For Her Incredible Encore, Cheryl Knepper is Going to the NHC; David Brownfield Wins Three Big Prizes Over Two Days; Szalsa, Massis, Blair and Stange All Double Up; (Weekend Recap April 5-7)

There were lots of double winners on this predominantly Pick & Pray weekend, and we’ll get to them all. We’re going to start with Cheryl Knepper, though. She only won one prize per se, but in many respects, she was a double winner too—arguably one of the most impressive such double-uppers that we’ve seen lately.

Knepper topped a field of 2,045 in Saturday’s free, Round 1 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers. At that point, though, we frankly weren’t sure if that made her happy or sad. Under the old rules, she and the other four top finishers would have locked up a free NHC berth. Under the new rules—presumably designed to discourage people from just playing numbers (or at least not reward them)—Knepper was just one of 205 starting from scratch in Sunday’s Round 2 with scores not carrying over.

Incidentally, people still played numbers in the Round 1 contest.

The lucky number this time around was 8. (Note that the 8th at Santa Anita was the Santa Anita Derby, which only had six horses…so #8 didn’t exist in that race.) As Johnnie Cochran (or Jackie Childs) might have said, “If you went with eight, you could skate.” Right into Round 2, that is.

What about good old trusty #4? Did anyone ride the hot hand and go with that number again? You bet!

How ironic was it that, this time, #4 resulted in a total score of four bucks. It was sort of like going from the big deal of the day on “Let’s Make a Deal” to a clunker.

What I found even more interesting was that three of the eight who used all fours this time were among the seven involved in “Fourgate” last time—Kevin Kilroy and Michael LaMorte, who won NHC seats in the “top 5 out of 7” playoff, and Nick Bristow, who did not.

Anyway, while Saturday produced some fun little nuggets like that, Sunday generated a pretty remarkable result.

David Brownfield, Dan Brockman, Andrew Norris and Donald Wildemuth took advantage of the new rules by grabbing NHC seats on Sunday after finishing in the top 205 on Saturday. And Cheryl Knepper thumbed her nose at the new rules by following up her Round 1 victory (which would have won her a seat in the past) with a fourth-place finish in Round 2–and without even the benefit of 20-1 last-race longshot Danuska’s My Girl. It seems like back-to-back performances like that should be worth some sort of bonus…perhaps a room upgrade…or maybe even an extra buffet wristband!

The new rules did essentially take away an NHC berth from one player (Greg Potts), who used all eights on Day 1, save for the 6-horse Santa Anita Derby. So perhaps those who changed the rules are pleased with that outcome. In any event, it seems safe to say that people will continue to play numbers in these events in the future.

In fact, one of the players who got to Day 2 by picking eights, Doug Drewry, largely stuck to that strategy on Sunday. Eight of his 12 Sunday selections were on the #8 horse. He finished 87th…just 20 cents ahead of 88th place, which would have been an amusing result, I suppose.

Twenty players of the 205 on Sunday certainly didn’t pick by the numbers. I know that because they didn’t make ANY picks whatsoever. Unfortunately, it seems logical to think that they were unaware that their top 10% finish on Saturday granted them a second free roll on Sunday.

One of the players who did very well in Saturday’s Round 1 of the NHC qualifier but didn’t ultimately win a seat on Sunday was Ross Szalsa, who finished 4th behind Cheryl Knepper in that first round. That was the bad news for Szalsa. The good news was that he did some fine handicapping and entered the two featured events at HorseTourneys on Saturday.

Szalsa won what was by far the richest tourney of the weekend, our $35,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a purse of $38,988. For his five wins and one place, Szalsa’s share was $17,544. (It’s not an NHC seat…but it will have to do!) Robert Shoemaker II finished both 2nd and 6th behind Szalsa to earn a total of $9,551. Look for our next extra-big-money game on Preakness Day.

Perhaps Szalsa will be able to pick up an NHC seat at the single-day Keeneland Grade One Gamble on April 14.

He’ll be there in Lexington thanks to playing the same picks as in the $38,988 game. This was the Keeneland Grade One Gamble last-chance qualifier, and a total of five $3,500 packages wound up being up for grabs. Two of the other four went to Tommy “The Hammer” Massis, who finished both third and fourth. This brought Tommy’s Keeneland entry count up to three, thanks to his having won one here on March 23. Mutuel clerks at Keeneland better be wearing bullet-proof vests on the 14th because Massis will undoubtedly be firing. Joining Szalsa and Massis next Sunday in Blue Grass country will be David Brownfield (who won an NHC seat in the aforementioned free Sunday qualifier) and Canadian Russell Wilkes.

