Dylan Donnelly Scores Saturday Hat Trick, then Adds Five-Figure Sunday Triumph for Good Measure; Howard Welsh Captures his Third “Big Bucks” of the Month; Two for Dew at the NHC (Weekend Recap March 25-30)

It wound up being another Friday without featured tourneys. Last week it was Laurel that unexpectedly shut down on Friday morning. This past Friday, Santa Anita had to take an involuntary “pause” just 40 minutes prior to its first race. Featured tourneys continued, though, on Saturday and Sunday—and there were even a few (for the first time) on a Wednesday.

With this “new normal” we’re all dealing with, it’s sometimes hard to remember what day of the week it is. That could explain why players participated in Wednesday’s $2,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray as though it were a Saturday.

When all precincts had reported, this $79 Pick & Pray had attracted 104 entries, which meant a total pot of $7,189. The biggest share of that—$3,235—went to Todd Love, who loved the Saffie Joseph-trained Rijeka ($24.80, $11.60) in the 9th at Gulfstream. Love also had three other firsts and three seconds.

You know things are a bit unusual when Will Rogers Downs races are part of an NHC direct qualifier. The Claremore, Oklahoma oval accounted for two of the day’s 10 races…and Robert Jones cashed in both of them.

For Jones (4 firsts, 4 seconds), the two Will Rogers races were nothing fancy—a win and a place on favorites—but they added $10.60 to his total, and that more than made the difference it what was a narrow, $1.00 decision over Larry Messier.

There was also a Wednesday direct qualifier to the $150,000 Guaranteed Spa & Surf Showdown.

Brett Wiener earned himself a $2,000 entry to the August 15-16 online event on the strength of 2 wins and 4 places. In the “Showdown”, Wiener and his opponents will have to forget what they know about Gulfstream, Tampa and Will Rogers…and focus instead on two days of full cards from Saratoga and Del Mar.

With the Friday cancellation of our featured-tourney schedule (since Santa Anita represented 40% of the schedule and our rules dictate that tourneys go on only if at least 70% of scheduled races are conducted), we have to fast-forward to Saturday—when the undisputed star of the day was Dylan Donnelly.

The 29-year-old Alta Loma, Calif., resident picked 7 winners out of 12 races to grab the grand prize of a hefty $20,524 in Saturday’s $25,000 Guaranteed Florida Derby Day cash tourney. The total purse finished up at $51,312. Dennis Montoro reported home second to make $8,209.

Here’s a look at Donnelly’s scoresheet.

Donnelly used those same picks to gain a $2,000 Spa & Surf Showdown entry.

Joining Donnelly in the Showdown starting gate will be runner up Stephan Gravina (5 wins, 2 places), who had Tiz the Law in the Florida Derby to get up for second over tough-luck third-place finisher, Robert Schintzius Jr.

The order of finish among the top three was exactly the same in Saturday’s NHC qualifier. This time, though, Schintzius didn’t have to settle for a consolation prize.

A field of 220 entries meant three NHC seats were up for grabs in this one, which moved Schintzius into the tall cotton. As for Dylan Donnelly, he actually stepped up his game in this one, adding Tiz the Law as an 8th winner of the day in what was his third big tourney victory.

Saturday’s $1,000 seat to the rescheduled (now June 27th) Lone Star Park Spring Betting Challenge went to 2016 NHC Tour Champion Cheryl McIntyre.

McIntyre whiffed on the day’s final three races, but her 5 wins and 2 places before that gave her a big enough cushion to prevail by $7.60 over Jason Phillips, who needed Ete Indien in the Florida Derby.

Gregory Caliwag was the winner of a $500 entry to next Sunday’s Santa Anita April Challenge (to be held at Xpressbet).

Ironically, his final score of $89.80 was exactly the same as that recorded by Cheryl McIntyre in her Lone Star qualifying victory.

Over at HorsePlayers, there was a Florida Derby Day Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier. Just one $10,000 entry was guaranteed, but there were enough entries (133) to award two of the coveted seats.

The two who need not covet thy neighbor’s goods are Shawn Pilar—whose five wins served as a, ahem, pillar of strength in this one—and Tony Zhou, whose first three collections were on places and whose final four were via winners. This game was reflective of the many prices that were out there on Saturday—and of the many different routes to success that were available to players. Of their combined nine winners, the only one Pilar and Zhou had in common was Social Paranoia ($14.00) in the next-to-last race.

Who had the high score on Sunday? The same guy who had the high score on Saturday.

Dylan Donnelly picked another seven winners here (for a total of 15 in two days), and he added another $10,017 to his bank account in Sunday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which ultimately had a pot of $22,262. His two-day haul was $30,544 in cash plus seats to the NHC and Spa & Surf Showdown. (I wonder who he likes today at Fonner?). Here’s a look at Dylan’s Sunday scorecard:

Luckily for everyone else, the above was apparently Donnelly’s only action on Sunday. For the first time in three weeks, the Sunday Big Bucks tourney failed to sell out, falling one entry shy of that point. Perhaps a few people decided to duck Howard Welsh.

