08/11/2017 10:00AM

Cook scores improbable double in Saratoga contests

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Winning Wednesday’s Saratoga tournament wasn’t enough for Terry Cook, a Baltimore resident and retired auto-industry business owner. He went one better by winning Thursday’s contest as well, giving him more than $73,000 in prizes for the week.

It’s been quite a year for amazing performances in handicapping contests. Back in March, Pete Puhich shocked the tournament world by finishing first and second in the Horse Player World Series. Then in April, Blaise Brucato won back-to-back contests against large fields at Keeneland. Cook matched that impressive achievement at Saratoga this week.

The Saratoga contests each cost $1,000, with $500 acting as a live bankroll and $500 funding the prize pool. Players had to make five wagers of at least $100 on the Saratoga cards.

In Wednesday’s event, which attracted 152 players, Cook finished with $6,890, nearly 14 times his initial bankroll. He got to keep that money and won $17,550 in cash and a $10,000 seat to the Belmont Stakes Challenge next June.

Wednesday was looking like Tony Zhou’s day at first. Zhou had led for most of the day and sat in first place heading into the last race. He opted not to play the last race and let the competition come get him, and that’s exactly what Cook did.

Cook played a $1,100 double win bet, looking to catch Zhou. His $400 on Ouro Verde was a loser, but his $700 win bet on Fairybrook ($8.80) pushed him to the top of the heap. It was a frustrating beat for Zhou, who made deep runs in all three major Triple Crown live-bankroll contests but has yet to find the winner’s circle in 2017. Don’t feel too bad for Zhou, however, since he still won nearly $15,000 on the day.

Christopher Dewey ended up third, with Frank Gryboski Jr. fourth and Eugene Davenport fifth. Last year’s Thursday Saratoga contest winner, Scott Carson, ended up sixth.

On Thursday, noted tournament player Paul Matties Jr. went out to an early lead. As the field of 165 turned for home, Cook’s prospects were not good. After missing with a $750 win bet on the favorite in the sixth race, his bankroll dropped to only $210.

Like many tournament players, Cook often plays with partners. This week, he was the only one of his usual group who could attend the contest. He called his friends Mark Komen, Jeff Komen, Marc Saperstein and Bob Schmidt for advice on how to best play the seventh race and get back into the game.

Cook decided to push all in on a one-way exacta keying the 6-5 chalk, Sudden Surprise, over 36-1 longshot Pegasus Red. The group believed that the track was playing to inside speed and Pegasus Red would outrun the long odds.

That’s exactly what happened. Sudden Surprise won, Pegasus Red held second, and the $2 exacta paid $98.50. Cook’s total stood at $10,342.50, more than 20 times his initial bankroll and nearly $7,500 clear of second.

When the day was over, Cook kept his final bankroll of $10,092.50 plus $19,350 in prize money and a second seat to the Belmont Stakes Challenge.

Randy Gallo and J. Randy Gallo finished second and third on Thursday, with Jose Raphael fourth and Matties fifth.