Small Prices on Sunday Yield Big Returns for George Henning; John Van Arnum Takes $17,000 Game on Friday Plus Both Weekend Pick 4 Tourneys; John Behnke Bags Two on Wednesday (Weekly Recap, July 14-18)

The past week had a lot—the much anticipated openings of Saratoga and Del Mar, lots of close contest finishes and a few players who won multiple tourneys. What it didn’t have from Wednesday through Sunday was a single cap horse. (The closest we came was a $38.60 winner at Del Mar on Friday.) And that trend was taken to extremes on Sunday when the biggest price that came in was 6-1.

What it all led to were extra-compelling competitions and many, many paths to victory on almost every day of the featured-tourney week. 

That week got started on Wednesday—when the star of the day was John Behnke.

Behnke racked up a pair of victories on Wednesday during a special evening featured schedule. His 5 victories and 1 runner-up finish—which were topped by Cattle Drive ($21.20, $5.00) in the 3rd at Penn National—earned him a $2,500 seat to the $300,000 Guaranteed Spa & Surf Showdown plus a $500 spot in the Bally’s First Chance/Last Chance tournament on NHC Eve, August 26th.

Wednesday’s $6,000 Guaranteed cash tourney went off with just a 2.6% takeout to players. The primary beneficiary of the friendly percentages was Peter Osella.

Osella swept the final four races on the 10-race featured menu to finish with 7 winners in total and a payday of $2,700. Here’s his Wednesday scorecard:

Thursday was opening day at Saratoga, and so we offered a few full-card, Spa-only features. Appropriately, one of them was a qualifier to the Spa & Surf Showdown.

Nick “529” Fazzolari (or “Nicky Fazz” as he is known to his Jersey Boys) made off with the Spa-specific Spa & Surf Showdown seat. He had 4 wins and a place, including Danzigwiththestars ($17.20, $6.80) who came up the rail to some avail in the nightcap.

Thomas Labordo (2 wins, 2 places) and Ken Shaw (3W, 0P) were the two winners of $500 entries in Thursday’s Saratoga-only Bally’s NHC First Chance/Last Chance Pick & Pray.

Labordo’s four collections all came in the first 4 races. Both he and Shaw had Smile Bryan ($15.40, $7.30) in race 3.

There was also a Saratoga-only, $15,000 Guaranteed cash game, and it was very well attended.

The final purse came to $16,537, and the biggest cut of that, $7,441, was collected by Aron Pritchard. 

Pritchard recorded 6 winners out of 10 races, including Five Alarm Robin ($25.60, $11.20) in race 6

The featured multi-track cash tourney on Thursday was a $4,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray that went to Dale Hatfield. Even though this tourney included other tracks, Saratoga again played a key role.

Hatfield won this feud by cashing tickets in the first 5 races en route to a 5-win, 2-place day. As was the case with Aron Pritchard, the 11-1 Five Alarm Robin in race 6 at Saratoga was the horse who Hatfield most prominently hung his hat on.

As an extra-special “one-off” on Saratoga’s opening day, there was a one-seat (as in no Tour points) NHC qualifier on Thursday.

Mike Coutu captured the multi-track Pick & Pray to punch his ticket to next January’s event. He, too, had Five Alarm Robin at Saratoga among what were a quartet of winners.

Nick “48 Hrs.” Noce had Five Alarm Robin in the 6th at Saratoga, and he added 7-1 (down from 12-1 as they loaded) Danzingwiththestars in race 10 at the Spa.

Those two winners, augmented by two other victors plus a couple of place collections, landed Noce a $500 Bally’s First Chance/Last Chance seat.

On Friday, we welcomed Del Mar onto the HorseTourneys roster of featured contest tracks, and one of their races was pivotal in the day’s marquee cash event.

John Van Arnum connected on Zydeco Mama ($36.20, $17.20) in the 5th at Del Mar. That was the heavy lifter in Van Arnum’s 4 firsts and 2 seconds that earned him $8,004 in Friday’s $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a pot of $17,788. 

Van Arnum had a measure of success on both Saturday and Sunday as well.

On both days, Van Arnum came up with three of the four winners, missing just Trihubvan ($5.40) in Saturday’s United Nations at Monmouth and Awesome Debate ($6.90) in Sunday’s sloppy 8th race at Saratoga.

