At Long Last, Steven Walker is Heading Back to the NHC; James Lisowsky, Dylan Donnelly and Sammy Richman Each Take Two; Flo-Cal Purse up to $223,000 (Weekly Recap, December 23-27)

Nine people qualified for the NHC across two tourneys on Saturday and Sunday at HorsePlayers. Among the nine names, one stood out quite prominently.

Under normal circumstances, the excellent handicapper for DRF, Kenneth “Call Me Kenny” Peck, might have dominated the headlines here. After all, he was Saturday’s top scorer.

However, Peck and fellow berth winner Paul Calia have to take a back seat of sorts to history…because the player who finished in between them in second-place was Steven Walker—the first-ever winner of the NHC way back in 2000 when it was at MGM Grand.

Frankly, we’re not sure how long it has been since Walker, now of Jefferson City, Missouri, has made an NHC appearance. We do know it’s more recent than the NTRA website suggests!

Walker’s seat-earning performance made at least one other past champion happy.

The 2012 winner Beychok may not be as pleased if he crosses paths with Walker next August at Bally’s…because Walker may ask him for a loan. Winning the NHC just didn’t pay as well in 2000 as it did in 2012.

Back then, the NHC winner also didn’t get an Eclipse Award—or even an automatic berth to the following year’s event. (In fact, the $100,000 grand prize remained unchanged until year 6 when Jamie Michelson earned $200,000 for his triumph.)

At any rate, Walker’s presence at the 2021 NHC figures to bring even more excitement to an event that was already going to have plenty of pent-up anticipation in the first place. Perhaps now, Bally’s can post special odds on a head-to-head matchup between Walker and the 2001 champ, Judy Wagner. She’ll be in the field too.

Walker, Wagner and Beychok—and Peck and Calia, too—will be joined at Bally’s next August by six who punched their tickets in Sunday’s 15-race Super Qualifier.

Daniel Perry got off to a fast start, collecting in five of the first six races en route to a 4-win, 2-place day. Behind Perry came Robert Mack, Jeff Sandler, the red-hot Jim Lisowsky, Christopher Ahl and Jim Templin. Sandler and Templin had Mucho Unusual ($7.80, $4.40) in the last contest race, the 9th at Santa Anita, to move up and into “the money” from 7th and 10th places, respectively.

The featured-tourney week got started on Wednesday, December 23rd, and it was easy to get into the holiday spirit after seeing the handicapping feats of strength performed by James Henry and company on Festivus.

Henry had four first-place finishers to lead a pack of five $1,500 seat winners in Wednesday’s Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier. The others were Gary Lee Russell, NHC Hall of Famer Trey Stiles, Giuseppe Petrella and Daniel Zaretsky.

Zaretsky also won the day’s full-card, Gulfstream-only Flo-Cal play-in.

In all, there were a whopping 26 Flo-Cal berths awarded during the week. That brought the current field up to 168 and the purse up to just over $223,000.

With almost two weeks of qualifying still to go, the Flo-Cal Faceoff is virtually certain to exceed the $225,000 purse that was offered in the inaugural edition of the event last February. The winner, Thomas Blosser, collected $88,000 that weekend.

Robert Shoemaker II collected $2,695 last Wednesday.

That’s what “Shoe Two” got for winning the day’s $2,000 Guaranteed cash tourney. He had two firsts, including Weekend Dreamer ($38.80, $15.40) in the 10th at Gulfstream.

Mark Stillmock had twice as many collections—three wins and a place—in capturing Wednesday’s Pegasus qualifier.

Stillmock earns a $6,500 package ($6,000 entry fee plus a $500 travel stipend) for the January 23rd event that may be played from either Gulfstream Park or Xpressbet.

There was no airing of grievances on December 23rd by Tom Timlick.

Timlick won Wednesday’s Tampa qualifier, earning a $1,000 entry to that January 9th onsite event.

There was an abbreviated featured-tourney slate on Christmas Eve (but a slate nonetheless!) as only Gulfstream and Tampa were running that day.

Scott Galica, Kevin Cox, Steve Arrison and Anthony “Doczilla” Trezza each picked up Flo-Cal Faceoff berths. Galica led the way thanks to 6 winners—five of them below 2-1 and the last one, With Reward, scoring at 9-1 in the 9th at Tampa.

Meanwhile, there may have been a few extra, last-minute presents under the tree at the Andrew Walker household.

Walker had 3 wins and 4 places to earn $2,830 in Thursday’s $1,500 Guaranteed cash tourney, which obviously sailed past its guaranteed (final pot was $6,290). Walker’s most lucrative winner on Thursday didn’t even finish first. It was Zodiac Princess ($20.20, $7.40) who was elevated from second to first via disqualification in the 7th at Gulfstream.

After a day off to open presents, we were back at it on Saturday…when the biggest present was awarded to Pete Acocella.