The Basking Ridge, N.J., native won his third Big Bucks game of this month alone by recording three winners (led by 16-1 Big Tina and 20-1 Kaufy Bean…both at Gulfstream) followed by two placings. Welsh’s March Big Bucks victories were beautifully spaced, occurring on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. (Perhaps we should expect another big effort from him on April 12th.)

Howard Welsh

His three triumphs added up to prize winnings of $34,909. Not a bad month of playin’ the ponies.

Ed Peters had a pretty nice “day at the races” in his own right.

The 49-year-old bread company owner from Pelham, N.H., had three winners—including 27-1 Tornero at Tampa and the aforementioned Kaufy Bean at Gulfstream—plus a place to earn an all-inclusive package to the September 19-20 The BIG One at Laurel. Tournament historians will recall that Peters was the winner of the 2017 edition of The BIG One, leaving Maryland with $46,400 and a BCBC seat. In September, he will bid to become the event’s first two-time champion.

Peters is already a two-time champion as far as this past weekend is concerned.

In Sunday’s Santa Anita Derby Challenge qualifier, Peters cracked the $200 plateau (thanks to an additional winner) and, as a result, he will be competing this Sunday with a paid-up $3,000 entry.

There were two more Spa & Surf Showdown winners on Sunday, bringing the week’s total up to five.

Accepting their $2,000 entries in the winner’s circle here were James Morgan and Jeff Bussan, who each selected 5 winners and one runner up. This already represents the second Spa & Surf Showdown entry for both men—despite the fact that the first qualifier for the 2020 event didn’t take place until March 6th. Morgan and Bussan may continue to play in Spa & Surf Showdown qualifiers (unfortunately for everyone else!), but any further entries they might win would have to be transferred to other players.

Similar to Howard Welsh, Scott Cavalieri had Big Tina and Kaufy Bean in his Sunday investment portfolio…

…and that led Cavalieri (4 wins, 2 places on the day) to a triumph worth a $2,500 package to the June 1 Monmouth Pick Your Prize tournament.

Jim Trepinski also picked four winners—in our $1,000 Guaranteed Exacta tourney.

The big one of the quartet was a $134.70-for-$1 collection in the 9th at Gulfstream (thanks to a 47-1 shot running second behind a 5-2 winner). Add it all together, and Trepinski earned $1,312 from an overall purse of $2,625 in the 24-entry competition.

Thanks in large part to the 20-1 Kaufy Bean winning the first leg of Sunday’s $8 Pick 6 Jackpot tourney, no one successfully got beyond the first two legs of the six-race event unscathed.

Paul Cyr, however, had Kaufy Bean plus three other winners to take top honors. Since no one picked the winners of all six races, we’ll head to the next $8 Pick 6 event with a Jackpot of $7,551.

A lot can happen over a short period of time at HorseTourneys…and at HorsePlayers too.

Just nine days ago, Justin Dew found an unexpected $165 sitting in his HorseTourneys account and took to social media to encourage others to join him in taking a shot at the NHC.

I don’t know how it worked out for those who followed Dew’s clarion call, but it worked out pretty well for him. He won the NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers on March 22 (the day of his tweet)…and this past Sunday, he won another seat.

Steve Irwin tamed his opponents here with 3 wins and 3 places to claim the top spot. Dew (4 wins, 1 place) came in second—and since there were enough entries for a third seat to be awarded in this competition, Joseph Costello (3 wins, 3 places) will be headed to Bally’s next year as well.

Meanwhile Dew joins the likes of Sally Wang Goodall and Kevin Cox—players who have already captured two seats to the 2021 NHC.

Middle moves are typically ineffective in horse races…but a middle move made all the difference for Tim Darnell in Sunday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio qualifier.

All but $9.80 of Darnell’s scoring came during races 4 through 7 of the 12-race event (he had 3 wins and a $22.00 place collection in that short span). That flurry held up nicely in the 1-per-23 qualifier. And since the event closed with 46 entries, runner up Karl Barth (5 wins, 1 place) earned a $10,000 BCBC entry as well.

In closing, we’ll leave you with a couple of quick notes regarding next weekend’s featured tourneys. On Saturday and Sunday at HorseTourneys, we’re ramping up for another “All Optional Live” weekend. (We offer these approximately once every five weeks.)

Also…our guaranteed purses for the big Friday, Saturday and Sunday cash tourneys are being increased to $10,000, $20,000 and $12,500, respectively.

As always, we thank our affiliate racetracks for their support during these difficult times…and we thank you for yours.