Sarah Wiener, Sam DeCicco and James Hom Double Up; Michael Pink Earns NHC Berth With an Assist from the “Late Money” (Weekend Recap March 23-25)

There were a lot of Pick & Pray tourneys scheduled last weekend, and that meant good things for those who a) had a good day and b) played more than one event.

The first such example—and the clear star of Friday action—was Sarah Wiener.

Sarah cashed in just three of 10 races, but two of those collections were victories by Luva’s Last Wonder at 30-1 in the 8th at Tampa and a 7-1 winner in the 9th at Gulfstream. That left Sarah with $97.00, which was good for first-place money of $5,044 in Friday’s sold-out, up-to-$10,000 Pick & Pray…

…and also in our first-ever Friday qualifier for the Keeneland Grade One Gamble on April 15th. That gave her a clean sweep of the Friday featured events at HorseTourneys.

It took a lot more than $97.00 to finish “in the money” in Friday’s free, three-seat-guaranteed NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers, though.

Despite Luva Last Wonder’s cap-price win, scores were very tight at the top of this 1,931-entry free for all. In the end, it came down to having final-contest-race winner #2 Tiger Mom in the 6th at Santa Anita ($20.00 to win, $10.60 to place). Congratulations to unofficial (pending NHC Tour membership verification) winners Spencer Caple, Russell Wilkes (red hot of late) and Alan Lynch, who all had Tiger Mom. For Lynch, every dime counted as he snuck into third-place by just 20 cents.

There was another NHC qualifier on Saturday at HorseTourneys. This one was of the “regular,” two-seats-guaranteed variety—but we had enough entries to award three packages.

First-place finisher Joe Johnson did not have the day’s longest-priced winner—38-1 Thru Street in the 10th at Tampa, but he more than made up for that with five winners and three places, topped by Mr. Dougie Fresh who came home first at 12-1 in the 8th at Aqueduct. William Holmes and Tony Calabrese were close behind Johnson in second and third, respectively.

Jimmie O’Nail started slowly, but he finished fast in Saturday’s $20,000 Guaranteed tourney that finished with a pot of $26,461.

O’Nail had three winners and three runners up, and he cashed in four of the last six races—including with bomber Thru Street—to take down the top money of $11,907.

The top score of Saturday was turned in by Jerald Segall in Saturday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble Pick & Pray qualifier.

Segall had four winners (including Thru Street) and one place to score a handy victory. Also earning nice $3,500 packages to Keeneland were Stephen McNatton and Kimberly Shurtleff who finished second and third, respectively.

There were eight featured tourneys across HorseTourneys and HorsePlayers on Sunday, and the results yielded a pair of “double dip” winners. Most prominent of these was Sam DeCicco.

Sam played a strong, three-win-and-five-place entry in our $12,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray that ended up with a pot of $17,775. His score of $98.60 was good for first place and $7,998. That same score also fared extremely well in the third Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier of the weekend.

Here DeCicco, along with runner up John Holmes, became the fifth and sixth winners of $3,500 packages to Keeneland this weekend alone.

James Hom also won a pair of seats on Sunday, but we used editorial license here in giving him second billing behind DeCicco.

That’s because Hom “only” came in second behind Anthony “ATM” Mattera in the day’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier and…

…”only” third behind Steven Doodnauth and John Gaspar in Sunday’s Wood Memorial Challenge contest.

Of course, we’re jesting a bit here. It was a great day for Hom, grabbling two nice prizes in one day. Wouldn’t we all sign up for a day like that?

Robert Buck had a pretty fine day in his own right.

He didn’t bother with place horses…just concentrated on winners…and he had five of those to capture the top spot in Sunday’s two-seat-guaranteed qualifier to The BIG One. Runner up Ken Seeman claimed the other all-inclusive package and will be making a return trip to Laurel for the year’s “High Expectation” event with cash, 10 NHC spots, 10 BCBC entries and 10 HPWS entries on offer to a maximum of just 57 players. The next qualifier (always with two spots guaranteed) comes in two weeks.

Sunday marked our first qualifier to the 2018 Saratoga Challenge, which will be hosted for the first time this year on a Friday-Saturday at the Spa instead of a Wednesday-Thursday.

Congratulations to winners Matthew Baiungo and Angelo Romeo (who was second to Sarah Wiener in Friday’s $10,000 game). They will certainly be joined by many, many other HorseTourneys qualifiers in the weeks to come given the annual popularity of this event which, again, will be split into two single-day tournaments. Of course, all HorseTourneys winners get their entry fees covered for both days (plus an extra $500 for travel).

Our $2,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney wound up with a purse of $2,421, and the competition was closer than the final score might indicate.

John Verdin took home the winner’s share of $1,210, but only after connecting on the final two races of the tourney, cashing for $54.90 and $76.00 in consecutive $1 exacta boxes in the last two stakes at Sunland.

Speaking of Sunland…the Sunland Derby played a key role in Sunday’s “regular” two-seat-guaranteed NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers.

You’ll see that winner Kevin Udlinek (five winners, including last two contest races) had Sunland Derby winner Runaway Ghost. Runner up Michael Pink did not, but third-place finisher Justin Dew did. (So did eventual fourth-place finisher Basil DeVito.)

So?

In Dew’s case, this was a pretty bad beat. It was a live-format tourney, and as the horses began to load into the gate for the Sunland Derby, Dew saw that Runaway Ghost was 7-1, easily a high-enough price to get him into one of the top two slots as long as not more than one of those above him took the same horse.

Only one (Udlinek) did, but unfortunately for Dew, a late odds plunge during the last minute and a half or so before off time knocked Runaway Ghost’s odds all the way from 7-1 to 7-2—which wasn’t apparent to those watching on TV.

Runaway Ghost won the Sunland Derby, and Justin Dew won the battle but lost the war. Or, to spin it more positively, Michael Pink lost the battle but won the war.

We hope your luck last weekend was closer to Pink’s than Dew’s (or closer to Kansas’s than Duke’s). Thanks to all who played.

We’ll check in with Justin in tomorrow’s blog to see what that all felt like in real time.

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