Alexa Zepp Reels Off Four Sunday Victories; Michael Somich Earns Six Grand Prizes Over Three-Day Span; Final Push for NHC and Bally’s Seats Wraps Up (Weekly Recap, January 19-23)

Patrick Mahomes and Matthew Stafford weren’t the only ones to have a memorable Sunday. So did Alexa Zepp. 

The artist/horseplayer left her opponents dazed and confused in our first qualifier to the April 23rd Keeneland Grade One Gamble.

Similar to Mahomes, Zepp pulled off some late heroics to come away with the $3,500 seat. Runner up Daniel Edwards also got a Keeneland spot. He didn’t have Tampa race 9 winner Skippy’s Strike ($63.80, $19.80) like Zepp did, but he was a frequent casher with 6 wins (including the first four right out of the gate) and 3 places.

As for Zepp, she rambled on in Sunday’s Players Championship qualifier.

Here, she shared the victory podium with Matthew Kosco (3 wins, 0 places) who will join her in the starting gate for the $350,000 Guaranteed middle leg of the Tourney Triple here on April 8-9.

How many more times could Zepp win? Well…she again gave her opponents no quarter in Sunday’s 1/ST Ultimate Betting Challenge play-in. 

It was Zepp’s second $3,500 seat win of the day (the Keeneland seat being the other).

Zepp also…led…the way in Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks game.

Zepp’s prize of $5,250 here meant the total value of her winnings on the day came to $14,250. Unfortunately for everyone else, it also means her HorseTourneys account is flush for when she next decides to go on another rampage like Sunday’s.

While Zepp blew it out on Sunday, Michael Somich methodically bulled his way through the weekend proceedings.

His winning streak began on Friday—and it wasn’t easy to win a featured tourney on Friday since Aqueduct’s cancellation due to windy/cold conditions knocked out all of our marquee games save for Gulfstream and Tampa single-track Bally’s qualifiers. Somich won the Gulfstream version, with John Behnke and Stephen Lerma finishing closest behind him to also gain $500 spots for this Thursday. 

As things turned out, Somich’s Bally’s win was just a warmup for Saturday.

Thanks in no small part to And Won ($58.20, $17.60) in the 8th at Tampa, Somich picked up a $2,000 Players Championship entry as did runner up Scott McGovern (3 wins including And Won plus a place) and 3rd-place finisher Jeff Bussan (4W, 3P…but no And Won).

Somich added $7,124 to his cash coffers by taking Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray.

Again, And Won was key to his success—and the name of that Tampa longshot was somewhat ironic in that Saturday turned out to be something of a three-point play for Somich.

His prescient Saturday selections got him a late NHC berth by landing him third in the Low Ratio qualifier behind Michael Gotkin (4 wins, 1 place) and Greg Wish (2W, 5P). All three seat winners had And Won.

Actually, And Won could have been named And Two (as in a four-point play) where Somich is concerned given the results of Saturday’s Bally’s Last Chance multi-tack play-in.

Finishing second behind Ciaran Thornton on Saturday meant Somich earned his second Bally’s seat in as many days.

Finishing eighth behind Joe Johnson on Sunday meant Somich earned his third $500 Bally’s seat in as many days.

What a weekend for Somich. Also garnering spots for NHC Eve in this one were Evan Trommer, Michael Beychok (who got two for finishing 3rd and 4th, Anthony Spinazzola, Lou Arellano, Michael Bailey and Nick Fazzolari.

Speaking of the Bally’s NHC Last Chance contest (which is also an important event in kicking off the 2022 NHC Tour), there were a slew of Bally’s qualifiers—12 to be precise. Those 12 play-ins yielded a total of 38 grand prizes. Brett Wiener and Michael Somich won three each. Nick “529” Fazzolari, Lou Arellano, “Million Dollar Man” Michael Beychok and another Michael B., Michael Bailey, each captured a pair. While Daniel Fischer, Dan Brockman, David May, Rex Robinson, Michael Reynolds, Nick “48 Hrs.” Noce, Stephen “The Undertaker” Thompson, Gary Duncan, John Behnke, Stephen Lerma, Joe Pettit, Ciaran Thornton, Matthew Levy, Rick Vasquez, Kenneth Magner, Tony Brice, David Pyrz, Frank Lesley, “Iso” Joe Johnson, Evan Trommer, Anthony Spinazzola, Gary Leff, Ed Gryboski and Dino Herrera accounted for one each.

