Stephen Luca Doubles Up; The Stephens Triple Up; Joe Pettit Coming in Hot to The BIG One; Steve Arrison Wins NHC Seats Here and at Indiana Grand (Weekend Recap August 17-19)

Scores were generally tight during a Pick & Pray weekend that saw many tourneys won with late-contest winners. The first such example of this came in our first featured event of the weekend, Friday’s $5,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

Two-time Eclipse Award winning owner Richard Englander led most of the way in this tourney, which ended up with a nice final purse of $9,416. Going into the last race he had a $6 lead, but his Pick & Pray selection for the contest finale at Gulfstream was 45-1, so the door seemed open for at least eight others who were within $25 of first place.

The 45-1 shot was clearly no shot in the dark—he ran a really nice third. That wasn’t enough to add to Englander’s total, though. Still he was able to hold off all others except for Jon Petoskey who had the winner Jingle Bells ($17.40, $8.80). That meant top money of $4,708 for Petoskey…and a still-nice $1,883 for Englander.

Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio qualifier wasn’t nearly as close.

The “Say Hey Kid” Ernest Hey Jr. had three winners, including 16-1 and 22-1 shots, plus a place runner to capture this event by more than $47 to win a well-deserved $10,000 BCBC entry. Anthony “Doczilla” Trezza got hot late in the game to get up for second and earn a $5,000 partial BCBC entry.

The big winner of Saturday was Peter Rogers, who prevailed in the final race of our $17,500 Pick & Pray, which closed with a final pot of $21,169.

According to published post times, the final race of the tourney was the 4th at Del Mar, but in real life, the final tourney race—by one minute—was the 12th at Gulfstream. Rogers had 3-1 winner Peggity in that late Gulfstream heat to get up by $2.00 over Turner West who had to settle for second. The winner’s share for Rogers came to $9,526.

The always-dangerous Steve Arrison had a pretty excellent Saturday.

Steve won our NHC Lower Ratio qualifier over Robert Reidy, who also won an NHC seat. (Reidy was the $8,973 winner of the previous Saturday’s $17,947 cash tourney.)

Getting back to Arrison, he played that NHC Lower Ratio qualifier from Indiana Grand where he was playing in a live NHC qualifier—and that one worked out pretty well for him as well.

So Arrison won two NHC seats in one day. (Perhaps New Jersey native Arrison and the victorious Brooklyn resident Stephanie Davis were trying to extract revenge for Reggie Miller’s conquest of the Knicks back in the 1990s.) And lest anyone think that Arrison got lucky playing the same horses in two different contests, his key horse in Indiana was a 35-1 winner of an Indiana Grand maiden race (which wasn’t part of any HorseTourneys events). Sometimes, it’s just your day.

The other featured Saturday event was a qualifier to the Orleans Fall Classic. This one was close for second, but not for the top spot.

Mr. Lindsay Hurst put up a manly triple-digit score to roll by $26.50. Nick “529” Fazzolari held on for second by a buck in a blanket finish to claim the other $1,000 Orleans package.

There were a pair of featured events at HorsePlayers on Saturday, including a free NHC qualifier.

These free qualifiers are often decided by razor thin margins and so it was again on Saturday. We’re not talking about Hank Uffman’s $7.80 win over runner up Cheryl Knepper…or Knepper’s $2.00 margin over third-place finisher Paul Roth. We’re talking about Roth’s 10-cent difference versus hard-luck fourth-place finisher Dana Garuder. Roth had Peggity in the last race and even after Peggity won, Roth couldn’t have been too confident since the horse was only 3-1 on the toteboard. But Roth got every bit of that 3-1 with an $8.80 mutuel—plus $4.20 to place—to squeak by.

There were no such sweats for Sammy Toups.

Toups won Saturday’s BCBC qualifier at HorsePlayers by $18.40 over Daily Racing Form’s Kenny Peck.

On Sunday, Joe Pettit kept his hot streak going in our 2-seats-guaranteed qualifier to the 2018 The BIG One.

A week and a day earlier, Pettit won $75,000 plus a Belmont Stakes Betting Challenge seat in the Saratoga Challenge. Here, the Charleston, S.C., resident registered three wins—including Blinded Vision, who scored at 14-1 in the 10th at Saratoga—to earn one of two all-inclusive packages to the Sept. 22-23 event. The other was snagged by Buffalo-area native Russell Priola who recorded two wins (including Blinded Vision) and three places.

In our $2,000 Guaranteed Exacta Box tourney, Jason Jordan picked an impressive six winners from 12 races—the most notable of which was his $121.25-for-a-dollar exacta hit in the Spa nightcap. That sewed up first place, and $1,548, for Jason in a competition that finished up with a final purse of $2,212.

Sunday was also the day of our last-chance qualifier to next Saturday’s Monmouth Super Qualifier. Not surprisingly, participation was strong and four $1,000 packages were up for grabs. For reasons having nothing at all to do with the races themselves, I found the results pretty incredible.

It was a Stephen-Stephen-Stephen trifecta. How many times do you see people with the same first name run 1-2-3? Heck…what percentage of people with that name spell it with a “ph” instead of a “v”? (My guess is that, at least in America, the ph-ers are in the minority.) So congratulations to the well-named Messrs. Irwin, Luca and Fitzpatrick. And congratulations as well to a man, William Epp, who was clearly the luckiest of the weekend. He won a $1,000 Monmouth package only because a fourth guy named Stephen didn’t enter the qualifier.

The Monmouth qualifier wasn’t our only “ironic name” finish of the day. There was one as well in the Keeneland NHC/BCBC Challenge qualifier.

This one may not be as obvious to a casual observer but it might be even more amusing to those who follow contest players closely. That’s because runner-up John Nichols is a professional clocker. So that means the two available $3500 Keeneland packages here went to Kloeker and a Clocker.

Using the same picks as in the Keeneland tourney, the Clocker (not Kloeker) had a pretty good run of it as well in Sunday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which finished up with a purse of $14,076.

Here, Nichols’s score of $99.80 was good for second place, behind only victor Howard Welsh, who had Blinded Vision among his three winners and two places. Welsh earned $6,903 for the victory.

Over at HorsePlayers one of our three “Monmouth Stephens” gained an NHC seat as well.

Stephen Luca elevated himself to the top of Sunday’s Stephen class with a runner up finish—good for an NHC berth—behind James Connors, who obviously also punched his ticket to Vegas by coming in first in the day’s “regular” NHC qualifier.

Lastly, in the BCBC Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers, it was Corey Lonberger who ruled the roost.

Lonberger had three winners—yes, including 14-1 wire-to-wire-jobber Blinded Vision…the proverbial speed of the speed—plus two places to earn the $10,000 entry to the rich Breeders’ Cup weekend competition.

Clearly it was a plus to be named Stephen on Sunday—and perhaps Steve (or Stephanie?) on Saturday. But even if you failed those critical tests, we hope you still had some success…or at least enjoyed yourself. Thanks to all for playing.