While the rest of us were saying “Happy New Year!” (except for Ohio State Buckeyes fans), Dale Hatfield was undoubtedly still toasting the Happy Old Year.
That’s because 2022 certainly ended on a winning note for Hatfield.
Hatfield collected $24,147 for emerging victorious on New Year’s Eve in December’s $50,000 Guaranteed Month-End Blowout. And it was a blowout, indeed, as the final purse swelled above $60,000. Hatfield recorded 3 winners and a runner up that included Tiz No Clown ($51.80, $12.20) in the 7th at Laurel.
Actually, Hatfield got another $500 since this was his second Saturday HT Tour event win of the year.
Now here’s where things get a bit freaky.
Hatfield’s two Saturday triumphs came in the very first HT Tour game of the year…and the very last one. That’s right…he won on Saturday, January 1, 2022 and on Saturday, December 31, 2022. Something about New Year’s weekend must agree with him.
But wait (as they say on the informercials), there’s more. Hatfield’s weekend saga isn’t quite complete.
Hatfield played his same Month-End Blowout picks in Saturday’s $165 NHC Pick & Pray and wound up with a coveted seat for this March. Joining Hatfield at the big dance in Vegas will be runner up Michelle “Sermon on the” Mount. She had just two winners on the day, but one of them was Tiz No Clown in Maryland.
Hatfield’s triumphs represented a couple of our Saturday highlights but, of course, the featured-tourney week began on Wednesday, when the big winner was Mike “Lifestyles of the Rich and” Famous.
December 28th is a date that will live in infamy for the opponents of Famous, who put up a monster score of $143.20 (the highest of the week) and counted Hoku ($39.40, $12.40) in the 7th at Tampa among his 4 firsts and 2 seconds. The six collections earned Famous $4,074 in Wednesday’s $5,000 Guaranteed cash tourney, which closed its doors with a total of $9,055 in the till.
The $250,000 Guaranteed Flo-Cal Faceoff will be upon us in just a couple of weeks. Last week, 18 players earned $1,500 spots in the first leg of the 2023 Tourney Triple series. Four of the 18 did so on Wednesday.
Congratulations to Peter Osella (2 wins, 1 place), Jeff VanDrie (2W, 2P), Brian O’Kane (3W, 2P) and Nick “529” Fazzolari (3W, 3P). They were the four who managed a score of $80.00 or higher.
Thursday belonged to Tim “Moose” Haas.
Haas brewed an intoxicating concoction of 2 places followed by 3 winners (in the final four races) to author a complete-game victory worth $4,323 in Thursday’s $6,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which had a final pot of $9,608.
That wasn’t all Haas won on Thursday, though.
He used the same picks to similar success in Thursday’s Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier, which also saw Jose Giron (2 wins, 1 place) and Chris McDonald (also 2W, 1P) exit with $1,500 seats as well. The big horse for all three was Thrilling Baby ($49.20, $18.80) in the 9th at Gulfstream.
Haas didn’t enjoy the same degree of dominance on New Year’s Day, but he certainly didn’t go home empty handed on Sunday.
The scoring for Haas (3 firsts, 3 seconds) was a bit more front-loaded on Sunday compared to Thursday. Here, he pocketed $4,986 for finishing best of seven in the day’s $7,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney.
On Friday, four more skillful players added their names to the roster of participants for the January 14-15 Flo-Cal Faceoff…led by Patrick “Gino” Gianforte.
The biggest-returning horse on Friday came in the final contest race. It was One Silk Stocking ($16.60, $5.40) in race 7 at Santa Anita. Gianforte (4 wins, 2 places), John Vail (also 4W, 2P), Anthony Schiavone (3W, 2P) and Shad Walton (3W,2P) all had the Great Race Place 7-1 victor, and they all will move on to the big money game here a week from Saturday.
Gianforte will also have action in February down at Tampa Bay Downs.
By the narrow margin on 20 cents, Gianforte finished second to 2022 Players Championship champion Riley “The Glide” Drexler in Friday’s qualifier to the February 10-11 Tampa Bay Downs High Rollers Contest. There were enough entries to allow for the dispersal of two $1,000 entries, though, so Drexler and Gianforte will each be doing battle at the Oldsmar oval.
Eric Kurzhal didn’t have the 7-1 “blockbuster” at the end, but he did find 5 winners and a runner up from the first 7 contest races.
That gave Kurzhal a victory worth $10,099 in Friday’s $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray. Plus Kurzhal received an extra $500 for landing his second Friday HT Tour win of the year. (Nothing like cutting things close!) Turnout was heavy in this competition with the final purse adding up to $22,443.
Friday’s high score was on display over at HorsePlayers, courtesy of Kevin Engelhard.
Engelhard was playing mainly for NHC Tour points in the $75 NHC qualifier on Friday.
That left the three available NHC seats to the 2nd-, 3rd- and 4th-place finishers Anil Ilan (5 wins, 0 places) Christian Jones (4W, 3P) and Kevin’s brother Robert Engelhard (5W, 0P). Kevin and Robert had four horses in common on their respective 10-race scorecards—and all four of them won. Time to start checking who they both like they next time they are entered in a Pick & Pray!
Saturday’s 12-race multi-track menu was reduced to nine races with the premature termination due to fog of the Aqueduct card. We already know that the reduction didn’t bother Dale Hatfield one bit, but he did not have the top score on Saturday. That honor belonged to Malcolm Esquerre.
