Andrew Walker, Joseph Zuer and Brent Johnson Each Capture Tourneys on Saturday and Again on Sunday; Hat Tricks on Wednesday for Blake Courtney, on Friday for Evan Trommer, on Saturday for Pete Acocella and on Sunday for Dylan Donnelly (Weekly Recap, March 9-13)

With most of the week’s features operated as Pick & Prays, and lots of featured tourneys on the menu, conditions were ripe for aggressive and skillful multi-tablers to rack up a string of victories. 

That’s exactly what happened—and pretty much every day of the week.

We didn’t know it was a trend at the time, but Blake Courtney got the ball rolling on Wednesday, our first day of featured-tourney action last week. He registered the high score of the day in taking the day’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier.

Unlike some who play in multiple contests in a day, Courtney doesn’t always just play the same 10 or 12 horses on every ticket. He likes to mix things up a bit. In Wednesday’s Players Championship qualifier, he had 4 wins and no places (instead of 4 wins and 3 places) and his score dipped a bit compared to his Monmouth tally.

A score of $83.60 still got the job done for Courtney, though, landing him second behind Anthony Schiavone, who rocketed out of the gate with three straight winners, and four winners overall. The two will do battle again in the $350,000 Guaranteed middle leg of the Tourney Triple here on April 9-10.

Courtney’s score dropped even further in Wednesday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier…

…and again it didn’t matter. 

Courtney put up his fourth different score in as many tourneys in Wednesday’s $5,000 Guaranteed game.

This was the one Wednesday test Courtney couldn’t essentially ace, but he hardly got a failing grade, finishing third and adding $822 in cash to his $7,500 in seat winnings. Taking the grand prize of $3,701 in this Live-format tourney that closed with a purse of $8,225 was Dave Wellar (3 wins, 1 place), who shot from 10th-place to 1st at the end by having Mamaigotthis ($22.40, $10.00) in the 11th at Parx.

The big winner—and scorer—on Thursday was Clint Littlejohn.

Littlejohn was the only player in Thursday’s $6,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray to come up with Knight Disruptor ($43.40, $16.20) in the 6th at Sam Houston. That plus two other winners and two places got him the up-top money of $3,203 in a game ultimately worth $7,119.

Basil DeVito didn’t have Knight Disruptor…

…but neither did anyone else in Thursday’s Players Championship qualifier. DeVito pieced things together with 4 modest winners and 2 runners up to secure his $2,000 entry for April 9-10.

On Friday we went back to having another winner in triplicate—Evan Trommer.

Trommer had 3 winners and 2 places to prevail in our first qualifier to the April 2 Florida Derby Challenge. 

Unlike Blake Courtney, Trommer just locked into 10 horses and played them in each event. That strategy (or is it “non-strategy”?) worked just fine in Friday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize play-in.

Ditto in the first qualifier to this Saturday’s Laurel Champions Tournament.

This one also saw Nick “529” Fazzolari (4 wins, 0 places) grab a $500 entry for finishing second. “Nicky Fazz” got up late with Sanura ($11.40, $4.20) in the 9th at Gulfstream.

Another who prospered at the end thanks to Sanura was Anthony Spinazzola (3 wins, 1 place).

Spinazzola was the victor in Friday’s HT Tour event, our $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray. He earned $8,603 from a total final pot of $19,118. Here was his scorecard:

The best scorecard of the day belonged to Cara Yarusso.

She parlayed her 5 winners into a low-cost NHC seat in Friday’s $75 qualifier at HorsePlayers.

Like Yarusso, Pete Sluis (4 wins, 1 place) also had La Costa ($38.60, $9.20) in the 7th at Gulfstream, and he inhabited second place. Buck Waller (6W, 1P) didn’t have La Costa, but a furious late rally in which he swept the final three races allowed him to snatch the other available seat. Combined with Wednesday’s featured cash game, this result ensured a productive week for both…Wellar and Waller.

Robert “Amazing” Grace collected in each of the first 7 Friday contest races.

The end result was a 6-win, 2-place day and a $1,000 seat to the Sam Houston Texas Champions Day contest on March 26th.

The two who came away with $2,000 entries in Friday’s Players Championship qualifier had just one winner each.

Fortunately that winner for both was 18-1 shot La Costa at Gulfstream. Congratulations to Eric “B Connected” Boyd and Riley “The Glide” Drexler.

Craig Siedler counted La Costa among his 2 Friday winners and 2 runners up.

Siedler will be participating in the Keeneland Grade One Gamble on April 23 with a paid-up $3,500 entry.

Make that two $3,500 entries.

Siedler doubled his fun for April 23rd by taking his second Keeneland qualifier in as many days. Pete Acocella finished second with 3 firsts and 1 second.

Those four collections for Acocella also played very nicely in Saturday’s Players Championship qualifier.

There were enough entries to award four $2,000 entries, so Acocella’s 4th-place finish was just fine. Even finer was Stephen Lerma’s 5-win effort that led the way. Jay Johns and Mike Yarusso each picked 3 winners and 1 runner up to finish 2nd and 3rd, respectively

Acocella struck for grand prize #3 on the day in Saturday’s Florida Derby Challenge qualifier.

This time Acocella finished on top of the heap. Brent Johnson compiled 3 wins and 3 places to get the second available $1,500 entry.

Johnson also managed to pull off a victory on Sunday.

He and fellow Laurel Champions Tournament regular Stephen Luca will have their entry fees already covered when they visit Laurel this Saturday for the 2022 renewal of the “LCT”. Johnson posted 3 winners and 0 places in this one while Luca booked 4 wins and 2 places.

Johnson was but one of four players to taste success on both Saturday and Sunday.