Since no one went 4-for-4 over the weekend, the next $15 Pick 4 Jackpot on Saturday will start out with a carryover of $763.

 In Friday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier, Kimberly Moffatt (3 wins, 2 places) rode a different Del Mar longshot to snag her $2,500 Showdown entry.

Moffatt came up with Flashiest ($27.60, $11.00) in the final tourney race, the 9th at Del Mar to pull off her…flashy…come-from-behind victory.

Evan Trommer (2 wins, 0 places), Myles Richards (4W, 2P) and Julie Loboyko (3W, 0P) were the three Friday winners of $500 Bally’s NHC First Chance/Last Chance entries.

All three had 17-1 Zydeco Mama in that 5th at Del Mar.

Friday’s high score was posted at HorsePlayers by everyone’s favorite gambling actuary, Dave Nichols.

Nichols 4 wins and 3 places translated into a cut-rate seat to the 2022 NHC.

The other person to crack triple figures, Vincent Achillare (3 wins, 1 place). Like Nichols, Achillare also had 18-1 Team Merchants (the longest-priced winner of the featured-tourney week) in the 8th at Del Mar—and Achillare came right back with the  $27.60 winner (Flashiest) in Del Mar race 9 to get up and into the “money” in this 329-entry affair.

The other Friday feature at HorsePlayers was a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio Pick & Pray.

Rick O’Donnell was the $10,000 seat winner here, courtesy of three winners that came consecutively and included Zydeco Mama ($36.20) in the 5th at Del Mar. (Quite a lot of scoring to be had among races 5, 8 and 9 at Del Mar that day.)

Saturday’s high score came from Alfred “Judge” Sirica.

Sirica’s 5 wins a place got him the top prize of $15,890 in Saturday’s newly-increased $30,000 Guaranteed cash game, which closed with a final purse of $35,311.

As you can see from Sirica’s scoresheet, he started fast…and finished fast.

Like Alfred Sirica, Ed Peters also had an Alcoa fantastic finish, sweeping the final three tourney races.

The late troika boosted Peters’s stats to 4 wins (and no places) on the day—good for the grand prize of $10,686 in Saturday’s $10,000 Big Bucks Pick & Pray, which closed up shop with a pot of $15,266.

Phil Hoedebeck (3 wins, 3 places), Mike Elsass (4W, 0P) and Kevin Perau (5W, 0P) each punched their $2,500 tickets on Saturday to the $300,000 Guaranteed Spa & Surf Showdown (now less than a month away).

All three Showdown seat securers had Graceful Princess ($31.00, $10.60) in the tourney lid lifter, race 10 on the Haskell Day card at Monmouth.

There were also three winners in Saturday’s Bally’s NHC First Chance/Last Chance qualifier.

Earning $500 berths for the day before the big three days were Jason Phillips (3 wins, 1 place), Gary Sutton (3W, 3P) and Alexa Zepp (4W, 2P). Phillips and Sutton each had Stage Ready ($22.20, $12.40) in the 7th at Del Mar.

The lone Saturday feature at HorsePlayers was a $179 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier, and it came down to the last race.

In that contest finale, Edward Anfuso (4 wins, 4 places) nailed Express Train ($7.80, $4.60) in the 10th at Del Mar to move up from 2nd-place to 1st and grab the sought-after $10,000 BCBC entry away from Joseph Costello.

In the 3rd race at Del Mar on Sunday, Beautiful Ballad won and paid $14.40 to win and $7.20. Congratulations, Beautiful Ballad. You were the highest returning horse on the 12-race featured schedule.

Even if Beautiful Ballad was sort of the Kent Dorfman of the day, many of those who had her were damn glad to meet her. Especially Thomas Holland.

Holland (5 wins, 2 places) needed every bit of that 6-1 to prevail by 50 cents over James Collins in Sunday’s $20,000 Guaranteed game, whose final purse came to $23,125. Holland’s share of that was $10,406. Special kudos also go out to an unlucky 3rd-place finisher Dale Ross, who was beaten by 60 cents for all of it.

