It was like the storm before the storm.
On the weekend prior to the Spa & Surf Showdown, several players served notice that they were at the top of their games heading into the big all-cash game whose guaranteed purse is now up to $336,000 (and counting).
Most weeks, it seems clearer to start these recaps at the beginning of the week and move forward in chronological fashion. This week, though, it seems the only appropriate place to start is at the end…on Sunday…when one familiar name clearly stood out—Brian “BC” Chenvert.
Most of the Sunday features were Pick & Prays, and here’s the scorecard Chenvert submitted for those tourneys.
The two places followed by three winners got Chenvert $12,632 in the day’s HT Tour event, the $20,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray (final purse: $31,581).
They also got him a $5,000 seat to the August 22 Pacific Classic Betting Challenge.
Chenvert also picked up $2,600 in entry fees to the Kentucky Downs Turf Handicapping Challenge and a $3,500 Keeneland seat for two more victories.
In each of those last two cases, Alexa Zepp finished right behind Chenvert, and so she won those Kentucky Downs and Keeneland prizes as well.
The good times for Chenvert carried on at HorsePlayers in the day’s two features, which were both Live-format tourneys.
In the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio game, Chenvert lost about $30 in scoring compared to his Pick & Pray selections, but he still had enough at the end to secure the $10,000 seat. Runner up Jaime Rivera left with a $5,000 partial entry.
Chenvert left nothing to chance in Sunday’s NHC Pick Your Year qualifier. He put up a score that exceeded even the high bar set by his Pick & Pray choices.
David Nelson (4 wins, 0 places) and Ron “Blame it on” Rios (3W, 4P) finished second and third. And at this point, we must confess that, as of press time, we have no idea how the prizes will shake out. Chenvert is clearly double-qualified for 2022. If he was double-qualified already for this August, then he was playing in hopes of securing NHC Tour points, and the NHC seats (for either 2021 or 2022) would have gone to Nelson and Rios. But those are purely hypothetical possibilities. The NTRA will make the final and official determination.
What we do know is that for entry fees totaling $1,900, Chenvert ended the day with cash and seat prizes worth $32,732 plus whatever he wound up getting in the NHC Pick Your Year contest.
To come across a week when someone had comparable success, one would have to go all the way back to…two weeks ago…when the same Brian Chenvert won five tourneys and picked up grand prizes in three other events. (Those eight successes were amassed over a three-day period, rather than in a single day.)
It has truly been a remarkable run for Chenvert. Well done!
Before we leave Sunday and rewind back to Wednesday, we would be remiss if we didn’t also offer a hearty “Well done!” to Alexa Zepp. As noted above, she earned Kentucky Downs and Keeneland seats on Sunday for finishing second behind Chenvert. She also pocketed $1,579 for finishing 5th behind Chenvert in the featured Sunday cash tourney.
In the Sunday qualifier to The BIG One, Zepp took a backseat to no one.
When you win $14,000 in contest seats in one day, you are playing very well no matter what anyone else is doing. Here are the picks that brought so much Zepp’s way.
Another woman had an excellent day on Wednesday, winning two of the day’s four featured events.
Floridian Traci Richards (6 wins, 1 place) picked up a $500 Bally’s NHC First Chance/Last Chance seat as did her closest pursuer, Douglas Schenk (2W, 2P).
Richards’s score was also tops in the day’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier.
She and fellow $2,500 seat winners David Barnier (5W, 1P) and Michael “Copa” Kavana (5W, 1P) all had Vicarage ($12.40, $6.00) in the 7th at Delaware.
The day’s biggest prize winner (and highest scorer) was Craig “Study” Hall.
Hall had Christopher ($23.80, $10.00) in the 7th at Saratoga as his richest collection among 5 firsts and 2 seconds in Wednesday’s $6,000 Guaranteed game. Hall pulled in $3,390 from a total final pot of $7,534.
Joseph Costello also had Christopher as one of his 4 wins and 3 places in Wednesday’s Saratoga-only, full-card Bally’s qualifier.
For Costello, it was the third $500 Bally’s entry he has won in the past two weeks.
Dan “Chevy” Camoro was the high scorer on Thursday.
He picked 7 winners out of 10 races and bagged $3,888 in Thursday’s $5,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a pot of $8,640.
One key for Camoro was lead-footing the gas pedal as soon as they opened the starting gates.
Brian Noyes won Thursday’s Saratoga-only, full-card qualifier to the Spa & Surf Showdown.
