The BIG One Field Now Set After Hellmers Nabs Surprising Berth; Johnson Takes the Cash and the BCBC seat on Saturday; Gilbert Scores NHC seats on Consecutive Days (Weekend Recap September 14-16)

The field of 52 is now set for this Saturday and Sunday’s The BIG One at Laurel Park. And as one tournament observer commented, late yesterday, “The field may have just gotten a whole lot tougher.”

Many will know Christian Hellmers from his role in the Esquire TV series “Horseplayers.” Others will be aware of him thanks to his win in the 2014 Horse Player World Series…or his back-to-back runner up finishes in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (2011-2012).

At any rate, an appearance by the Rancho Santa Fe. Calif., quantum nutritionist at The BIG One seemed highly unlikely since Hellmers hadn’t played in any of the online qualifiers for the event prior to Sunday. But Hellmers noted the Sunday Last Chance qualifier and also then realized he had just enough money in his HorseTourneys account to cover the $515 entry fee. He also had no plans for the following week, so he gave it a whirl.

It turned out to be a prescient move, as his score of $106.10 was much the best. But don’t go to sleep on runner up Wayne Tam, one of the really consistent contest out there. Hellmers and Tam will join the last two winners of The BIG One (Dan Flanigan, 2016; and Ed Peters, 2017) plus 48 others traveling on all-inclusive packages — including, hotel, travel, welcome dinner and more — this weekend at Laurel. The 2018 field will compete over two days for 10 NHC seats, 10 BCBC entries, 10 Horse Player World Series entries plus a bonus cash pool of approximately $10,000-$15,000.

Should you really want to participate but didn’t manage to qualify, five buy-in berths are available at $5,750 each. They will be sold on a first come, first served basis. If interested, please contact McKay Smith as soon as possible at

Tony Martin got last weekend off to a fast start thanks to his four wins and two places in Friday’s $5,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

Of Martin’s four winners, it was a little old even-money shot in the final contest race that may have been most important. It elevated him to first place and the $5,548 that went with it in a tourney that closed with a purse of $11,097. Travers Day $50,000 Game winner Darryl Lacy finished second to earn $2,219.

Scores were lower in Friday’s BCBC Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers.

Thomas Michael Abinanti (3 wins and 2 places) squeaked out a $2.00 victory to capture the $10,000 grand prize in this affair.

Like a three-point shooter with a hot hand, Joe Johnson (the handicapper) is hard to stop once he gets rolling, and on Saturday, he was rolling.

Johnson picked four winners—including 33-1 shot Tiznow’s Smile in the 7th at Belmont and 22-1 proposition Richie’s Sister in the 9th at Gulfstream—plus two runners up to cash for $11,182 in our $17,500 Guaranteed Pick & Pray that closed with a pot of $24,850.

Johnson then did himself one winner better in the BCBC qualifier over at HorsePlayers on Saturday.

Here he had 5 winners and a place to take the $10,000 entry in what turned out to be a $21,000 day for Johnson.

The famous Joe Johnson who did not win two tourneys on Saturday.

David Sferra and Kevin Willett each hit 16-1 winner Johnny Bear in the final contest race, the 11th at Woodbine…

…and that propelled each of them to victory in our Horse Player World Series entry-only qualifier.

The highest score of the day came in our package qualifier for the October 11-13 Orleans Fall Classic.

Here it was Pittsburgh pain physician Edward Reidy who put the field to sleep with a gaudy tally of $174.80 on four wins and three seconds. Fortunately for Terry O’Connor, there were enough entries to award a second $1,000 package, and he grabbed that one with a score of $129.40.

Back over at HorsePlayers, Bob Gilbert led the way with three wins and a place in Saturday’s NHC qualfier.

Gilbert did not have last race 16-1 winner Johnny Bear (#4) at Woodbine, but Keith Fenton did. As a result, Fenton will be joining Gilbert at Treasure Island.

And thanks to his Sunday exploits, Gilbert will be playing the NHC with two entries.

Three wins and a place was again the key to success for Gilbert here as he defeated all but first-place finisher Eliot Honacker in this two-seat, Lower Ratio qualifier. Gilbert sure was “seeing the ball well” this weekend.

We already mentioned The BIG One, where Ed Peters will be defending his title this weekend. Well…he’ll be comin’ in hot.

Peters earned $11,398 in our Sunday Big Bucks tourney that closed with a final purse of $16,284. He won’t need any of that money at The BIG One since everything there is covered in his all-inclusive package—but perhaps some of it will come in handy at the nearby Maryland Live! Casino…especially if they happen to have a Fortune Cup game.

Terry Wraight had the “Wraight Stuff” in Sunday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

He recorded four winners and two places en route to posting the high win-place score of the day. It was all worth $6,523 to him after the competition closed with a purse of $14,486.

Our other featured Sunday cash game was our $2,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney, which went to Michael Kavana.

Kavana connected on four three-horse exacta boxes to grab the $1,400 top prize in an event that was operated with no takeout to the players and at a loss to HT. Kavana’s big hit was a gimmick that paid $83.40 for a buck in the 8th at Gulfstream.

It was a tight, low-scoring affair in our Keeneland NHC/BCBC Challenge qualifier.

John Ukelja and Brian Gross were the two who did best and emerged with the $3,500 packages to Keeneland. Gross prevailed by 30 cents in a tight battle for the second spot over…John Ukelja.

The Super Low Ratio, $1,000 BCBC qualifiers attracted another solid field at HorsePlayers on Sunday.

Thanks to four wins and a second, Gregory Newell successfully parlayed his $1,000 into $10,000. He’ll now try to parlay $10,000 into way more than that at the BCBC.

The NTRA/Belmont Park Super Qualifier is coming up in a couple of weeks at Belmont on Jockey Club Gold Cup Day, and judging from Sunday’s qualifier for it at HorsePlayers, it looks to be a popular event.

Congratulations to our top four finishers Jeff Sandler (only one to crack triple digits), Steven Culhane, Jobby Blevins and Ryan Mueller. Each are on their way to New York with $2,000 packages in their pocket.

Thanks to all for playing, and we look forward to seeing many of you this coming weekend at The BIG One.