A $10,000 seat to the 2023 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge also belongs to Esquerre after he scared up 6 winners out of 9 opportunities during the abbreviated slate.
The other Saturday feature at HorsePlayers, a $165 NHC qualifier restricted to non-winners of a 2023 seat (other than maiden, claiming or starter) went to Paul Winandy.
Like Esquerre, Winandy had Tiz No Clown ($51.80, $12.20) in the 7th at Laurel on his scorecard. Winandy finished the afternoon with 4 firsts and 2 seconds.
Four more players reserved a place for themselves in the $250,000 Guaranteed Flo-Cal Faceoff by exceeding the $50 mark on their scorecards.
Congrats to Anthony DeCaspers (2 wins, 1 place), Clint Littlejohn (2W, 0P), 2021 NHC Tour champ Kevin Costello (4W, 2P) and Stephen McNatton (2W, 2P).
Two players punched their tickets on Saturday to the January 28 Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship.
Stephan Gravina did so with just 1 winner and 1 place. So you know he had Laurel 24-1 race 7 winner Tiz No Clown. Perhaps afraid of clowns, Terry Jerge (3 firsts, 2 seconds) did not come up with the Laurel longshot, but he still managed to grab second and the other available $6,500 Pegasus package.
Mark Richards smoked out Tiz No Clown—one of his two winners on the day.
Richards thereby earned himself a $1,000 entry for the on-track Tampa Bay Downs High Rollers Contest on February 10-11.
Stephen Lerma had Tiz No Clown plus one other winner and one runner up.
Lerma will be heading to Sam Houston Race Park on January 28 with his entry to the NHC qualifier there that day already paid up.
The Saturday $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray was a near sellout with 19 entries in the box.
“Battlin’” William Smith (a close third in the Pegasus qualifier) took advantage of the strong attendance by picking 3 modestly-priced winners and another 3 runners up, and he enjoyed a New Year’s Eve payday of $13,536 in a game ultimately worth a total of $19,337. A $4.20 place collection in the final race made the difference for him versus Tim Haas, the only player close to Smith in this one. Haas bagged another $3,867 here to go along with his Thursday and Sunday victories. Thus, the Haas haul for the week was $13,176 in cash plus the $1,500 Flo-Cal berth.
Travis Pearson finished 2022 as the year’s HT Tour champion. For that, he gets $20,000 in cash, an entry in the 2023 The BIG One and two entries in a free private tourney later this month amongst the Tour’s top 50 finishers.
(Incidentally, players will have 48 hours to dispute any HT Tour points discrepancies they see in the standings once tall of the tabulations are complete. So if you see something, say something!)
Who’s leading in the 2023 HT Tour standings, you ask? Why it’s Kirk Tesar!
Tesar assumed the (very) early Tour lead by racking up the day’s high score in winning the New Year’s Day $20,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.
He did it with 3 firsts—including Dreaming of Kona ($41.40, $15.00) who got put up via DQ in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream after a pretty terrific piece of race riding from Scott Spieth(!) Tesar added 3 runners up along the way and wound up earning $12,993 from a total final pot of $28,875.
Lucas Van Zandt (3 wins, 2 places) and Ilan Cuellar (3W, 1P) both profited from the Dreaming of Kona elevation to first place.
They were the two to pick up $6,500 packages in the Sunday qualifier to the Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship.
Raj Satyan romped by $46.90 in Sunday’s Flo-Cal Faceoff play-in.
Satyan’s 3 wins and 2 places included Dreaming of Kona, and he finished with a total of $134.50. The two other $1,500 seat winners—Jayson “Radio City” Rockett and Damian Terenzio—were back in “the 80s.” Terenzio came from absolutely nowhere to finish 3rd…thanks to having victorious Aqueduct race 9 bomb Prince of Joy at 32-1.
Ron Kaufmann (4 firsts, 2 seconds) also came up with Prince of Joy.
The cap horse helped Kaufmann get home first in Sunday’s Tampa Bay Downs High Rollers Contest qualifier.
Dreaming of Kona may have his Ohio connections dreaming of the Kentucky Derby. He definitely has Cal “Frontier” Jestice dreaming of Sam Houston.
Jestice booked 2 winners and 2 runners up to land a $1,000 entry to the January 28th contest in the Lone Star State (though not at Lone Star Park).
Max Schnepf is dreaming of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.
All four of his winners—including Dreaming of Kona—in the $500 Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers paid double digits. To that quartet, Schnepf added one place collection, and that got him home first for the $10,000 entry. John Kennedy checked in 2nd to grab a $5,000 partial entry.
There were two NHC qualifiers at HorsePlayers on New Year’s Day.
With a score of $136.00, David Barnier led the $100 Pick & Pray that drew 328 entries and guaranteed three seats.
The other two March 2023 seats went to Amy Brantley (4W, followed by 2P) and Joseph Johnson (4W, 1P).
The other Sunday NHC play-in at HorsePlayers was a $500 Low Ratio affair that attracted 32 entrants.
The winner was Matthew Ache, whose score of $135.30 was just 70 cents short of David Barnier’s total in the crowded $100 qualifier. Those Low Ratio games can sometimes be pretty darned tough in their own right.
Thanks to all of you for closing out 2022 and ringing in 2023 with us last weekend. Next week promises to be pretty exciting as well, what with the final weekend of Flo-Cal qualifying and all. Hope to see many of you then. Happy New Year!