Noyes counted Panster ($23.40, $10.40 in race 4) as his biggest connection amid 4 winners and 2 runners up.
There were two Bally’s First Chance/Last Chance qualifiers on Thursday.
Derek Huneau registered 2 winners and 4 places to take first in the Saratoga-only play-in while…
…Keith Nodskov accounted for the multi-track Bally’s qualifier by virtue of his 3 wins and a place—a tally he achieved despite whiffing on the first 4 of the 10 tourney races.
We lead off our look back at Friday’s features with Howard “Big Bucks” Welsh—yet another who had himself quite a nice weekend.
Welsh punched his ticket to the Spa & Surf Showdown thanks to a triumph in Friday’s Saratoga-only qualifier.
Welsh’s biggest producer among 4 wins and a place was Fast Boat ($23.80, $12.80) in race 9.
He had an even bigger winner at Gulfstream while winning Friday’s $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.
Hardly Social got it done for Welsh in a big way, taking the final tourney race, race 10 at Gulfstream, and landing him the top prize of $9,276 in an HT Tour event that closed with a final purse of $20,615. Here is how he amassed the top Friday score:
Of course, they don’t call him “Big Bucks” Welsh for nothing.
Welsh came back on Sunday to live up to his nickname and capture the $7,500 Big Bucks event on the strength of 2 wins and 2 places. His big horse this day competed at Ellis Park where Bluegrass Parkway ($28.20, $8.80) took the 9th race. This victory meant another $7,124 for the Welsh coffers. (Final purse for this one came to $10,177.) So all in all, Welsh won $16,400 plus that $2,500 Showdown seat. Not a bad weekend’s work!
Welsh wasn’t the only Spa & Surf Showdown seat earner on Friday. We had four such winners in our multi-track qualifier that day.
First-place finisher Richard Reese had Fast Boat as his top producer of 5 winners and 1 runner up. Fellow seat earners Crystal Andaur (5W, 1P), Peter Cowan (3W, 1P) and Clint Littlejohn all owe a tip of the cap to Hardly Social.
Friday was our first qualifier to the Del Mar Pacific Classic Betting Challenge on August 22nd.
We don’t have a screenshot of the leaderboard for this one, but we do know that Preston Simms took this event down with a score of $89.10. He will now take on Brian Chenvert and the others at the “PCBC” with his $5,000 entry fee already covered.
There were two customary features over at HorsePlayers on Friday.
Christopher Olsson (was just playing for NHC Tour points, so that left the cut-rate 2022 Vegas spots to Clint Anuszewski (4 wins, 2 places) and Michael Teal (also 4 wins and 2 places). Surprisingly, Teal did not pick a single #9 horse in any of the 10 races.
Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge play-in went to Jeff Joffrion.
Joffrion hit the last two races (which paid $8.00 and $30.80, respectively, in the win hole) to finish with 2 wins and 2 places and eke out a $1.70 victory over Thomas Michael Abinanti.
There were two Bally’s NHC First Chance/Last Chance qualifiers on Friday.
Jeff Sandler (5 wins, including 4 in a row at one point) and Kevin Engelhard (2 wins, including Hardly Social at the end) were the two to garner berths in the multi-track version…
…while Ed Peters (3 wins, 1 place) ruled the roosting the Saratoga-only session. Peters started very quickly in this one with Barone Cesco ($24.60, $10.40) in the Spa opener.
Peters came right back on Saturday and grabbed himself another Bally’s First Chance/Last Chance spot.
Here the New Hampshire native finished second to Dino Herrera (3 wins, 3 places) to grab a berth along with third- and fourth-place finishers Ken Jordan (6 wins and 1 place) and Chris Podratz (4 wins and 3 places, including collections in the final 6 races).
Saturday’s Saratoga-only Bally’s qualifier was Neal Metzger.
Metzger had just 1 winner (plus 1 place), but it was a dandy—State of Rest ($44.20, $18.20) in race 9, the Saratoga Derby.
There were also a pair of Spa & Surf Showdown qualifiers on Saturday.
The Saratoga-only edition saw Peter Rinato and Brendan Fay advance to next weekend’s big-money finals. Rinato had 3 wins and a place—all within the first 5 races—while Fay had State of Rest as one of his two winners that went along with one runner up.
Meanwhile, Jimmie O’Nail (3 wins, 4 places) led the way in the multi-track Showdown play-in.
