William Smith Sweeps Saturday Cash Features; Kirk Rockwell Finishes First on Three Consecutive Days; Frank Polk Collects $8,977 and an NHC Seat (Weekly Recap, December 15-19)

It has seldom been harder to determine whom to include in the headline of a Monday recap than this week because, by my unofficial count, 10 players collected more than grand prize this past week. 

Saturday seemed like an especially unlikely day for multiple winners. First off, six of the nine featured events were contested in Live format. Perhaps more importantly, no horse paid more than $22.60 to win, yet eight of the 12 winners paid at least $10.80 so there were countless paths to victory. And still…two players accounted for four of the day’s nine first-place finishes. One of them had an especially lucrative day.

Christmas came early to “Battlin’” William Smith (4 wins, 1 place). When Lullaby Land ($10.80, $9.40) eked out a dead heat victory in the final contest race, the 10th at Tampa, the result slashed Smith’s opponents (especially Kevin Engelhard) like a big Koho across the ankles. The late collection put Smith over the top in the day’s HT Tour event, our $30,000 Guaranteed cash tourney, which closed with a purse of $36,652. Smith’s share of that was $16,493. And Engelhard had to settle for second despite having the “other” winner of the nightcap.

Smith lost his place horse and, thus, didn’t score quite as well in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray, but the outcome was the same.

Here, Smith added another $10,686 to his Christmas coffers in a game ultimately worth a total of $15,266. The total in Smith’s Saturday stocking amounted to $27,179. Ho, Ho, Ho!

James Morgan had a pretty Merry Saturday before Christmas as well.

Morgan connected on 5 winners to grab a $1,000 entry to the Tampa High Rollers Tournament Presented by HorseTourneys on January 8th. 

And Morgan used the exact same picks (despite the fact that both tourneys were in Live format) to capture Saturday’s Santa Anita Opening Day Challenge qualifier.

There were enough entries in this one to award three $1,500 entries, and the other two were claimed by Kenny McMahan (3 wins, 2 places) and Craig Rowe (also 3W, 2P). Morgan, McMahan and Rowe each had one of the winners of Tampa’s 10th.

As for McMahan, he improved upon his Santa Anita score with 5 wins and 3 places in Saturday’s $165 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers, and that got him into the winner’s circle of the 160-entry event. 

Donald Wildemuth (4W, 2P) finished fast by nailing the winners of the final three contest races to bag the other berth to next month’s NHC.

Despite the exploits of William Smith and James Morgan and Kenny McMahan, the most noteworthy Saturday performance may have been that of Kirk Rockwell in the Bally’s NHC Last Chance play-in.

We say that not because Rockwell posted the high score of the day in besting fellow $500 seat earners Matthew Thomas (4 wins, 1 place), Robert Pennell (3W, 0P), Cara Yarusso (3W, 1P), Terry “Red Rock or Bust” Flanagan (5W, 0P) and Hubert Gaffney (2W, 2P)…or because it was Rockwell’s second Bally’s seat win of the week, having outdone Dane Moore, Gregory Lewis and Kyle Clayton on Thursday…

…but because Rockwell’s Saturday triumph completed a remarkable run of three straight days with a featured-tourney victory.

The man should put out a tip sheet! Rockwell’s Friday success came in the Santa Anita Opening Day Challenge qualifier in which Lucas Van Zandt (2 wins, 2 places) pulled off the difficult task of competing against Rockwell and still being happy at the end.

Let’s rewind now to the beginning of the week.

The last of Michael Clem’s 5 wins and 2 places was the best as Carpenters Call ($27.20, $10.80) in the 9th at Tampa propelled Clem to victory in Wednesday’s $6,000 Guaranteed cash game which ended up with a pot of $7,258. Clem’s winner’s share was $3,266.

In keeping with the theme of the week, Clem went on to be yet another of the week’s multiple grand prize winners.

Clem’s 4 winners and 2 runners up got him 3rd in Saturday’s three-seat Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier where Basil DeVito (5 wins, 0 place) got off the mat at the end of the match with four straight winners and Bill “BC” Chenvert (5W, 2P) also emerged with a $1,500 entry to the $250,000 Guaranteed all-cash blowout here on Jan. 15-16.

Getting back to Wednesday action, Jim Murphy had 2 firsts and 2 seconds to capture the day’s Bally’s NHC Last Chance qualifier.

Jon Van Niel (4 wins, 2 places), Jason Alonzo (3W, 1P) and Hubert Gaffney (4W, 1P) also picked up $500 ducats to the NHC Eve competition. And, with that result, we can report (what else?) another multiple-winner scenario because Gaffney, you might recall, also picked up a Bally’s entry by finishing in the lowest possible qualifying position behind Kirk Rockwell in Saturday’s play-in. Kudos to Gaffney for spotting himself exceedingly well in those two qualifiers!

The 2020 Spa & Surf Showdown champ, Scott Fiedler, also found a good spot in Wednesday’s Santa Anita Opening Day Challenge qualifier.

A score of $47.40 got it done for Fiedler, who recorded 3 firsts and 1 second in earning his $1,500 entry for this coming Sunday at Xpressbet.

Two more $1,500 berths were awarded in Wednesday’s Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier. 

James Dickson whiffed on the first five races, but reeled off three straight winners thereafter to lead the way. Nicholas Phillippides caught 3 place collections followed by the 12-1 Carpenters Call at Tampa to get the other available Flo-Cal berth.

Troy Robertson hit the last contest race with American Ninja ($11.20, $5.40) in the 9th at Gulfstream.

The 9-2 tally moved Robertson up and over George Bosch in Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Downs Last Chance/First Opportunity NHC qualifier.

On Thursday, Jimmie O’Nail was thankful that Eucharist ($39.60, $16.20) was received in the winner’s circle following the first contest race of the day, the 5th at Aqueduct.