There were no double winners on Friday…for the very simple reason that there was just one featured event that day. It was our $5,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

Robert Shoemaker II (second and sixth behind Szalsa in Saturday’s big-money game) captured this event as a result of four winners, including a well-timed 7-5 shot (Fuel the Bern in the 10th at Keeneland) in the contest finale, which put him over the top. “The Shoe” pocketed $4,876 for this victory in an event that ended up with a purse of $9,752. When Shoemaker counted his weekend cash winnings at the end of the day on Saturday, he arrived at a total of $14,327…unless overzealous celebration caused him to miscount.

Getting back to Saturday’s action, there was a pair of Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifiers on this big Wood/Blue Grass/Santa Anita Derby Day.

The day’s regular Pick & Pray went to Jared, Jared Henry, who had two wins and three runners up from the 12 contest races.

Predictably, winning scores were a little lower in Saturday’s $1,000, Super Low Ratio BCBC qualifier.

A strong showing of 16 turned out for this, and the strongest wound up being Lawrence Binns, with a score of $101.40. Coming in second and earning a partial, $5,000 BCBC entry was Robert Rosette.

There were 10 featured tourneys on Sunday in addition to the free Round 2 NHC qualifier. One of the biggest was the qualifier for, appropriately enough, The BIG One…and it was won by a familiar name.

David Brownfield handicapped well enough on Saturday to win a Keeneland Grade One Gamble package and to get himself into Round 2 of the NHC free qualifier. On Sunday, he kept it going, winning that free NHC qualifier and also picking up an all-inclusive package to The BIG One in September at Laurel. That’s three victories for Brownfield…three that could set him up for a very profitable 2019 (and early 2020).

Another “big” Sunday tourney was the day’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks cash game.

Craig Hom had five winners (plus a place) topped off both figuratively and chronologically by Danuska’s My Girl ($43.80, $15.60) in the final contest race, the 8th at Santa Anita. For that, Hom received top money of $8,549 in a high-stakes event that closed with a final pot of $12,213.

We’ve been doing a lot of talking about Gary Blair in recent weeks…and with good reason. Since February 23, he has won $28,638 in assorted cash tourney winnings plus a $2,000 seat to the Spa & Surf Showdown. Blair added to those totals on Sunday.

Add another $6,730 to Blair’s net worth after Sunday’s regular $10,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, in which the Tornoto bowling center manager recorded four winners including Danuska’s My Girl and the even-longer-shot VIP Nation (64-1 in the 8th at Aqueduct). The total purse of the game ended up at $13,460.

And while you’re at it…

…add on a BCBC seat for Mr. Blair. He only had three winners in this Low Ratio Pick & Pray at HorsePlayers, but those three got the job done for Blair, whose dream 2019 continues.

The other featured tourney at HorsePlayers on Sunday was a live-format, “regular” NHC qualifier.

Here, last-race longshot Donuska’s My Girl was key for both Cody Clark (3 wins, 1 place) and Travis Foelsch (2 wins, 0 places) who walked off with the NHC berths.

Another player who has been red hot of late is Steve “People Are” Stange. The previous weekend he parlayed a seat won at HorseTourneys into an NHC seat in the Hawthorne March contests. Yesterday (Sunday), he led the way in our Spa & Surf Showdown Pick & Pray.

Joining Steve in cyberspace for the two-day, Saratoga/Del Mar online event in August will be runner up David Joy.

Stange also played in Sunday’s Steve Sexton Mile Day Challenge qualifier, but he didn’t use the same picks as in the Spa & Surf qualifier, so he didn’t finish first.

He finished second, though, and that was also good for a $1,000 entry to the Lone Star Park event on April 28. Leading the way here was Ralph Pearce, who accumulated $135,80 on three wins and two runners up.

There’s no Surf involved in the Saratoga Challenge at the Spa on August 9-10…but Cheryl McIntyre will be involved.

That as a result of her victory in yesterday’s Pick & Pray in which 64-1 VIP Nation gave the 2016 NHC Tour winner VIP status…as well as a $3,500 package to Saratoga Springs.

Brian Redland had the winners of the first two contest races and the last two.

He also stuck in a couple of place runners in between to take top honors in Sunday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier. Joining Redland not far from Red Bank will be runner up David Bloom, who also won a $2,500 package.

For all intents and purposes, Sunday’s $1,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney was all over after the 8th at the Big A.

Craig Hall had three winning exactas, but all that really mattered was his colossal hit for $619.00 (for a dollar) when he hooked up 64-1 VIP Nation with the 17-1 runner up. Hall received $1,161 in a game that closed with a purse of $1,659. Maybe he played a buck or two on that VIP Nation exacta as well (?)

There you have it…another crazy weekend in the books. Next weekend we’ll keep things on a high flame with (among other things) a $75 NHC qualifier and the first-ever 1-per-4, $2,750 BCBC qualifier—both at HorsePlayers. Until then, have a great week.