Justin “How do you” Dew, Craig Hom and Mike Lazarus snatched up the other three available $2,500 entries.
Those second- and third-place finishers, Dew and Hom, played prominent roles in Saturday’s NHC qualifier.
Both Dew (3 wins, 3 places) and Hom (3W, 0P) had the Joseph O’Brien-trained longshot State of Rest, and that may have sent them into a state of frenzy during their successful quest to land 2022 NHC seats.
A familiar name—and voice—won Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray.
Vic Stauffer, track announcer at Oaklawn Park, hit State of Rest plus 2 other winners and 2 runners up to collect $11,398 from a final pot of $16,284.
Michael Illies came up with 3 wins and 2 places in the Saturday feature at HorsePlayers.
And the good folks at Breeders’ Cup came up with a $10,000 BCBC seat as Illies’s prize for his handicapping acumen.
Neither Michael Pallidine (2 winners)…
…nor Michael Murphy (3 winners)…
…managed to go 4-for-4 while winning our weekend $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourneys. So next Saturday’s Jackpot will start out at $697.
The high score on Saturday was turned in by Jorge Cruz-Aedo.
It is, therefore, somewhat fitting that “Smooth Cruz” got the largest Saturday reward.
Cruz-Aedo finished with 5 wins and a place in taking home the winner’s share of $17,980 in Saturday’s $30,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray (an HT Tour event), which closed with a purse of $39,957. (And there was Justin Dew again with another nice return…$7,192…for finishing second.) All five of Cruz-Aedo’s winners, including 21-1 State of Rest at Saratoga, came within the first six contest races.
We saved Cruz-Aedo for last in our Saturday recaps, because the Texan makes for a nice segue into the Sunday recaps.
Cruz-Aedo got a Sunday Spa & Surf Showdown seat to go with his Saturday cash for finishing second to Michael Somich (3 wins, 1 place) in the day’s Low Ratio qualifier.
As for Somich, he showed himself to be a man for all ratios.
The same picks that got Somich a Low Ratio Showdown seat earned him a “regular ratio” seat as well for his 4th-place finish here. Leading the way in this $147 play-in was Rich Roomey (3 wins, 2 places) followed by fellow $2,500 seat earners Thomas Blosser (winner of the 2020 Flo-Cal Faceoff) who had 3 wins and a place and Mike Lazarus (2W, 2P). So for Somich, it was two Spa & Surf entries in one day and for Lazarus, it was two Spa & Surf entries over the course of two days.
There was also a Saratoga-only Spa & Surf Showdown Sunday session. It was won by Matthew “Hey” Abbott with 2 wins and 3 places.
Abbott took full advantage (maximum advantage, really) of one of the races not in our Sunday featured schedules. He nailed Robertino Diodoro-trained first-time starter Dream Lith ($75.00, $22.20) in race 6 at the Spa.
Dream Lith was also the heavy lifter for James “The Big” Appell.
The David Cohen-piloted longshot was one of 4 winners and 3 places racked up by Appell in Sunday’s Saratoga-only, Bally’s First Chance/Last Chance qualifier.
We also offered a Sunday multi-track Bally’s qualifier that saw four players grab $500 entries for NHC Eve.
Congratulations to Evan Trommer (4 wins, 1 place), Kevin Engelhard (4W, 2P), Gregory Callawag (3W, 2P) and Robert Engelhard (3W, 3P). For the record, the Engelhard brothers had but one pick in common throughout the 12-race Pick & Pray.
One quick aside: Danzigwiththestars won the 10th race at Saratoga on Sunday at 10-1. It was not only the gelding’s second win at this year’s Spa meet (I’m not sure any other horse has done that yet), both of those wins came in the day’s last race…both with respect to the Saratoga card AND our featured tourneys on those days. So if Danzigwiththestars runs again at the meet, and it’s the last featured-tourney race of that day, play him!
I didn’t really expect it coming in, but the exploits of so many this past weekend have me extra excited to see what will be in store for the Spa & Surf Showdown this weekend. Scott Carson and Chris Larmey will be at the ready to provide you with a special Sport of Kings webcast on both days (Saturday and Sunday)…and I’ll be busily preparing my toughest questions to ask the winner on Monday or Tuesday during one of my hard-hitting interview sessions.
Joking aside, thanks to all of you for a really interesting weekend. It makes the write-ups all the more fun for me As usual, the featured-tourney week begins anew on Wednesday. Good luck to all those who play.