Aaron Bernstein Goes Back-to-Back-to-Back in Tampa Qualifiers; Anthony Spinazzola and Neal Thomas Also Enjoy Great Success on Both Sides of the New Year; Mike Delatte Hits Pick 4 Jackpot (Weekly Recap, December 29-January 2)

During a holiday weekend dominated by Pick & Pray tourneys, it may not have been surprising to see so many multiple winners. By our unofficial count, there were 15 such players this past week. What did seem surprising, however, was how many of these prolific victors did so not via same-day multi-tabling, but, rather, just consistently terrific handicapping. 

One great example of this was Aaron Bernstein.

With his 3 wins and 2 places, Bernstein won Friday’s qualifier to this coming Saturday’s Tampa Bay Downs High Rollers Tournament Presented by HorseTourneys. It’s a $1,000-buy-in, live-bankroll event. 

Now it’s one thing for a player to focus his energy and resources on qualifying for a single event. It’s another thing for that plan to come to fruition…and for it to happen so quickly.

After celebrating his $1,000 Tampa seat on New Year’s Eve, Bernstein apparently went easy on the champagne, got a good night’s sleep, and again set his sights on Tampa on New Year’s Day.

Gregory Lewis (5 wins, 2 places) got the gold medal in this one, but Bernstein (3W, 3P) got the all-important silver to secure his second Tampa entry in as many days. 

What did Bernstein do on Sunday? What else?

Ho-hum…another day, another $1,000 Tampa seat. Here it was Bernstein (4 wins 3 places) and Brett Wiener (3W, 0P) who bagged the High Rollers spots. Bernstein now figures to be a busy man at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, running back and forth to the self-service machines in quest of one of the two NHC seats and the first-place prize (based on 100 entries) of $20,000. If anyone was as happy as Bernstein over his three seat wins, it might have been the HorseTourneys Accounting staff. With HorseTourneys is on the hook for the food and open bar at this contest, and, after all, one man can only eat and drink so much.

The featured-tourney week began on Wednesday, and multi-table success was the order of the day. The most profitable such winner was Vineet “Please Don’t Squeeze the” Sharma. 

Sharma had No Fooling Dude ($27.40, $12.00) in the 10th at Parx among the 4 firsts and 1 second that earned him top money of $4,417 in the day’s $6,000 Guaranteed cash tourney. Final pot for this one was $9,539.

That wasn’t all for Sharma, though, He also picked up a $1,500 seat to the $250,000 Guaranteed Flo-Cal Faceoff here on January 15-16.

Sharma (3 wins, 1 place) finished ahead of fellow Flo-Cal berth winners Mike Cebula (5W, 2P) and Edward Enborg (4W, 3P)…and behind first-place finisher Joseph Vida (4W, 0P) who, like Sharma, had No Fooling Dude.

Using the same picks, Vida also left most of his opponents blue in Wednesday’s Bally’s NHC Last Chance qualifier.

Also grabbing $500 spots for NHC Eve were George “Boomer” Scott (3 wins, 3 places), Edward Enborg (his second grand prize of the day), Leigh Van Winkle (4W, 2P), Dave Cichy (2W, 1P) and Tarik Kouchtaf (4W, 1P).

With time drawing near for the Flo-Cal Faceoff, we offered a $350 Low Ratio qualifier to it on Wednesday.

Joseph Sullivan got the $1,500 seat here thanks to 5 winners out of 10 races.

Meanwhile, Ron Tackett (3 wins, 4 places) made collections in 7 out of the 10 races…

…and that got Tackett a $1,000 entry for Tampa Bay Downs this Saturday.

On Thursday, Neal Thomas had a “double-win” day—in more ways than one.

Thomas picked 5 winners (including 4 that paid above $14.00) to snatch a Flo-Cal Faceoff seat along with 2nd- and 3rd-place finishers Craig “Home Sweet” Hom (3W, 2P) and Timothy Hughes (3W, 2P). Thomas’s score of $118.50 was the day’s best.

As a matter of fact, Thomas apparently liked these selections so much that he played them again. Not only that…he doubled down on them!

A mere mortal would have won $4,292 in this $5,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray which closed with an outsized pot of $9,539. By playing his picks twice, however, Thomas managed to bank $6,009. Now that’s conviction!

NHC Hall of Famer Steve Wolfson Jr. will be hopping in his car on Saturday and making the intrastate drive from Holly Hill, Fla., to Oldsmar. 

The fourth-ever NHC champion picked 5 winners and a runner up on Thursday to lock down his $1,000 Tampa High Rollers entry. (Word has it that the HorseTourneys Accounting staff wanted to contract out to Treasure Island for the Tampa Bay Downs buffet line security, but, fearing a player revolt, McKay Smith nixed the idea.)

There were four winners of $500 entries in Thursday’s Bally’s Last Chance qualifier.

Matt “The Fly” Tietze led the way with 5 winners. Joining him in the big room on Thursday the 27th will be Gregory Lewis (whose name was sprinkled throughout the tops of leaderboards last week…including his previously-noted Saturday Tampa qualifier win over Aaron Bernstein), Frank Foss (4 wins, 1 place) and Daven Turner (2W, 1P).