Andrew Walker pocketed $14,553 in the weekend’s richest tourney, our $30,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which served as Saturday’s HT Tour event and closed with a purse of $32,340. Here’s a look at his scoresheet.

Despite one fewer hour of sleep than usual on Saturday night, Walker turned around and captured Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney.

Walker recorded 3 winners and earned $5,699 from a kitty that closed with a total of $8,142.

Another Saturday/Sunday victor was Joseph Zuer.

Zuer (3 wins, 1 place) had Beachgrass in the 7th at Santa Anita on the way to winning $9,973 in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks game (final pot: $14,248).

Zuer can realize even greater riches come April 9th and 10th should he annex the $350,000 Guaranteed Players Championship.

He’ll be on scholarship for that competition thanks to putting up 4 firsts and another 4 seconds in Sunday’s play-in for it. John Kennedy got the other available $2,000 berth thanks to 3 wins and 4 places.

The other dual Saturday/Sunday champ was newly-turned $15 Pick 4 Jackpot game specialist Brett Wiener.

After capturing one of these the previous week, Wiener took both this past weekend despite just getting a single winner both times. The Sunday version went to Wiener under even more fluky circumstances—he won a tiebreaker over William Epp based on a greater number of show collections.

At any rate, since a perfect 4-for-4 entry was unachieved last week, next Saturday’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourney will begin with a carryover of $1,188.

Getting back to Saturday action…

The NHC has certainly been kind to Albion Benton in recent years. In 2020 as a relative newcomer to contests, the Manchester, N.H., resident won a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat for finishing first on Day 1. This past January, he stretched his top-flight performance out over three days and finished third overall, taking $150,000 back home with him to the Granite State. 

It’s bad news, perhaps, for the rest of the field, but Benton will be back at the NHC in 2023.

Benton and runner up Robert Fry had both of the day’s real prices—Keen Kingdom ($46.40, $21.20) in the 11th at Gulfstream and Beachgrass ($38.40, $13.20) in the 7th at Santa Anita. Matt Miller (5 winners) just had Beachgrass, but he came away with the third seat.

Benton’s total of $138.20 was the highest all day on Saturday.

The other Saturday feature at HorsePlayers was a $179 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Pick & Pray.

Keen Kingdom was the big horse for Earl Pratt among his 3 firsts and 1 second.

Another successful 3-win, 1-place handicapper on Saturday was Christopher Olsson.

Third in the BCBC play-in, Olsson got the job done in Saturday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier, and so he receives a paid-up $2,000 entry for June 4th.

We mentioned above that Brent Johnson and Stephen Luca are Laurel Champions Tournament regulars. So is Anthony Laurino.

The North Carolina resident can save the $500 entry fee (possibly to spend it on gas instead) thanks to his victory in Saturday’s Laurel qualifier. Laurino nailed 4 winners and 2 places. Also picking up Laurel berths were Bob Bandzwolek (4W, 1P) and Peter Rogers (3W, 1P).

Sunday was the third consecutive day—and fourth out of five this week—in which one player garnered three grand prizes. (The one “outlier” was Thursday…which has plausible deniability since there were only two features that day.) Scoring the hat trick on this day was Dylan Donnelly.

Donnelly only had 2 winners (and no places) on Sunday, but those winners were the day’s two best—If Not For Luck ($24.40, $11.60) in the 6th at Gulfstream and Catch That Party ($36.80, $11.60) in race 7 from the Hallandale, Fla., oval. Finishing second behind Donnelly in this Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier was John Kennedy, who, as noted earlier, also earned a Players Championship spot for finishing behind Joseph Zuer on this day.

Donnelly and his two winners also set the pace in Sunday’s Florida Derby Challenge play-in.

Craig Rowe (2 wins, 3 places) finished second to snag the other available $1,500 seat. Catch That Party was his biggest collection.

Donnelly can play the April 2 Florida Derby Challenge and the April 23 Keeneland Grade One Gamble from home if he wishes, but on March 26th, he’ll be venturing out to the 4th largest city in America.

That’s because his third victory on Sunday got him a $1,000 entry to the onsite Sam Houston Texas Champions Day contest.

Sunday’s high scorer was Michael “Copa” Kavana.

Buoyed by those four consecutive winners, Kavana banked $10,434 in Sunday’s HT Tour event, our $20,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed up shop with a purse of $23,187.

Bernard Reilly earned himself a $2,000 Monmouth Pick Your Prize entry on Sunday.

If Not For Luck was his heavy lifter among two victors and three runners up.

Nick “48 Hrs.” Noce smoked out both If Not For Luck and Catch That Party.

Those two plus one other winners and two places earned Noce a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry in Sunday’s Low Ratio Pick & Pray at HorsePlayers.

In the other Sunday feature at HorsePlayers, John “The Clocker” Nichols opened up with 6 consecutive cashes and went on to capture the day’s $125 NHC qualifier.

Nichols and fellow seat winner Brenton Schraff (5 wins, 1 place) both had If Not For Luck and Catch That Party, though the ride was a bit bumpier for Schraff. He failed to enter a selection for the first of the 12 contest races—due, we’re told, to confusion wrought by last weekend’s time change. And heading into the final race he found himself in 3rd place, still on the outside looking in. He was able to move into second place, however, by using the 1-5 winner (Thrive) of the final contest race…while his opponent had gone with an ultimately off-the-board 15-1 shot.

All’s well that end’s well for Schraff—and we hope he was able to calibrate his clocks and catch up on his sleep on Sunday night.

So ended a fairly wild weekend. The good news is that, around here, we have a “Selection Sunday” every week. And a Selection Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday too. We hope you can join us for more…madness…next week.

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