Judy Wagner Headed Back to the NHC; Big “Day After the Derby” for Russell Priola…and Sean O’Malley Too; Drew Keaton Stays Hot (Weekly Recap, April 28-May 2)

This space is decidedly prejudiced in favor of Judy Wagner. Whenever the “First Lady of the NHC” captures a grand prize, it gets top billing here, and the champion of NHC II in 2001 took home a key one on Friday.

Finishing third behind the already-double-qualified Jay Johns, plus Richard Pearson, meant that the second of two available seats in Friday’s $75 NHC qualifier went, by just 80 cents, to Wagner—thanks to a $5.60 place collection in the final contest race at Belmont with Robin Sparkles. 

So the New Orleans handicapper will be in the January 2022 field, looking to make history as the first two-time champ (assuming that no one does so this August). And even if she loses every single one of her plays next January, the NHC will be significantly improved by her presence.

Monmouth Park is always improved by the presence of frequent visitor John Gaspar, and such will be the case again on June 12th.

Gaspar recorded 4 wins and 1 runner up, including Tampa race 9 victress Lady Jean ($27.60, $9.20) to pick up a $2,000 entry to the Monmouth Pick Your Prize Challenge. 

Mike Forzano also had Lady Jean among his 5 firsts and 1 second.

The six collections added up to a victory worth $3,608 in Wednesday’s $6,000 Guaranteed, live-format cash tourney, which wound up with a final purse of a hefty $8,018.

Like Mike Forzano, Derek Isenberg also uncovered 5 winners and 1 runner up.

Unlike Mike Forzano, Isenberg’s best return came in the final tourney race with Inspiring Justice ($18.80, $10.20) in the 11th at Parx. That last one got Isenberg up and into the winner’s circle of Wednesday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier. Isenberg, thus, gets a $2,500 entry to the $300,000 Guaranteed all-cash tourney here on August 14-15.

Speaking of cash, James Lee took home a nice pile of it on Thursday.

Perhaps fittingly, Lee had “4” collections (2 wins, 2 places) in Thursday’s $4,000 (also fitting?) Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which finished up with a pot of $7,396. The last of those 4 successful “4 picks” was Our Destiny ($75.60, $25.80) in the 9th at Belmont, which made it Lee’s destiny to win $3,328.

Gary Blair also came up with 2 wins and 2 places in Friday’s $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray…though he demonstrated no particular allegiance to any one integer.

The one time that Blair did opt for a #4 horse, however, he was rewarded handsomely—by Fleetridge ($37.00, $10.60) in the 9th at Tampa. That collection turned the game into a Blair Rich Project, earning Gary $6,882 from a final total purse of $15,295.

Every week at HorseTourneys seems to be a Rich Project these days for Drew Keaton.

Keaton chalked up his 8th tourney victory in the past 4 weeks (recording at least one in each of those weeks) by hitting 2 winners and 4 runners up in Friday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier. Fleetridge at Tampa was the horse most responsible for Keaton landing the $2,500 seat—and keeping his weekly winning streak alive.

Turning to Friday action at HorsePlayers, we already noted how Judy Wagner punched her ticket to the 2022 NHC in the day’s $75 qualifier. In the process, however, we may have given short shrift to Jay Johns, the double qualifier who finished first and did so by posting the highest score of the day. Here’s how he did it:

Like Jay Johns, Tim Hughes also came up with Locally Owned at Belmont and Fleetridge at Tampa.

Those two pricey winners—plus one place collection—secured a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry for Hughes in Friday’s $500 Low Ratio Pick & Pray.

On Kentucky Derby Day, the big winner of the day (besides Medina Spirit) was Jose Giron.

Giron swept the last three winners of the tourney, including He Had a Secret ($18.40, $7.60 in the 9th at Tampa) to finish with 6 wins and 3 places in Saturday’s $20,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a final purse of $22,089. Giron’s share of that was $9,950.

Making a lot out of a little, Dave “The Gambling Actuary” Nichols won a nice prize on Saturday.

It was a tight, low-scoring, defensive struggle, but $52.80 got it done for Nichols, and he walked away with the prized $2,000 entry for the June 12th Monmouth Pick Your Prize Challenge. Leave it to an actuary to find the spot where $52.80 would carry the day!

James Michelson (father of 2005 NHC Champ Jamie Michelson) needed a score twice the size of Nichols’s to succeed in Saturday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier.

Michelson picked 6 winners on Saturday, but it was his lone place collection of the afternoon with Joyful Surprise ($16.80) in the final contest race, the 12th at Gulfstream, that turned the tables in his favor over cash-game winner Jose Giron.