Since we’re on the topic of Bally’s…and Gregory Lewis…we might as well start there in going over the Friday featured results.

Lewis (5 wins, 2 places) led an overflow group of 7 winners in the New Year’s Eve play-in to the Bally’s Last Chance game. Also securing berths were John “The Clocker” Nichols (4W, 0P), Martin Scaminaci (4W, 1P) Bob McIntyre (4W, 1P),  Brett Wiener (3W, 2P) and Stephan Gravina (5W, 2P) 

(Incidentally…look for the four contest tracks on Thursday, the 27th at Bally’s to be Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Laurel and Fair Grounds. Also incidentally…I believe that’s the first time I’ve typed “Fair Grounds” in quite some time!)

If you are a member of the Lewis family and only reading this for Gregory’s exploits, feel free to scroll down to Saturday now.

For the rest of you, there’s Anthony Spinazzola’s New Year’s Eve cash-game win.

Spinaazzola captured the final HT Tour event of the year (Congratulatons Jorge Cruz-Aedo!), our $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray with 1 runner up followed by 4 winners, and he earned $10,972 from a final total purse of $27,431. At this point, Spinazzola might have said to himself, “Damn, I really hate to see this year come to an end.” Except that…

…he picked up in 2022 right where he left off in 2021, taking Saturday’s NHC qualifier that saw Carolyn Stovall also land a seat for later this month. This time, Spinazzola posted the day’s highest score.

Saturday was a pretty chalky day with the highest available win payoff a mere $16.00. Surprisingly, perhaps, Spinazzola achieved his best-of-day score without that 7-1 shot…though 7 wins and a place DO make up for a multitude of sins.

Getting back to Friday, Mike Cebula bagged his second Flo-Cal Faceoff seat of the week by capturing the day’s $118 qualifier. 

Cebula’s biggest return among a Spinazzola-like 7 wins and a place came with Call Her Joey ($14.00, $5.00) in the 7th at Tampa. Players were out in force this past weekend, and, here, there were enough entries to hand out another three seats to the $250,000 Guaranteed event (which is starting to close in on its guarantee). Those three went to Jim Lisowsky (2 wins, 2 places), John “The Clocker” Nichols (4W, 0P) and Gary Blair (2W, 1P).

There was also a Low Ratio Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier on New Year’s Eve, It was won by David Turin.

Ironically, Turin won this 6-player, $350 Flo-Cal qualifier with a higher score than Mike Cebula posted in taking the day’s  59-entry, $118 version.

High score of the day on Friday—a generally low-scoring day—was put up by Tim Langlois.

There weren’t many big prices available on Friday, but what WAS there was pretty much found by Langlois (and those two double-digit place collections didn’t hurt either). Again, turnout was extra strong, and so there were three (rather than the usual two) NHC seats awarded in this $75 play-in at HorseTourneys.

Runner up Ralph Magnetti (3 wins, 2 places) got one of them. Third-place finisher Michael Marlaire was already double-qualified and mainly just hunting for NHC Tour points…so that left the third available spot to 4th-place finisher Anthony DeCaspers (3W, 2P). 

Saturday was an even lower-scoring day than Saturday (despite two additional races in the contest schedules). No winner paid more than $16.00. Perhaps the most notable of those to have that 7-1 shot, Electric Youth in the 9th at Aqueduct, was Mike “Afternoon” Delatte.

Thanks to Electric Youth and three other winners, Delatte pulled in a total of $4,785 for taking down the $15 Pick 4 Jackpot. On a chalky day, even “longshot” Electric Youth had to be considered a pretty logical pick. He was 7-2 in the morning line, though the Rudy Rodriguez charge didn’t have much early speed…on a day when such a quality seemed, by the end of the Aqueduct card, like a prerequisite for success. So maybe that’s why the horse drifted up in price like that. 

Enough speculation. It’s time to get back to what we are paid for—straight reportage!

We hope that John “The Clocker” Nichols—who earned Bally’s and Flo-Cal Faceoff seats on Friday—won’t be offended when we dutifully report to readers that he failed to show a flat-bet profit on Saturday.

If he does, then he can grouse all the way to the bank after raking in $8,549 in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray, which finished up with a pot of $12,213. Nichols’s biggest winner went off at 2-1…and his biggest return came on a $13.20 place collection. Clearly, he spotted himself well in this event!

Winning even more cash on Saturday was Dale Hatfield.

Hatfield (5 wins, 1 place) hit Marisa’s Mission ($8.60, $5.20) in the final contest race, the 11th at Gulfstream, to get up late and win a hefty $18,572 in Saturday’s first HT Tour event of the year, our $30,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed its books with a purse of $41,272. (That’s a lot of money for a non-Special Event cash game around here.) 

As deftly foreshadowed earlier, Gregory Lewis’s sustained run of good handicapping continued on Saturday.

In addition to his aforementioned Tampa qualifier victory on Saturday, Lewis led a group of 7 Bally’s NHC Last Chance seat winners that also included G.T. Nixon, Todd Faro, Douglas Schenk, Mark Stovall, Brian “BC” Chenvert and “Iso” Joe Johnson.

