Brian Graziano Picks Eight Winners, Including First Seven; Steven Meier’s Roll Continues; Chris Littlemore Grabs Cash and Second Seat Ahead of NHC Title Defense (Weekend Recap December 14-16)

We’ve had a recent run of players reeling off seven winners in a single tourney. On Saturday, Brian Graziano did them one better.

Not only did Graziano pick eight winners on top, he nailed the first seven right out of the starting gate—and that made things…rocky…for his opponents. He also picked a great tourney to come up so big. It was our richest event of the weekend…the $17,500 Guaranteed cash game.

Some will recall that Graziano had taken our $1,548 Exacta tourney six days earlier. Switching over to win/place proved no problem for him—and it paid a lot better too. Graziano received $9,836 in a game that closed with a pool-style purse of a plenty-solid $21,858. Meanwhile, Joe Pettit (The BIG One and Saratoga Challenge Champ) added to his outstanding 2018 campaign with a second-place finish here worth $4,371. (You know it’s been “your year” when you can lose a 12-race tourney by $37.50 and still collect over four grand!)

The HorseTourneys weekend, of course, began on Friday, and the star of the day was another of the biggest names of the current year (arguably the biggest).

That’s Whitby, Ontario’s Chris Littlemore who, on Friday, had probably his second best day of 2018 behind only the day last February when he captured the NHC crown.

A chance at an NHC repeat was always in the cards for Littlemore since all NHC winners get an automatic invitation back to defend their titles. But now, Littlemore will be operating with two entries after clicking for four wins and two places in winning Friday’s $75 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers. With Chris at the NHC will be Eric Brothers, who got hot late, hitting winners in the final three races at odds of 6-5, 5-1 and 11-1—to go along with two earlier winning picks—to grab the second available NHC berth.

If Littlemore wishes to play his favorite table game of chance…or dine at Phil’s Italian Steak House…while at Treasure Island in two months, he’ll have some extra pocket money to do it with.

That’s because he played the same 10 picks as in the NHC qualifier in our $5,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray and took down the top prize of $5,380 in the game which concluded with a total purse of $10,761.

Polite as are virtually all Canadians, Chris left one Friday tournament for someone else to win—and that someone turned out to be Jon Van Niel.

Van Niel whiffed on the last two races, but he had five wins and two places in the prior eight heats to lead the hit parade in our $1,500 Horse Player World Series entry-only qualifier.

As we return to Saturday’s action, we will point out that it was a pretty chalky day. Brian “Rocky” Graziano had those eight winners and they “only” added up to $114.50.) Any winner over $10.00 was a good one to have. That led to some low winning scores and some blanket finishes. One of those seat-squirmers came in our first qualifier to the 2019 Keeneland Grade One Gamble.

Just $2.50 separated the top four finishers, all of whom had South Boot Shirley ($17.20, $7.20) in the final contest race, the 6th at Los Alamitos. When the smoke cleared, it was Steven Meier who prevailed by one thin dime over a tough-luck Blaise Brucato. Gary “Macho Man” Machiz was only $1.20 farther back in third.

For Meier, it was just the latest annexation of a seat to one of the most prestigious tournaments in the land. Six days earlier, he earned both an NHC berth and a $12,500 package to the Pegasus World Cup Betting Challenge. To that he now adds a $3,500 package to Keeneland next April 14.

Also on Saturday was our full-package qualifier to the Horse Player World Series.

Stephen McNatton (four wins, three places) sprinted out to an early lead. He blanked on the final three races, however, and was run down late by Robert Courtney, who had five on top and one down below. Thanks to there being 64 entries, though, both Courtney and McNatton received $1,500 HPWS entries, plus a four-night stay at The Orleans, plus $500 additional for travel.

At HorsePlayers on Saturday, the only triple-digit score other than that by Brian Graziano was turned in by Mike Coutu.

It came in our NHC “Maiden Special” qualifier for those who had yet to win a 2019 NHC seat. Coutu had six wins and three places. Five of those wins came consecutively, capped off by Glorious Empire ($17.00, $9.00) in the next-to-last contest race (GP10). That means that this “maiden breaker” earned an NHC seat…and probably a big Beyer figure as well.

Earning a somewhat lower Beyer, but an equally valuable NHC seat was Gregory Lewis.

Like a couple other of the weekend winners, Lewis’s pace profile in this one was fast early/slow late as he racked up four wins and two places before whiffing on the last three. But he bottomed out the field and held on to advance to the big-money event at Treasure Island on Feb. 8-10.

Sunday was a nice, spread-the-wealth kind of day as we awarded 18 grand prizes across our 10 featured tourneys—and those 18 grand prizes were won by 18 different people.