Eucharist was the heavy lifter among 4 winners and 3 runners that brought O’Nail a payday of $3,203 in Thursday’s $5,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a final purse of $7,119.

HT Tour leader Jorge Cruz-Aedo (2 wins, 2 places) and Michael Somich (3W, 1P) were also among those lined up for Eucharist on Thursday.

Buoyed by the fast start, “J. Crew” and Somich went on to capture $1,500 Flo-Cal Faceoff entries.

It has been a pretty magical last six months for Cruz-Aedo, and more of the Texan’s handicapping acumen was on display on Friday.

Cruz-Aedo (2 wins, 1 place) got his second Flo-Cal Faceoff seat in as many days thanks in large part to a large, late price—Boca ($67.00, $28.00) in the final contest race, the 9th at Tampa Bay Downs. Steven Meier (1 win, 4 places) was another Boca baby, and he got the other $1,500 Flo-Cal seat.

On Friday, Cruz-Aedo also picked up his second entry to the Tampa High Rollers Contest Presented by HorseTourneys.

Here, Cruz-Aedo outperformed all but Christopher “Liberty and Justice for” Ahl who had 3 place collections followed by Boca—his only winner of the day.

Friday’s high score was Frank “54-40 or Fight” Polk.

Polk parlayed that gaudy total into $8,977 by taking Friday’s HT Tour event, the $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed its books with $19,949 in the kitty.

Polk had one fewer winner in Friday’s $75 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers, but he held onto 11-1 Scotty at Aqueduct and 32-1 Boca at Tampa.

Allan Schaffer (3 wins, 1 place) also had both Boca and Scotty, and so he and Polk will each be beamed up to the NHC next month.

Boca was also a day-maker for Ryan Knottek.

With 4 wins and a place, Knottek led the way in Friday’s Bally’s Last Chance play-in. Of the other three $500 seat earners—Kevin Engelhard (3W, 2P), Mike “Lifestyles of the Rich and” Famous (2W, 3P) and Nick “48 Hrs.” Noce (1W, 4P), not one of them had Boca.

Our dragnet for multiple winners means that most of Saturday’s featured events have already been covered…but not the $165 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Pick & Pray at HorsePlayers.

Chris Podratz picked 5 winners (all paying between $6.20 and $16.60) to turn his $165 entry fee into a $10,000 entry…and, come next November, potentially much more than that.

Both Charlie Ricks…

…and Scott Roberts…

…came up with three winners en route to their respective victories in the weekend’s $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourneys. However, since no one went a perfect four-for-four, the next Pick 4 Jackpot game, to take place on Sunday, December 26th, will start out with a carryover of $3,556.

As for Sunday, what would the day have been without a couple more multiple winners.

That’s Ken Seeman following one of his many 2021 victories that included this year’s renewal of The BIG One. He may have struck a similar pose following Sunday’s HT Tour event.

Seeman hit the Aqueduct “late double” of Forewarned ($86.00, $24.00) in the Queens County Stakes and Sandro the Great ($23.80, $10.00) to take home the top prize of $11,133 in Sunday’s $20,000 cash tourney, which closed its doors with a pot of $24,740. Here was his scorecard:

Those same selections also garnered Seeman an NHC spot in Sunday’s Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers.

Seeman topped all but Jeff Joffrion (3 firsts, 1 second), who wasn’t losing to anyone given that he turned in the day’s highest score.

For Mayra Giron, the theme of the day on Sunday was “Always a bridesmaid, never a loser.”

Giron (3 places followed by 3 winners) caught a nice bouquet for finishing second to Dave Gray (2W, 2P) in Sunday’s Bally’s Last Chance qualifier. Also earning $500 entries were Dan Brockman (2W, 3P), Myles Richards (3W, 4P), Joseph Costello (4W, 2P) and Don Allen (3W, 2P).

The bouquet was worth three times as much for Giron in Sunday’s Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier.

George “W.” Bosch led the way here with 3 wins and a place that were highlighted by Forewarned and Sandro the Great. Susan Romeo checked in third to also pick up a $1,500 berth in the Jan. 15-16 big-money competition.

Giron added another $1,500 entry to her winnings for her runner-up performance in Sunday’s Santa Anita Opening Day Challenge qualifier.

Peter Rinato came in first in this one thanks to 3 firsts and 2 seconds. Mike Cebula got the other available spot for finishing third despite not having either of the big Sunday prices (Forewarned and Sandro the Great). Instead, he merely picked 7 winners and another 2 runners up!

Craig “Home Sweet” Hom was another who missed out on both Forewarned and Sandro the Great, but lived to tell.

Hom’s big price among 4 wins and a place was Mister Leonardo ($18.20, $6.40) in the 8th at Gulfstream. That helped him be the only player to show a flat-bet profit in Sunday’s $7,500 Big Bucks game, which sent $8,549 Hom’s way (and the rest of the  $12,213 pot out of Hom’s way).

The rest of the Sunday featured-tourney action was dominated by those who had the foresight to pick Forewarned.

Such was the case with John Kaiser in our Tampa qualifier.

Ditto Daniel Cuevas in the NHC Pick & Pray at HorsePlayers that was restricted to those who had yet to earn a 2022 seat.

Cuevas was one of three to select Forewarned in one of the day’s rare Pick & Prays.

Mark Mitchell also had Forewarned in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio play-in.

Mitchell cemented his victory by augmenting Forewarned with four additional winners.

More featured tourneys will be coming your way starting on Wednesday, but remember that we’ll have just a two-track (Gulfstream and Tampa) schedule on Friday and a non-existent one on Saturday. While the horses are resting, we hope that you and yours enjoy a very Merry Christmas.