Acocella had three winners that paid $23.80 (Gulfstream’s 9th), $24.60 (Santa Anita’s 6th) and $43.20 (Santa Anita’s 8th) plus a place to grab a winner’s share of $15,531 in Saturday’s $25,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a final purse of $34,515.

Justin Nicholson had 5 winners in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney.

Nicholson’s first three winners were odds-on chalk. The last one, though, was Fair Maiden ($43.20, $18.60) in the 8th at Santa Anita. The longshot propelled Nicholson to a victory worth $12,823 in a high-end game that finished with a pot of $18,319.

(Incidentally, Fair Maiden was the first horse in a multi-track tourney here to win at odds of greater than 20-1 in the last three weeks.)

Robert Schintzius Sr., Frank Klich, Craig Popowcer, Lawrence Kahlden, Jim Lisowsky, Dane Moore and John Fasola all secured Flo-Cal Faceoff berths on Saturday.

At one stage, Schintzius hit 4 winners in a row with odds ranging from 5-2 to 15-1. He also added 3 runners up. For Lisowsky, it has definitely been a “December to Remember.” As you already read, he was one of six to earn an NHC seat on Sunday. And last week, his prize winnings included Flo-Cal and Pegasus entries plus $10,483 in cash.

Thanks in no small part to What’s to Blame ($23.80, $9.00 in the 9th at Gulfstream)…

…James Politano captured Saturday’s Gulfstream-only Flo-Cal qualifier.

There was also a single-track Faceoff play-in on the Saturday opening-day card at Santa Anita.

There were three winners in this one: Marc Racenstein (4 wins, 1 place), Stephen Thompson and Ken Jordan. All three had Fair Maiden in Santa Anita’s La Brea Stakes.

Steven Okpych took first place in Saturday’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourney…

…just like he did in the previous Pick 4 contest on December 20th.

Neither Okpych (3 winners, but no Donji at 9-2) nor Sean O’Malley nor Dane Moore on Sunday (2 winners each) went 4-for-4, though.

So that means that this coming Saturday’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot will start out at $6,831. Maybe the new year will bring us a winner.

On Sunday, eight more $1,500 Flo-Cal Faceoff entries were awarded. Two of them went to Sammy “If I Were a” Richman.

Richman had the high Sunday score in finishing ahead of fellow Flo-Cal-contestants-to-be Dave “Ice Cold” Weaver, Matthew Ache, Brian Graziano, Peter Osella, Richard Reese and (by 20 cents) Turner West.

Richman also proved best in Sunday’s Santa Anita-only Flo-Cal play-in.

As well as Richman played in the multi-track qualifier, his performance may have been even more impressive here.

Richman cashed in 9 out of 10 races. He had the two “longshots” of the day (both paying $10.40 to win). And he also had the single-highest-retuning horse on the Santa Anita card—Never Be Enough, who paid $18.40 to place. In a contest without a lot of prices to be had, Richman won by $53.00.

Richman wasn’t the only double winner on Sunday.

Few if any have had a better 2020 than Dylan Donnelly. He’s the 2020 NHC Tour leader (ahead of 2020 Flo-Cal winner Thomas Blosser), and he was up to his old tricks on Sunday. He had 5-2 victor Jetovator in the final contest race, the 7th at Santa Anita, to close out a 5-win, 2-place day and pocket $10,328 in Sunday’s $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which had a final purse of $22,962.

And Donnelly played the same picks in Sunday’s Pegasus World Cup qualifier.

Edwin Herr (3 wins, 1 place) and Randy Bauer (5W, 0P) will join Donnelly in the Pegasus field on January 23rd. All three had Dr. Harlan ($14.80, 6.20) in the 9th at Gulfstream.

For Ken Seeman, the big horse of the day on Sunday was Mid Day Image.

Mid Day Image ($23.60, $11.00 in the 11th at Gulfstream) was among 2 winners and 3 runners up that Seeman recorded on the way to a triumph worth $9,973 in Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney (final pot: $14,248).

Exacta tourney specialist Frank Fosbre put another one in the win column on Sunday.

Both he and runner up Adam Lewis had the $95.90-for-a-buck combo in the 8th at Gulfstream. In fact, Lewis had a slight lead late. But Fosbre connected for a small but crucial $6.60 exacta that served as the turning point in him wresting away the $700 top prize.

John Garofano Jr. and Ezra Garrett were the two winners of $1,000 entries in Sunday’s Tampa qualifier.

Both had 5 firsts and 1 second in the 12-race competition. If Ezra Garrett’s name is familiar to you, it should be. On November 1st of this year, the 34-year-old Lynchburg, Virginia, form carpenter won $30,000 as the first (and only) winner of our $8 Pick 6 Jackpot.

Now we move from one holiday weekend to another at HorseTourneys and HorsePlayers. Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifiers will be returning to HorsePlayers after a December hiatus. Meanwhile, it will be the last weekend of qualifying for the Flo-Cal Faceoff. We are determined to generate a final purse that Steven Walker—and maybe even Michael Beychok—would be proud of!