Paul Cush Wins Third Big Bucks Tourney Over Past Two Weeks; Michael Caposio Crosses Players Championship, Pegasus and BCBC off his Shopping List; John Doyle and Howard Welsh Capture Two Important Tourneys Each (Weekly Recap, January 13-18)

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday—along with qualifiers galore for the Pegasus World Cup and Players Championship—made for a long and lucrative week around here. There are 31 featured tourneys to recap…the first two of which took place on Wednesday.

Pegasus qualifiers are in their final stages. (The last one comes this Friday.) Last Wednesday Dylan Rossi and Anthony Trezza each earned $6,500 packages to this Saturday’s big event with scorecards that were mirror images of each other. Rossi had 5 wins and 2 places. His winners paid no more than $10.80. Trezza recorded 2 wins and 5 places. Those place collections were plenty solid for Trezza, though. They returned place mutuels ranging from $4.00 to $15.00. There’s almost always more than one way to skin a cat here.

Wednesday’s featured cash game was taken by Mike Gillum.

Gillum put up a formidable 4 wins and 3 places out of 10 races in Wednesday’s $4,000 Guaranteed No Limit event, which closed with a robust pot of $7,742. He needed Mai Ty One On ($6.20, $3.40) in the final race (the 10th at Gulfstream), though, to secure the $3,483 top prize.

Last-race heroics were also required in Thursday’s marquee cash tourney.

Greg Altieri nailed Texas Bad Boy ($26.20, $10.00) in the nightcap—race 5 at Sam Houston—to vault himself from 11th place to first in Thursday’s $2,500 Guaranteed Pick & Pray. That Texas-sized price closed out a 4-win, 1-place day for Altieri that earned him a $2,039 winner’s share of a final purse of $4,078.

Wendy Long was the winner in Thursday’s Gulfstream-only qualifier to the Players Championship.

Long found herself in an early hole after missing out on a 13-1 winner in the opener, but she more than made up for that omission by coming up with 3 wins and 3 places thereafter.

Friday was a great day for both Paul Cush and Michael Caposio.

Last week, on January 8th and January 10th, Cush defeated his opponents in the Big Bucks tourney each day and also added on a $6,500 Pegasus package (on Jan. 10) for good measure. His total winnings came to $18,161. Last Friday, Cush made it three recent Big Bucks victories thanks to 3 wins and a place that were topped by Mad Munnys ($36.40, $15.80) in the 7th at Aqueduct. 

Then, much as he did the previous week, Cush added a nice seat to his portfolio as an extra bonus.

Cush was one of five to earn $2,000 Players Championship berths in Friday’s multitrack qualifier. Joining Cush at the PC will be Steve Arrison (2 wins, 2 places), James Lisowsky, Mark Vitaliano and Michael Caposio. For Cush, the Big Bucks and Players Championship successes brought his two-week winning total up to $25,411. Not a bad January so far!

We mentioned that Michael Caposio also had a great day. 

In addition to a $2,000 Players Championship entry, the Temecula, Calif., auto dealer drove off with a Low Ratio Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat over at HorsePlayers. Caposio seemed stuck in first gear early on in this one, earning just $6.00 over the first seven tourney races. He quickly crossed over from the breakdown lane to the passing lane, however, rolling up 2 wins and a place in the last three, including a pivotal $13.60 place collection with Spungie in the final tourney race, the 10th from Gulfstream.

Michael Caposio

We’ll skip ahead temporarily to Saturday now, because Caposio wasn’t done leaving opponents in his rear-view mirror.

Here, in Saturday’s Pegasus qualifier, Caposio defeated all but Albert Tiernan and Chris Piper. All three emerged with $6,500 packages ($6,000 entry + $500 for travel to Gulfstream in case they want to play the Pegasus in person). All together it was an $18,500 haul for Caposio in just over a 24-hour period.

As for Tiernan, his scorecard in winning the Pegasus qualifier was Saturday’s highest. 

He also did quite a bit more damage on Saturday…but first, let’s finish up Friday.

Remember how Michael Caposio shifted abruptly from the breakdown lane to the passing lane? Well Derek Isenberg drove like a speed-happy teenager during the first half of Friday’s $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray. He recorded all five of his collections (4 wins, 1 place) in the first five races. Then, as if spotting a state trooper hiding in the bushes, he moved over to the right lane and drove like an old man, getting not a single additional collection. Isenberg still reached his destination successfully, though, and he was rewarded with $7,107 for doing so.

Robert Engelhard and Dane Moore were the two winners of $6,500 packages in Friday’s Pegasus qualifier.

