the $3,500 entry in Wednesday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble play-in.

Like Bobby Shoemaker, Keith Allan came up with both of Wednesday’s two biggest prices—Mista Donzella ($29.80, $12.20) in the 8th at Tampa and Random Luck ($21.80, $9.00) in the 10th at Parx.

That performance punched Allan’s ticket for the $350,000 Guaranteed Players Championship here on April 7-8.

Jim Sebes had three late place collections at the end to wind up first in Wednesday’s NHC First Chance/Last Chance qualifier.

Sebes also took fourth with his other entry, which means he hogged two of the four available $500 entries. The other two went to John Behnke and Carl Richard Logan.

There were three First Chance/Last Chance seat winners on Thursday.

Karl Barth counted Mystified ($15.80, $7.00) in the 8th at Charles Town among his 6 wins and a place. He finished first in this rare nighttime feature. The other two to earn places in the NHC Eve contest were Steve Arrison and Robert Fry.

So Barth assured himself of action on Thursday, March 9. And on Sunday, he locked in additional action for March 10, 11 and 12.

Barth nailed Southpaw Mike ($8.40, $3.80) in what turned out to be the final contest race, the 9th at Tampa, and that gave Barth (5 firsts, 1 second) a slim $2.10 victory in Sunday’s NHC Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers.

Getting back to Thursday’s featured tourneys, John Gilpatrick (4 wins, 2 places) was one of 18 who had Broadix ($25.00, $7.00) in the beginning.

However, he was one of the few who had the two $15 winners at the end.

The fast-early, fast-late combo earned Gilpatrick $3,639 in Thursday’s $6,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which paid out a total of $8,087. (Meaningless fun fact: There was the exact same number of entries in Thursday’s cash feature—117—as there was on Wednesday.)

The winner of the Friday featured cash tourney, our $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray that doubles as an HT Tour event, was James Michelson.

Michelson had all three of the day’s $13.00 horses among his 4 winners, and he collected $9,501 in a game ultimately worth $21,113.

Friday’s highest scorer was plying his trade over at HorsePlayers.

George Decayanan had the day’s 4 highest-priced winners, and he finished with an impressive scorecard of 7 wins and a place from just 10 races. That enabled him to get the job done by almost $23 in Friday’s $100 NHC qualifier, which had 177 entries.

Most of Friday’s first-place finishers got there with scores in the 50s. One of them was John Fasola.

Fasola recorded 4 winners and 1 runner up to take home the $3,500 berth in Friday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier.

The two players to crack $50.00 were the two to advance in Friday’s Players Championship play-in.

Kevin Engelhard (4 wins, 3 places) and Daniel Goldstein (4W, 0P) now have a free roll in the April 7-8, $350,000 Guaranteed event, which serves as the middle leg of the 2023 Tourney Triple.

A score of $55.80 landed Daniel Edwards (3 firsts, 4 seconds) atop a pack of six winners of $500 entries in Friday’s NHC First Chance/Last Chance qualifier.

The other five were “The Boomer” George Scott, Stephen McNatton, Ken Jordan, Daniel Kovalesky and Justin Waitekus.

Saturday was the day of our richest guaranteed-money event of the week, our $30,000-certain cash game, which was waged in All Optional Live format with players making 10 plays from a bank of 25 available races. It wound up paying the highest grand prize of the week ($16,950) but it turned out not to be the richest tourney of the week. (More on that later.)

The winner, by a scant 70 cents over Tim Darnell, was Louis Masry, who vaulted to the lead with Run Smitty Run ($39.40, $16.20) in the 9th at Aqueduct. (Darnell had also played Run Smitty Run.)

Because there were 123 entries, our payout formulas dictated that we paid down to 12th-place. Up top, Masry got $16,950 out of the overall prize pool that settled at $37,668.

On Saturday, we hosted our first qualifier for the April 22 Lone Star Spring Betting Challenge.

Wesley Lecroy (5 wins, 1 place) and Ray Barnes (3W, 1P) were the two to come away with $1,000 entries here. They both had Run Smitty Run in the pivotal 9th at the Big A.

Grier Bibby (3 firsts, 1 second) also used Run Smitty Run. 

Bibby picked up a $3,500 seat for this Saturday in our 1/ST Ultimate Betting Challenge qualifier.

The big horse for John Gaspar was I’m Buzzy ($27.80, $9.50) in the 7th at Aqueduct.

Gaspar finished with 3 firsts and 1 second and won Saturday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize Challenge qualifier.

Mark Rudy picked 4 Saturday winners, all of which paid between $14.60 and $27.80.

Rudy was the first place finisher in Saturday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble play-in. There were enough entries here to give out a second $3,500 Keenaland seat, and that one went to runner up Rick “I-65” Broth, who came to a boil with Run Smitty Run.

Joe Johnson had a very nice Saturday.

He (3 double-digit winners and no places) and 2022 NHC Tour champ Jay Johns (5W, 1P…all accumulated over the first 7 contest races) were the two to lock down spots in our Saturday qualifier to the $350,000 Guaranteed Players Championship.

Johnson was also one of six on Saturday to pick up $500 spots in the NHC First Chance/Last Chance contest.

