Neal Thomas Takes Back-to-Back Players Championship Qualifiers; Three Sunday Grand Prizes Each for Steve Arrison and Blake Courtney; Reigning NHC Champ Will Now Attempt to Conquer BCBC (Weekly Recap, February 23-27)

It has been a banner 2022 thus far for Neal Thomas. During New Year’s weekend, he accounted for three grand prizes. Last weekend, on President’s Day, he won a Monmouth Pick Your Prize seat plus $9,576 in cash. This past week, he set his sights on the middle jewel of the 2022 Tourney Triple, the April 9-10 Players Championship.

Thanks to 2 wins and 2 places that included a victorious 14-1 shot in the opening contest race, Thomas and Pete Acocella each landed $2,000 entries on Friday to the $350,000 Guaranteed Players Championship.

Rules permit contestants to play as many as two entries in the Players Championship. And when you’re as hot as Thomas is, what choice did he have but to give it another whirl on Saturday?

Different day, same qualifier, same result. This time Thomas booked 4 winners and a place, including two of the day’s three available $20+ victors. Also earning $2,000 seats on this day were the second- and third-place finishers David Barnier (2 wins, 2 places) and Gregory Caliwag (3W, 2P).

It will be interesting to see if Thomas can stay hot for a third consecutive week. If you just zero in on the six days from Monday, the 21st to Saturday the 26th, Thomas collected a total of $15,576 in cash and prizes across his four triumphs.

Who has had an even better 2022 than Neal Thomas? It’s pretty safe to say now—and also for the rest of the year—that no one will have a better 2022 than David Harrison.

There’s the Webster, N.Y., resident accepting the oversized check for $725,000 from Tom Rooney and Keith Chamblin at last month’s NHC. On Saturday, he shrewdly reinvested $179 of those winnings in the day’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier at HorsePlayers.

Harrison had the day’s biggest price—El Pillo ($25.40, $14.80) in the 9th at Tampa—among his 5 winners, and that got him a $10,000 seat to the most prestigious live-bankroll tournament in the world. 

Now it should be noted that Harrison had previously received a 2022 BCBC entry (and a 12-month STATS Race Lens subscription!) as part of his prize package for winning the NHC. So that means that Harrison will be loaded for bear at the next BCBC with two fully-paid-up tickets. What kind of 2022 would that be for Harrison if he were to somehow annex a BCBC title to go along with his NHC and Eclipse Award hardware? Answer: an unprecedented one.

Another of the top performers this past week was Ilan Cuellar.

Cuellar (3 wins, 1 place) got things started right off the bat of the featured-tourney week on Wednesday by taking the day’s qualifier to this coming Saturday’s 1/ST Ultimate Betting Challenge. His three winners came in the contest’s first three races, and no one could catch Cuellar from there.

Cuellar also made himself virtually impossible to beat in Saturday’s NHC qualifier.

He recorded the day’s highest score by nailing all three of the $20+ horses out there on the day.

Also getting a 2023 NHC spot for finishing second to Cuellar was the only other person to break triple digits, Julie Loboyko, who put up 5 firsts and 2 seconds.

Cuellar had the top score on Saturday—but not on Wednesday (when he won the Ultimate Betting Challenge seat). That honor went to Basil DeVito.

It was a bombs-away Wednesday with three of the 10 contest-race winners going off at 49-1 or higher. DeVito came up with two of the three, including 76-1 Tomarie in the contest nightcap from Parx.

The late-game pyrotechnics earned DeVito $3,794 in Wednesday’s $5,000 Guaranteed tourney…which wound up with a final purse of $8,433. 

Like DeVito, Berry McQueen smoked out Blaze Away N Hide ($133.80, $37.20) in the 9th at Tampa.

That bomb plus another winner and 4 runners up made McQueen #1 with a “Bullitt” in Wednesday’s Players Championship qualifier that saw second-place finisher Michael Caposio also earn a $2,000 berth.

Caposio played his same picks back in the day’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble play-in.

The Temecula, Calif., auto executive did not come up with any of the day’s outlandish prices. Instead, he chipped up more modestly with 4 wins and 2 places, and that enabled him to drive off the lot with both the $2,000 Players Championship spot and a $3,500 Keeneland entry.

The other Wednesday feature went to James Morgan.

Morgan’s three winners in this Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier were captained by Fast Payday ($101.20, $36.20) in the 7th at Tampa.

On Thursday, Craig “Home Sweet” Hom punched his ticket to the Players Championship.

Three wins and three places did the trick for Hom en route to the $2,000 “PC” entry.

High score of the day on Thursday was posted by James Lisowsky.

Capped off by 20-1 Charlotte the Brit, Lisowsky’s 4 winners rewarded him to the tune of $4,448 in Thursday’s $6,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed its doors with an eventual final pot of $9,984.

Lisowsky was rewarded further on Sunday.

With 4 wins and a place here, Lisowsky finished in between fellow Players Championship seat winners “Iso” Joe Johnson (5 wins and 3 places, including 6-1 Lady Puchi at the end) and Michael Cherello (2W, 1P).

Darren Rudnick led the way—in winnings and in scoring—on Friday.

Rudnick’s 6 wins and a place got him the up-top money of $9,800 in Friday’s $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, an HT Tour matchup.

The final purse for this one added up in the end to $21,778.

Michael Kiatipis also had a 6-win, 1-place day in capturing Friday’s Ultimate Betting Challenge qualifier.

Kiatipis reeled off 5 winners in a row in mid-tourney.

There were decent prices on Friday, but not huge prices.

