After a few weeks on ice due to the Winter Olympics, “Horseplayers” returned to the track on Tuesday night for another round of big-payoff hunting on the Esquire Network by the show’s intrepid prognosticators.
There was some good news to report at the start – at least in terms of world politics. It seems the always-eccentric Christian Hellmers made it back to the United States from a trip to Ascot in the previous episode without straining diplomatic relations with Great Britain.
He and some of the other disciples of the past-performances sheets were on Christian’s home turf of California for the Del Mar Handicapping Challenge at the ultra cool and chic place where the turf meets the surf. More of those coveted spots in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association/Daily Racing Form National Handicapping Challenge in Las Vegas were on the line for players willing to ante up the hefty $6,000 entry fee.
Hellmers and young Matt Bernier buddied up for the opening stages of an episode that was filmed on a typically sunny and electric day at Del Mar. Bernier was dressed respectfully for the day at the races in a suit jacket and open collared shirt, while Hellmers apparently had some musical inspiration, though not from Bing Crosby. With his trademark headband in place, he matched it with a ruffled white shirt that was probably acquired in the half-price bin at Prince’s last tag sale and heart-shaped glasses out of the Lady Gaga Collection. Dressed like that, he somehow seemed surprised at one point when someone grabbed his tush. Go figure.
We did get to meet Hellmers’ mother, Georgia, and we shared a sincerely nice family bonding moment when he told her “Did you ever think when you first took me here … that I would spend more time here than any other place on earth?”
Hellmers and Bernier were at Del Mar to warm up for the next day’s tournament by chasing the Pick 6 and both liked Jaycee’s Faith to start the sequence but their choice was apparently more interested in surf than turf – actually Polytrack - as he finished up the track.
As Bernier heads off to drown his sorrows, the scene turns to the rest of the cast. We see “Cowboy” Kevin Cox, undoubtedly from the southwest part of Brooklyn and the winner of the last episode’s tournament, strut into the track, though there’s no mention if he rode out to California on horseback or copped out and took a plane.
He already has a seat for the Las Vegas final so he’s in town “to take everyone’s money,” making this self-proclaimed cowboy more of a Liberty Valance than a John Wayne.
The Cowboy, though, instilled no fear in John Conte, who hails from a different time in Brooklyn, and vowed that after growing up in a pool hall no one could intimidate him. It’s all logical, since judging by the huge magnifying glasses Conte uses, what you can’t see, can’t hurt or intimidate you.
We then find Bernier in the paddock with a date, Molly McGill, he met through Hellmers, who says she likes horses with big butts, methodology no doubt taken from the pages’ of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s handicapping journal.
Molly and Matt bet on different horses. Molly takes 10-to-1 shot Hey Cowboy, who “looks cute,” while Matt, the pro, goes out on a limb with 2-to-1 favorite Inner Groove. Molly’s keen eye for horse flesh prevails as Hey Cowboy wins, though, I cannot lie, the filly’s butt did not appear to be that large.
We then shift gears to see that the always humorous Team Rotondo (Peter Rotondo Sr., Lee Davis and Peter Rotondo Jr.) are spending the weekend making their annual trek to Saratoga Race Course. Upon arrival at their weekend home, Peter Sr. expresses sentiments about the Spa that would have a multitude of others nodding in approval.
“I love it more than anything. I’ve been around the world. I love Saratoga more than anywhere in the world,” he said.
It’s then back to Del Mar, where Cox stays red-hot by amazingly turning three show bets in a five-horse field into a $3,000 payday when his horses run 1-2-3 and the 3-to-5 favorite is off the board, much to the chagrin of Hellmers, who bet the chalk to show, and Conte, who wagered on the second- and third-place finishers to win.
As Conte dismisses Cox’s success by categorizing it as a “blind squirrel finding his nuts,” we jump back to the Spa where Team Rotondo decides to play a round of golf that makes “Caddyshack” look like The Masters.
At Del Mar, Hellmers lets it ride by betting his entire bankroll on Motown Men, who looks so bad during the race that even Conte can see – without his magnifying glass – that he has no chance. When Motown Men flops like a Tito Jackson solo CD, Hellmers is done for the day and singing the blues.
Cox ends the day in second place while Conte is 36th and Bernier bemoans not entering the tournament because he would have been in the lead.
As his consolation prize, Bernier gets to spend the night at a charity event with Hellmers, who does some gyration that was supposed to be “The Dougie” (clearly no one showed him how to Dougie) and is sold for $500 to a woman who gets a date with him – and weekend rights to Conte’s magnifying glass so the poor vision-impaired lass can actually see what she got herself into.
We then turn to the biggest head-scratcher of the series to date as the members of Team Rotondo, despite being in the horseplayers’ nirvana of Saratoga, spend the afternoon in their house competing in an online tournament in a move that should have them stripped of their Spa cards.
Back at Del Mar, nice guy Michael Beychok finishes second with a $400 win bet and Conte busts out on an exacta bet.
We then get the R-rated segment of the show with a “that’s what she said” joke from Molly, Hellmers talking about putting his “balls on the line” and Conte lamenting his lack of bullets – what’s a cable program without some sex and violence? – before most of the crew hits it big when they bet against a bridgejumper’s huge wager that does indeed go awry.
The “Cowboy” fires one last bullet and, unlike John Wayne, misses, winding up seventh but making a new buddy in Beychok.
Bernier had a big day at the windows, but wears a frown as the episode ends because he would have won the tournament if he had enough cash to cover the $6,000 entry fee. He doesn’t get a whole lot of love from his cast mates, but at least he’s spared the knucklehead award for the weekend.
To his credit, he spent three glorious days at one of the world’s most popular racetracks – unlike three other “Horseplayers” who turned into “Housekeepers.”
Until next week …