Engelhard put up 3 wins and a place. Moore selected 2 winners and a place. Both had Mad Munnys ($36.40, $15.80) in the 7th at the Big A.

There was also a Players Championship qualifier just on the Friday Gulfstream card.

James Morgan earned the $2,000 ducat here despite picking just 2 winners. It helped immensely that one of them was Churchills Victory ($34.00, $10.00) in race 4.

There seemed to be a real uptick in participation in NHC qualifiers last week. Friday’s $75, 2-spots-gtd. play-in at HorsePlayers attracted enough entries to award a third seat.

The three Friday berths were accounted for by Ernest “Say” Hey Jr., (4 wins, 0 places), Mark Helder and Andrew Weiss. Hey’s score of $132.80 was Friday’s highest.

Back to Saturday, where—last we checked—Albert Tiernan was ruling the Pegasus qualifier.

Tiernan also did quite well in Saturday $25,000 Guaranteed cash game, checking in third and earning $3,083. The star of this show, though, was Tyler Okasaki, who had 4 winners, including Cajun Brother ($31.60, $12.80) in the Sunshine Millions Sprint (GP race 10). Okasaki pocketed $13,875 out of a total final purse of $30,833.

Albert Tiernan was also a force in Saturday’s NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers.

This was the second straight day in which the NHC qualifier awarded one more spot than was guaranteed. The winner, Joseph Costello, was already double qualified, so that left the seats to the 2nd-, 3rd- and 4th-place finishers Eric Brothers, James Costello and, yes, Albert Tiernan. 

Clearly not one to back down from a challenge, Tiernan also took a swing at Saturday’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourney.

Tiernan finished first here, and he would have taken down the whole kit ’n caboodle had he used winning 5-2 favorite Venezuelan Hug in the second leg of the sequence. That second leg was the only blemish on his ticket. Tiernan was one of just three to have Cajun Brother in the first leg.

It was quite a day for Tiernan…and it has been quite a couple of weeks for Ryan Flanders. Last week he finished 2nd and cashed for $82,000 in the Flo-Cal Faceoff. This week he assured his passage to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

Flanders registered 6 firsts and 2 seconds en route to victory. His biggest returner was Indy Lyon ($15.40, $5.80) in the 10th at Tampa.

The lone Players Championship qualifier on Saturday was a Santa Anita-only, full-card play in.

Chris Grutsch (2 wins, 2 places) and Steve “The Admiral” Nemetz (1 win, 2 places) were the two to play their way into the Players. Both had second-time starter Later Days ($70.80, $25.80) in race 5.

One quick sidebar to the Saturday action:

How good are the players at HorseTourneys? Imagine being in a $1,500 Head-to-Head tourney and nailing an 8-1 shot in the first race. I’d be jumping for joy and already mentally tallying up my expected winnings! At HorseTourneys, though…well…not so fast.

To be honest, I don’t even know who went on to win this event. I think a part of me was afraid to find out—just out of pity for whomever did not. 

There’s one more Saturday feature to report—the $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray.

No, Paul Cush didn’t win this time. Howard Welsh did. He finished his 4-win, 0-place day with North Country Guy ($10.40, $6.40) in the 8th at Santa Anita to get up late and grab the $9,973 top prize in a game that closed with a purse of $14,248.

Howard Welsh

A big fan of their TV commercials, Welsh reinvested a portion of his winnings in a 3-year CarShield membership…and an entry in Monday’s $20,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

Not only does Welsh now have a veritable suit of armor around his car, he also earned another $9,241 after coming up with 5 winners, including a string of three in a row at one point that began with Desbordes ($29.00, $13.20) in the 8th at Laurel. 

On Sunday, the star of the day was John Doyle.

The 2011 NHC champ could see nothing but winners behind those shades in Sunday’s  $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney.

Doyle had 3 winners and 4 places to earn $7,124 from an overall final pot of $10,177. His biggest return came on a win via DQ by Silent Mischief ($49.20, $12.80) in the 9th at Tampa. It was a fortuitous result in that Silent Mischief held second by half a nostril over the 3rd-place horse who got mugged in midstretch by the horse that was first under the wire. 

Silent Mischief (rd cap) continues merrily up the rail for 2nd, while the 9 comes over on the 7. Meanwhile, the rider on the 4 decides to claim foul on just about everyone in the race…just in case!

Doyle will take it…twice…because those same picks allowed him to lead the way in Sunday’s Players Championship multitrack qualifier.