(Incidentally, if you won one and you’re not listed above, do not panic. Mine is a highly unofficial count that is always superseded by the auditing process performed by Price, Waterhouse, Coopers, Deloitte, Haskins, Touche, McKay and Smith.)

There were many other cash and qualifying tourneys held throughout the week. Giuseppe Petrella, on a roll in recent months, got his week off to a fast start in Wednesday’s $6,000 Guaranteed cash tourney.

Petrella picked 5 winners to earn the $3,826 grand prize in a game that finished with a purse of $8,502. Those five winners are even more impressive given the fact that they were achieved in 9—rather than 10—races.

On Thursday, Brett Wiener had the high score of the day. 

These horses were most of the ones that he used to earn three Bally’s seats during the day—two in the multi-track qualifier and one in a Gulfstream-only tilt. They also earned him some nice cash in our $5,000 Guaranteed Thursday Pick & Pray.

So in addition to his $1,500 worth of Bally’s seats, Wiener pocketed $3,203 from what was a total final pot of $7,119.

Saturday began the final push among those looking to qualify directly to this week’s NHC.

Shirley Wolff achieved that goal despite whiffing on the first 5 races. Wolff had 4 winners over the final 7, though—including the 28-1 And Won at Tampa—and Wolff won…as did runner up Colin Cummings (4 wins, 2 places), who also came up with And Won as well as 5-1 Star Shopping in the last contest race to get up late.

Saturday’s high score of the day was posted by Chris Cupples.

Cupples was rewarded nicely for the effort.

This $30,000 Guaranteed cash tourney, an HT Tour event, closed its doors with a final purse of $36,036. The winner’s share for Cupples came to a hefty $16,216.

We mentioned earlier that Ciaran Thompson topped the field in Saturday’s multi-track Bally’s qualifier. He also bested everyone in a more lucrative event over at HorsePlayers.

Thornton’s 4 winners (all of the double-digit variety) and 2 places will have him competing with a fully-paid-up $10,000 entry this November in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. 

Edwin Schweinfurth on Saturday…

…and Dale Ross on Sunday…

…both managed to win their respective $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourneys despite selecting just one winner. Since no one went a perfect 4-for-4, there will a carryover of $735 for the next Pick 4 Jackpot game on Saturday.

On Sunday, Alexa Zepp rightfully stole the headlines, but the day’s highest score was turned in by Chris Podratz.

As was the case with Chris Cupples on Saturday, the gaudy total for Podratz came in the best possible spot.

Not only did Podratz win Sunday’s HT Tour event, our $20,000 Guaranteed cash tourney, which ended up with $31,062 in the kitty, he also finished 10th with his other entry. So his total payday for this one amounted to $14,444.

Sunday was the final day of online qualifying for the NHC, and so there were three of them at HorsePlayers. None had any problem filling.

There were enough entries in Sunday’s Low Ratio qualifier for non-winners of a 2022 seat that two players left the ranks of the non-winners: Charles Thompson, who had 3 wins and 2 places and Tom Troeller (2W, 3P). Both used Skippy’s Strike ($63.80, $19.80) in the 9th at Tampa (where victorious cap horses seem to have a way of NOT maxing out in the place hole).

The NHC Low Ratio qualifier that was open to all went to Cara Yarusso thanks to 3 firsts and 2 seconds..

Not only did Yarusso defeat 35 opponents here…she beat Alexa Zepp!

There was also a $165 NHC Pick & Pray on Sunday that was essentially a “make-up” for the one on Friday that was nixed due to weather issues.

Keith Simon led the way in this one despite whiffing on his first 5 races. He still managed to finish with 4 wins and a place, though. Troy Sande (5W, 0P) got the other available seat. They each had Skippy’s Strike on their scorecards.

Evan Trommer, who earned a Bally’s seat earlier in this recap, hit the final two Sunday contest races to finish with 5 winners.

That quintet earned Trommer a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat in the day’s Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers.

We wish the best to all of you who will be competing this week in the Bally’s Last Chance and/or the NHC. I hope to be sharing the stage with one of you during the Awards Dinner on Sunday night.

Since I’ll be on NHC duty this week, I’ll next be back in this space in two weeks. Until then, may you all have safe travels and good racing luck.