Bob Dwyer (4 wins, 3 places) got the job done in Friday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier with his top winner paying a solid but unspectacular $15.40. He moves on to the April 23rd Gamble with his $3,500 entry taken care of.

Mark Wilgard’s Friday highlight came right at the outset.

He had 14-1 Prepare for Glory in the 6th at Tampa on the way to a 3-win, 2-place afternoon that earned him a $2,000 Monmouth Pick Your Prize spot.

Henry Lively (3 wins, 1 place) squeaked by in Friday’s qualifier to the Sam Houston Texas Champions Day contest.

Lively was a narrow $1.40 victor over hard-luck runner up Mark Simonovic.

Entries for the Friday $75 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers continued to move briskly last week.

The headline here is that NHC Hall of Famer Sally Goodall finished first. Sixth in the most recent NHC, the 2020 NHC Tour champ recorded 6 firsts and 1 second on Friday to secure a record 21st appearance in the hallowed event. Here’s a look at her Friday scoresheet:

Also earning 2023 NHC spots for finishing closest to Goodall were Darryl “Lee” Lacy (5 wins, 1 place) and Gregory Lewis (5W, 2P). Goodall, Lacy and Lewis all had Prepare for Glory ($30.00, $6.80) in the first contest race, the 6th from Tampa.

The winner of Saturday’s HT Tour event, our $30,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray was Joe Petrella.

Like Ilan Cuellar, Petrella had all three of the day’s $20-and-up winners. Those were Petrella’s only three collections, but they brought in the day’s top prize of $16,216…in a tourney ultimately worth a total of $36,035.

In an odd twist, the winning score in the 12-entry Big Bucks Pick & Pray exceeded that in the 117-entry, $36,035 game.

Gary Blair (6 winners) was responsible for the gaudy tally. He picked up $8,549 from a final pot that closed at $12,213. And runner up Andrea Walker had an impressive score too. It would have been second in the 117-entry game. Lots of really sharp players in those Big Bucks get togethers!

The two players to exceed $70 were the two to walk away with $3,500 seats in Saturday’s 1/ST Ultimate Betting Challenge qualifier.

Congratulations to Manning Carroll (4 wins, 2 places) and Lawrence Kahlden (3W, 1P).

Tom “Yo MTV” Rapps took the top spot in Saturday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble play-in.

Brett Wiener finished second in the Pick & Pray to also grab a $3,500 Keeneland spot.

Wiener was second to none with those picks in Saturday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier.

For Wiener, it was his second Monmouth seat earned—and the fifth grand prize accumulated over the past couple of weeks.

Neither James “The Greek” Snyder (2 wins)…

…nor Tim Catlett (3 wins), who edged Snyder on Sunday…

…put together a perfect scorecard in taking their respective $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourneys last weekend. So next Saturday’s Jackpot will start out with $656 already in the till.

Two names dominated the Sunday leaderboards. One of those names was Steve Arrison.

Arrison hit 6-1 Lady Puchi in the final contest race to get up late and win Sunday’s HT Tour event, our $20,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

Arrison’s winner’s share was $14,568 from a final purse of $32,375.

The same selections got the New Jersey resident a spot in his nearby Monmouth Pick Your Prize Handicapping Challenge.

While he was at it, Arrison also scooped up a $3,500 Keeneland Grade One Gamble berth. 

Finishing second to also earn a Keeneland seat was Blake Courtney. That was the other name that dominated the Sunday standings.

Courtney had Bettermint en route to bagging $6,411 in Sunday’s $7,500 guaranteed Big Bucks tourney. (Final purse for this was $9,159.)

Courtney will also be a participant in this Saturday’s 1/ST Ultimate Betting Challenge.

So will John “The Clocker” Nichols (6 wins, 3 places), who finished second.

David Long didn’t dominate the Sunday standings, per se. But he has certainly been dominating the Sunday Sam Houston qualifiers lately.

For the second consecutive Sunday, the L.S.U. grad gained a $1,000 entry to the March 26th onsite tournament. In his latest victory, Long amassed 6 firsts and 4 seconds from the 12 contest races.

The prior Sunday, Long secured his Texas Champions Day berth thanks to 8 wins and 1 place.

That means that in his two Sam Houston qualifier triumphs, Long recorded 14 winners and 5 places out of 25 races. His winning score in both instances came to $75 and change. Looks like Long has found a field of specialty!

Over at HorsePlayers, John Nichols (and his 6 wins and 3 places) grabbed a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat to go with the Ultimate Betting Challenge seat that he garnered for finishing second to Blake Courtney.

Nichols will be joined at the BCBC by Low Ratio qualifier runner-up Evan Trommer (6 wins, 1 place).

Last but certainly not least, the Sunday high score of $102.00 was supplied by Kenneth Americh.

Americh can add to his riches should he do well in next January’s NHC.

Also earning spots in what turned out to be a three-seater were Jason Albano (2 wins, followed by 4 places) and Dave Handeland (4W, 1P).

A couple of early heads ups: Qualifiers will continue right through Friday for Saturday’s Ultimate Betting Challenge contest at Santa Anita/Gulfstream/Xpressbet. And Saturday will be the day for the first of four free NHC qualifiers in 2022. (Five seats are guaranteed.) If you are a 2022 NHC Tour member, sign up for the free roll at HorsePlayers before you forget. If you are not an NHC Tour member, you can become one for $50 at NTRA.com. That makes you eligible to win a seat here and elsewhere…and it also secures yourself a place in all four of the free contests at HorsePlayers.

On to March!

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