Also earning $2,000 seats to the $200,000 Guaranteed event here on April 2-3 were Nick “48 hrs.” Noce, Douglas Schenk and Ron Ricciuti, who was more than $18 clear of the 5th-place finisher.

There was also a single-track Players Championship qualifier on the Sunday Gulfstream card.

Giuseppe Petrella (2 wins, 1 place) experienced enlightenment in this tourney thanks in no small part to Dark Ages, who took the 8th at Gulfstream and returned $25.40 to win and $13.00 to place.

The Santa Anita-only Players Championship qualifier was a tight one in which David Nelson prevailed.

Nelson’s 2 wins and 4 places were topped by Best Chance ($15.40, $5.80) in race 3.

The Wissigs ruled Sunday’s $20,000 Guaranteed cash game.

Playing one entry each, Ronald had 4 wins and no places while Wolfgang chimed in with 3 wins and a place. That earned Ronald $11,027 and Wolfgang $4,411 in a game that was ultimately worth a total of $24,505.

Sunday’s other featured cash tourney was the $15 Pick 4 Jackpot game.

Just like on Saturday, there was no perfect, 4-for-4 ticket. Chip Sarna claimed the top spot thanks to having the final two winners in the sequence. The lack of perfection means that next Saturday’s Pick 4 Jackpot tourney will begin with a now-five-figure carryover of $10,549.

Also similar to Saturday, Sunday’s high scorer came in the day’s Pegasus qualifier.

Phillip Shinkle did the trick here thanks to 4 firsts and 2 seconds. Also earning $6,500 packages to this Saturday’s competition were Frank “54-40 or Fight” Polk and Richard Reese, who narrowly grabbed third by virtue of having the winning 2-5 shot in the final tourney race.

Getting back to Phillip Shinkle, here’s a look at his best-of-day performance on Sunday.

Over at HorsePlayers, John Heims picked up a BCBC seat in a Low Ratio qualifier.

Heims recorded 3 wins and 3 places to merit the available $10,000 entry.

Sunday’s NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers was also a Low Ratio affair.

This was a non-guaranteed, 1-per-17 play-in, and there were enough entries to hand out three “Bally’s Berths”. Congratulations are in order for Chris Savage (5 wins, 1 place), Stephen Wolfson (2W, 0P) and Randall Walters (1W, 3P).

Due to the extended holiday weekend there was a featured slate on Monday as well. In addition to Howard Welsh’s cash-game success, there was a multitrack Players Championship qualifier that saw three participants come away with $2,000 entries.

$100 was the magic mark to beat, and the three who did so were Matthew Nixon (3 wins, 2 places), Joseph Muzio (3W, 1P) and Ed Peters (2W, 2P). 

There was a Santa Anita-only qualifier to the Players Championship on Monday, and the winner was Dylan Donnelly.

Donnelly chipped away early with four winners that paid between $2.80 and $7.60 in the win hole. Then, in the last race, he hit Goldini ($12.40, $6.60) to get up at the end. 

The Monday qualifier to the Pegasus World Cup Betting Challenge qualifier was interesting on a number of levels.

Finishing first was Lee Davis, who was seen on the GQ channel TV series “Horseplayers” as a member of “Team Rotondo.” 

Lee Davis

Davis was no doubt vociferously rooting—and racing-form-whipping—his three winners home.  Finishing second was another member of the Horseplayers cast, Kevin Cox. The third and final winner of a Pegasus spot was Richie Bennett—who has yet to appear in a TV series to my knowledge, but perhaps this fine supporting role to Davis and Cox will serve as his big break.

This Pick & Pray tourney had a bit of a crazy finish. The only one of the top three to cash anything in the last race was Cox, who collected a vital $4.60 place payoff that moved him from 4th to second. 

But take a look at Cox’s scoresheet.

In the last race, he picked two also-eligibles that, not surprisingly, both scratched out of the 6 furlong turf sprint. So he wound up with the post-time favorite in what looked like a wide-open race on paper. Did Cox do this on purpose as some sort of clever tactic? If so, how did he come to the conclusion that a small collection would be helpful at the end? We’ll just let him explain.

“For the first time in my contest life, I failed to update a double scratch selection after the scratches had come out,” Cox wrote in a text. “I was on a telephone call and missed the opportunity to change my pick by a couple of minutes. In this case, it was better to be lucky than prompt!”

We salute all of last week’s winners—and offer condolences to those who were on the wrong end of disqualifications…or tough matchups…or phone calls. We’ll be back on Wednesday with more featured-tourney opportunities to make a score or — as the case may be — to settle a score.