Mike McIntyre led the way in this one with 4 firsts and 2 seconds. Also moving on to NHC Eve as a result of this qualifier were Kirk Rockwell, George Scott (his second NHC Eve seat won in as many days), 2021 The BIG One champ Ken Seeman and Alan Hoffman.

Saturday’s two highest scorers, by a good margin, were the two who emerged with NHC seats in the day’s $210 qualifier at HorsePlayers.

The skillful pair were Chris Grutsch—whose 6 collections (5 wins and a place) came consecutively in contest races 7-11—and Eric Brothers (4W, 1P), whose day was made by Run Smitty Run.

The other Saturday feature at HorsePlayers was a $179 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Pick & Pray.

Mark Stillmock’s 3 winners paid $15.00, $20.80 and $39.40 and to that trio he added a pair of placings to come away with the coveted $10,000 entry.

Michael Somich’s handicapping continues to be very sharp. On Sunday he won our Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier.

Somich (3 firsts, 1 second) had the day’s two biggest prices—Prince James ($24.60, $9.30) in the 6th at Aqueduct and Regal Realm ($27.60, $9.60) in the 9th at Gulfstream.

The same selections also got Somich a $2,000 Players Championship seat.

Let’s focus on winner Michael Solakis here, though. He finished first here by picking 5 winners—which all came within a six-race span…and which included 12-1 victor Regal Realm. Great work, to be sure.

Solakis also finished first in Sunday’s $20,000 Guaranteed cash tourney. This was no “copy-and-paste” deal, though, for Solakis. This tourney was an All Optional Live game, so he could only make his 10 “best” plays…while having to factor in another 15 races. Solakis was more than up to the task.

Not only did Regal Realm “make the cut” for Solakis here, but he also had Backinthewoods ($26.00, $9.00) in the 8th at Laurel—a race that wasn’t part of his 12-race, all-mandatory Players Championship qualifier. One similarity to that game, though, was the fact that Solakis again went on an in-tourney tear. All 5 of his winners came in five consecutive plays. For about an hour on Sunday (roughly the time from the 7th at Tampa through the 9th at Tampa), Solakis was just on fire—and he made a lot of money for that hour.

Which brings us to the next somewhat noteworthy aspect about this Sunday, All Optional Live, HT Tour event. This game outhandled its Saturday counterpart despite this one costing $250 to play and Saturday’s costing $350. Frankly, we’re not quite sure why or how that happened…and we don’t think a Sunday cash feature has ever outdone a Saturday one before. (All theories are welcome. If anything, one might have thought there would be a headwind coming into the weekend as a whole with Santa Anita having to cancel its entire weekend of racing due to weather.)

At any rate, the $20,000 Guaranteed game closed with a final purse of $38,062 (about $400 more than the Saturday game). The only slight negative for Solakis is that—because there were 174 entries on Sunday—our payout formulas dictated that we pay down to 15th. So that’s why Solakis’s winner’s share of $15,225 wound up being a bit smaller than Louis Masry’s payday of $16,950.

Pay tables aside, it might be fair to assume that there might be a shorter wait than normal before our next All Optional Live cash tourneys!

On Sunday, there were actually two All Optional Live cash games. The other was our $7,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks event.

This one did pretty well too with $11,195 winding up in the pot. Here the beneficiary of the high activity was Howard Welsh. He had Backinthewoods at Laurel as the most productive of his 4 winners, and he collected $7,836.

Sunday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize Challenge qualifier (a 12-race, all-mandatory tourney) came down to the 9th at Tampa, the race that turned out to be the final contest race based on actual “off” times.

We don’t know whether Michael Mainzer is left-handed. We do not collect that type of information during the registration process. However, Mainzer (4 wins, 4 places) did have Southpaw Mike ($8.40, $3.80) in that 9th at Tampa, and that got him up and into first so he could take home the $2,000 Monmouth entry.

Dennis Tiernan (4 wins, 0 places) and Todd “American” Faro (3W, 2P) left with the $3,500 entries at the end of Sunday’s 1/ST Ultimate Betting Challenge qualifier.

They both came up with 12-1 Regal Realm in the 9th at Gulfstream.

There were no fewer than eight winners in Sunday’s NHC First Chance/Last Chance play-in.

Howard Johnson finished first after scooping up 5 firsts and 2 seconds. The other seven to advance were Michael Foster, Derek Isenberg, Christopher Dewey, Joe Johnson (his second NHC Eve seat in two days), Luke Peltz, Robert Pennell and Jim Murphy. 

One of the Wednesday First Chance/Last Chance seat winners, John Behnke, got the grand prize in Sunday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio Pick & Pray thanks to 4 wins and 2 places.

Finishing second, which was good for a $5,000 partial BCBC entry, was Dave “Tiger” Williams.

Last but certainly not least, the Sunday high scorer was Janice Fairlie at HorsePlayers in the NHC qualifier that was restricted to those who had yet to land a 2023 berth.

Fairlie hit 4 double-digit winners and added 2 runners up to amass a final total of $125.90. Michael Vitale (also 4 wins and 2 places) finished second and will get only a brief TO before heading off to Vegas and facing off against Fairlie and all the rest.

Thanks to all you for a really rousing week. With big weekends scheduled ahead at Gulfstream and Santa Anita, we hope more of the same is on tap for this coming week. Features start up again on Wednesday. Good luck!