Another player very happy with Beautiful Ballad’s $14.40 to win was Kirk Rockwell, who had the day’s high score, yet managed to win Sunday’s first qualifier to the Kentucky Downs Turf Handicapping Challenge by just 90 cents over Stephan Gravina, who had the day’s second highest score…but unfortunately not all that much to show for it.

Here’s a gander at Rockwell’s scorecard:

Compared to many of Sunday’s margins of victory, George Henning’s triumph in our first qualifier to the Keeneland Fall BCBC/NHC Online Challenge was a veritable blowout.

Henning and his 5 wins and 1 place won by a whopping $13.40 to account for the $3,500 seat. 

Henning played most (but not quite all) of those picks back in Sunday’s Del Mar Summer Challenge qualifier.

Here, one of Henning’s winners turned into a runner up, but he still had enough to hold off Alan Rorrer (5 wins, 3 places) by $1.70 and pull in another seat — this one worth $4,000. Fortunately for Rorrer (the only other entrant in this one to crack $60), there were enough entries to award two $4,000 entries, so he will be joining Henning at Del Mar at the end of this month.

Consistency was the name of the game for Robert “Tractor” Traynor in Sunday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Pick & Pray at HorsePlayers.

Traynor had Beautiful Ballad plus no fewer than 5 other winners to go along with a pair of placings—and that all added up to a $10,000 BCBC seat.

Of course, when the day’s biggest bomb pays $14.40, it usually means that there is more than one way to reach a contest’s winner’s circle—and Sunday was no exception to that rule of thumb.

The biggest winner for John Standiford (7 winners, including each of the final three, plus 3 places) was Grazely ($11.20, $4.50) in the 10th at Woodbine. He and Jamie Rivera were the two winners in the other Sunday feature at HorsePlayers, a $100 NHC qualifier. Of Rivera’s 8 victors, the highest one paid $9.00 in the win hole.

Standiford’s and Rivera’s big winners seemed like tote-rockers compared to those of A. Ryan Roberts, who won Sunday’s guaranteed qualifier to The BIG One.

Roberts hit the “late double” to finish with 4 firsts and 3 seconds. His highest priced winner paid all of $6.40.

John Ferraro didn’t even manage to turn a flat-bet profit, but he still managed to finish first in Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney.

Ferraro picked 3 winners (top win price: $6.50) and another 3 runners up to collect $5,699 in an event ultimately worth a total of $8,142. Not bad for a “losing” day!

We’re only a week away now from the Colonial Downs Handicapping Challenge and Sunday’s qualifier sent three people home with $500 entries.

In actuality, George Carr (5 wins, 2 places), Gary “Macho Man” Machiz (3W, 5P) and Greg Gass (3W, 3P) were probably already home while the tourney was going on, but, in any event, we wish them luck when they again play from home in the Colonial event on July 26th.

There were also three $500 seats bestowed in Sunday’s Bally’s NHC First Chance/Last Chance qualifier. Congratulations to first-place finisher Kevin Willett (4 wins, 2 places) who got one of them and Gregory Lewis who ran 2nd and 3rd to get the other two.

Willett’s entry and Lewis’s “good” ticket (4 wins, 2 places) each contained Beautiful Ballad. But Lewis’s third-place selections (5W, 2P) did not include the victorious Del Mar 6-1 shot. So not only did Sunday’s results result in many different pathways to success, they resulted in multiple paths for the SAME PERSON to succeed.

We wrap up the recap with Sunday’s two Spa & Surf qualifiers. One was a “regular,” $147, 1-per-20 play in, while the other was a $368 Low Ratio qualifier. Though, frankly, the ratios didn’t out to mean too much.

Keith Fenton (3 wins, 5 places) and John Twomey (2W, 3P) got their $2,500 entires to the final leg of the 2021 Tourney Triple in the $147 event. Blaise Brucato, meanwhile,  captured the Low Ratio affair with a score higher than that of Fenton and Twomey in the regular game. Brucato booked 4 winners and another 4 runners up. His big horse was Grazely ($11.20, $4.50) in the 10th at Woodbine.

So there was a little bit of everything last week. Big prices at Del Mar one day; no prices anywhere the next. Who knows what next week will bring? Actually…we do. Unfortunately we are not allowed to divulge that until this time next week. Hope to see you back here then. Thanks to all for playing!