Speaking of cash games, David Curich’s only miss in Saturday’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourney came in Leg 2 when he didn’t have the 3-2 Gulfstream race 9 winner Max K.O.

That knocked Curich out of Jackpot consideration, but he did finish first overall.

On Sunday, Sean O’Malley and Tony Calabrese tied for first despite having just one winner each.

That’s because that single winner (in the final leg) was a whopper—Cadillac Black ($40.20, $13.80) in the 10th at Gulfstream.

Since no one went 4-for-4 over the weekend, the $15 Jackpot Pick 4 tourney this coming Saturday will begin with a carryover of $2,626.

Getting back to Saturday action, Howard Welsh took home the big bucks ($7,000) in the day’s Big Bucks Pick & Pray, which went off with a takeout to players of just 3.4%.

Welsh also profited greatly from the Joyful Surprise, $16.80 place return in the 12th at Gulfstream. 

What Gulfstream gave-eth Welsh on Saturday, however, it took-eth away on Sunday.

Welsh seemed well on his way to a sweep of the weekend Big Bucks events when Cadillac Black happened in the final race, race 10 at Gulfstream. Welsh’s pain was Dennis Montoro’s euphoria as the 19-1 shot powered home a much the best winner, giving Montoro the top prize of $5,699 in the $7,500 Guaranteed affair (final purse: $8,142). Welsh had to settle for second money of $1,628.

Dale Hatfield was the real McCoy in Sunday’s $20,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

Hatfield (5 wins, 2 places) came out shooting with collections in the first 4 races prior to hitting Ballydooley ($32.40, $10.40) in the 9th at Belmont. When the feuding was over, Hatfield emerged with the top prize of $10,328 in a game ultimately worth $22,952.

Sean O’Malley had a nice Sunday.

In addition to his aforementioned tie for first in the $15 Pick 4 game, O’Malley led the way in Sunday’s Spa & Surf Showdown play-in with just 2 winners and 1 place. Such things are possible when your winners go off at 38-1 and 19-1! Evan Trommer (3W, 3P) had neither of those bombs, but he still managed to get up for second and grab the other $2,500 entry up for grabs.

O’Malley also hit paydirt in Sunday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier.

Here, using the same picks, O’Malley bested all but Robert McIntyre, who also had Safe Conduct (the 38-1 horse) and Cadillac Black (19-1) among what were 3 wins and 1 place. 

Safe Conduct was the biggie for Paul Fishman.

The Belmont race 7 shocker was the highlight of 2 firsts and 3 seconds that will have Fishman in the starting gate for September’s The BIG One right here at HorseTourneys, where a field of no more than 57 will be allowed in.

Bob Gianquitti hit 15-1 Ballydooley in the 9th at Belmont, followed that up with a victorious 2-1 shot, then held on for dear life from there.

Gianquitti (4 wins and 3 places in all) prevailed by $1.10 and took home a paid-up $3,000 package to the May 31st (Memorial Day) Lone Star Million Betting Challenge down in Texas. 

On the more exotic side of the contest spectrum, Robert “Flawless” Diamond became qualifier #2 to the $50,000 Guaranteed Exacta Extravaganza here on September 11-12.

Diamond mined two exactas, including a $179.75-for-a-buck hit in race 7, the Safe Conduct race, at Belmont. That got him a $500 entry to the 2-day, full-card Exacta box tourney on Kentucky Downs and Woodbine here the weekend after Labor Day.

Over at HorsePlayers a crowd of 1,860 lined up to take a swing at the free (for Tour members), 15-race NHC qualifier.

George Turner (4 wins and 4 places), Blaise Guadagno, Dylan McIntosh (moved up from 30th to 3rd by having 19-1 Cadillac Black in the final race), Russell Priola and Dale Day.

Not surprisingly given the high number of entrants—and the high number of races—Turner’s score was the highest of the day. 

Hard not to have a day worth shouting about when you smoke out three horses who win and pay better than 15-1.

Fourth-place finisher Russell Priola didn’t score quite as well in Sunday’s Low Ratio Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier…but “not quite as well” turned out to be “just fine, thank you.”

Priola, who hails from Buffalo, N.Y,, whiffed on the last 6 tourney races. But prior to tailing off, he had 3 winners that paid $23.00, $79.00 and $13.00 up top. 

We’ll be back with more featured-tourney events starting on Wednesday. In the meantime, sincere thanks to all whose participation helped make for a fun and lucrative Derby weekend…even in the absence of the Derby, itself!