Part of the reason the winners were so spread out was because nine of the 10 featured tourneys were run in live format—which reduced the effect of multi-tabling. Another reason was because there were plenty of pricey winners to be had, which meant there were many routes to victory.

The player who did the best job with all these boxcar winners was Turner West, and his effort came in a good spot.

West collected on six winners plus a runner up in our $10,000 Guaranteed tourney, which ended up with a final pot of $15,359. Early on, he scored with Testosterstone (by Busting Stones, of course!) who reported home first at odds of 24-1, and he also got the final two races right to seal the deal and pocket the top prize of $6,911.

The day’s second highest score came in a somewhat unlikely event, our Hawthorne qualifier which had just 18 entries.

Put up a score of $145.60 in an 18-player tourney, and you figure to win by daylight, and that’s what Mark Odorisio did, hitting five winners and four runners up out of just 12 races to win the $800 in entry fees for the two single-day tournaments at Hawthorne on January 4-5. Actually, Odorisio had his nine collections over just 11 races…since he failed to get a selection in on time in one of the races. Perhaps he was just trying to give his opponents a fighting chance…

Sunday’s qualifier to the Monmouth Last Chance qualifier on December 29 was a spirited battle, which saw four triple digit scorers battle it out for two available prizes.

In the end, it was Roger Cettina and Jorge Cruz-Aedo who prevailed. Cettina had but three collections, but they were on three of the day’s four longest-priced winners—at odds of 24-1, 10-1 and 16-1. Cruz-Aedo, aka “Smooth Cruz” per his Twitter handle, recorded four wins and a place. Both receive a $400 entry to Monmouth on the 29th (the second such win for Cruz-Aedo over the past three weeks) and $500 for travel. The $500 for travel is slightly comical for Cettina, who resides close enough to Monmouth Park that he sometimes rides his bicycle there. Perhaps he will decide to purchase a new bike bell or pedal-powered headlight since it will be dark by the conclusion of the December 29 event.

Paul Thorson picked five winners on Sunday, including two of the day’s very best ones to have—Testosterstone (who has had a long career and who Tom Durkin would always seem to call “Testosterone”) and Violent Nature ($35.40, $9.60) in the 10th at Gulfstream.

It all added up to victory over 45 opponents and an NHC seat for Thorson in Sunday’s Lower Ratio qualifier.

Three of the day’s 18 different grand-prize winners came in our Horse Player World Series entry-only qualifier.

Nick “529” Fazzolari led the charge on The Orleans by sweeping the final four races after hitting just one of the first eight. Joining the 2017 Wynn winner at The Orleans will be Brett Wiener (the day 1 HPWS leader in 2017) and Michael Marlaire. All three had final-contest-race winner Sent From Heaven ($10.30, $3.40) in the 10th from Woodbine.

Another five of the “Happy 18” came in our qualifier to the Treasure Island Last Chance tournament on NHC eve.

Finishing first here thanks to four wins and two places was 2007 NHC Champion Stanley Bavlish, who will hope to add a second seat to his 2019 portfolio in hopes of becoming the event’s first two-time winner. Joining Bavlish in the big room on the second floor of TI will be Greg Knepper, Charley Witt, Steve Arrison and Pete Acocella.

In our $1,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney, Stephen Gruber left his opponents gasping for air following the 7th race at Aqueduct, which was just the second of 12 contest races.

Gruber had the Testosterstone-Gio d’Oro exacta, which paid $167.25 for a buck. That proved to be all the scoring he would need to take home the top prize of $1,161 in the game that ultimately closed with a pot of $1,659.

Three featured tourneys were staged at HorsePlayers, topped by a “regular” NHC qualifier.

Don Speaks got white-hot during races 6-9 of this tourney, sweeping all four races en route to five wins overall plus three runners up. Not far behind Speaks was Cheryl Tayala who had four wins and a place. Both are now heading to the NHC.

Jeff “Boom Boom” Joffrion is heading to Fair Grounds next Saturday.

He netted a (natural) hat trick in the first three races, cooled off thereafter, scoring just one place (sort of like an assist in hockey?), but easily held on to prevail by $31.40 and earn a $2,000 package ($1,500 entry plus $500 travel) to the NTRA/Fair Grounds NHC Super Qualifier, where one in every 15 entries will earn an NHC seat.

A veritable companion event to the NTRA/Fair Grounds affair is the NTRA/Santa Anita Super Qualifier on January 5. It supplied the last of the 18 grand prize winners on the day.

Gary Bain had three winners (led by Violent Nature at Gulfstream) and two runners up to best 16 opponents, including second-place finisher (Miss) Megan Devine of TVG, and secure the $2,000 package.

Fun, big scores, noteworthy performances and lots of happy winners. It’s all in a weekend’s work here at HorsePlayers. Thanks to all of you who took part.