George Chute could not come up with anything paying more than 3-1 on Saturday.

It turns out that wasn’t a problem. Chute laddered his way to the top in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier at HorsePlayers with 6 firsts and 1 second.

There were a pair of Flo-Cal Faceoff play-ins on New Year’s Day.

Lucille DeRuisseau captured the multi-track Faceoff qualifier on the strength of 5 wins and 2 places. Also winning $1,500 berths for finishing nearest behind DeRuisseau were Anthony Laurino (2W, 3P), Richard Seidl (6W, 2P) and Michael “Copa” Kavana (4W, 2P).

There was also a full-card, Gulfstream-only Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier on Saturday.

The winner was Ryan Johnston, who had 4 winners and 1 runner up. Perhaps this performance bodes well for Johnston in the Flo-Cal Faceoff—or at least the “Flo” portion of it.

Sunday was a more typical day in terms of contest scoring. The player who scored the best—by far—was Jeff Bussan.

Clearly, Bussan’s strategy was to do do well at the beginning, do well in the middle and then do well at the end. As Jim Halpert said to Pam during the “Fun Run” episode of The Office, “Why don’t more people do that?”

Anyway, Bussan made $13,300 with his 7 winners in Sunday’s $20,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a purse of $33,250. 

He also led the way in the day’s Bally’s Last Chance play-in.

Behind Bussan—and also earning $500 seats—were several familiar names: Joe Johnson who won a Bally’s seat on Saturday and two more here for finishing 2nd and 5th, Douglas Schenk (who also won a Bally’s berth on Saturday), Michael Odorisio and Brett Wiener (who had won a Bally’s spot on Friday and then a Tampa entry on Sunday for finishing behind Aaron Bernstein).

Jumping over to HorsePlayers for a bit, Sunday was the day of the 5-seats-guaranteed NHC Super Qualifier. Following the week’s theme of highly-active play, there were enough entrants to punch six tickets to the big dance later this month in Vegas.

Congratulations to Scott Bordeaux (4 wins, 2 places), Will McDonald (5W, 0P) Kirk Rockwell (6W, 2P) Chris Bertolucci (2W, 2P), Mike Kappel (7W, 3P) and Daniel Fischer (4W, 2P), who finished in a tie with Kappel for 5th.

The final race of this Super Qualifier may have been a bitter pill to swallow for 7th-place finisher Kelly Lawless (and perhaps a couple of others) who, like Lawless, also had Santa Anita race 10 winner Cabo Spirit. 

In a Sunday afternoon tweet, Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen explained it more succinctly than I could.

Condolences to Kelly—and may one of these unfortunate occurrences work out in your favor in the not-too-distant future.

Jim Trepinski had Cabo Spirit, but the diminished payoff was inconsequential in what was a convincing triumph in the Sunday, $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks game.

Trepinski’s 5 wins and 5 places paid him to the tune of $5,699 in a game ultimately worth a total of $8,122.

For Seth Morris, the Cabo Spirit return proved to be just enough.

With 4 wins and 2 places, Morris prevailed by 80 cents in the NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers that was restricted to those without a 2022 seat.

Earlier, we recapped Neal Thomas’s two Thursday victories that included a one-two finish in the day’s featured cash tourney. On Sunday, he was back in the winner’s circle.

Thomas played his winning entry (consisting of 4 wins and a place) just one time in Sunday’s Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier, but we’re confident that he was still happy with himself afterward. Also grabbing spots in the $250,000 Guaranteed game were double-Bally’s winner Douglas Schenk (3 wins, 2 places), Mark Simonovic (3W, 2P), Eric “B Connected” Boyd (5W, 3P) and Thursday Tampa seat winner Steve Wolfson Jr. (5W, 2P).

There was also a Flo-Cal Faceoff play-in focused solely on the Aqueduct card.

Nothing flashy here, but Mark “El” Kapitan (4 wins, 3 places) made collections in the first three races and the final three to walk off with the $1,500 entry.

Robert Graham got off to a fast (and flashy) start on Sunday, nailing Charlotte Webley ($33.60, $10.00) in the first contest race, the 7th at the Big A (or the Muddy A, as it was for most of the weekend).

Graham added 5 more winners plus a runner up thereafter to capture Sunday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio Pick & Pray. Curtis Meyer finished second to garner a $5,000 partial BCBC entry. Plenty of time still, Curtis, to fill out that other half!

We hope all of you had an enjoyable New Year’s weekend, and we sincerely thank you for what was a truly robust amount of play last week. The week ahead brings with it our final qualifiers to Tampa and the final weekend of qualifying for the Flo-Cal Faceoff. 

Congratulations again (and slightly more formally this time) to Jorge Cruz-Aedo for winning the 2021 HorseTourneys Tour and earning the “HT Handicapper of the Year” award…and the $10,000 that goes along with it. We plan to profile Cruz-Aedo in the week or so ahead. As for the 2022 award, there’s still a fair amount of time left to catch Dale Hatfield and Jeff Bussan! If each week is as intriguing as this past one, it should be a fun journey. Good luck, and thanks to all of you for a great 2021.