Big Weekend for NHC Luminaries; Pick 4 Jackpot Game Winners Each Take Additional Featured Tourney; Duncan Courtney Captures Keeneland, Kentucky Derby Seats (Weekly Recap, April 13-17)

Several players who have left their mark on the NHC in recent years left their mark on our featured tourneys last week…starting right off the bat on Wednesday.

Shane Claypool picked 4 winners to finish first in Wednesday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier and finishing close behind him, despite not having any winners above 7-2, was 2021 NHC Tour champ Kevin Costello (3 wins, 5 places).

Of course, two $3,500 seats to the April 23rd competition are better than one, and Costello took care of that on Saturday.

Here again, second-best was plenty good enough for Costello (4 wins, 1 place). He finished behind Ilan Cuellar (3 winners, including both of the day’s big bombs) and ahead of Brett Wiener. All three will advance to this Saturday’s contest at Keeneland/Xpressbet.

Elsewhere on Saturday, the Kentucky Derby Challenge qualifier was spoken for by 2019 NHC champion Scott Coles.

Despite whiffing on his first 6 contest plays, Coles still managed to rake his opponents over the…hot embers…by putting up 4 winners over the second half of the tourney, including Awesome Gerry ($43.80, $17.60) in the final contest race, the 11th from Keeneland.

Shift back a day to Friday, and we find more NHC stars strutting their stuff.

NHC Hall of Famer Roger Cettina couldn’t beat Chris Cupples, who had the high score of the day, or Duncan Courtney, who also won a Kentucky Derby Challenge seat on Friday…

…but Cettina, like Cupples and Courtney, had the foresight to use African Heritage ($50.20, $19.60) in the 6th at Tampa, and that got the skyscraper executive a lofty enough score to grab the third available $3,500 Keeneland seat.

There was more Cettina in Friday’s $75 NHC qualifier.

Stephen Lerma (4 wins, 0 places) jumped from fourth to first by hitting Thismightbetheone ($20.40, $9.70) in the final race, the 9th at Aqueduct. In second (and fourth!) was Cettina, who improved upon his Keeneland score here with 5 winners. Getting the other spot for finishing third was Albion “A.J.” Benton. If “Benton” and “third” has a familiar ring to you, it should. Benton won $150,000 for coming in third in the most recent NHC.

As for Stephen Lerma, here was his winning scorecard in the 457-entry NHC play-in:

There was an unusual circumstance in Friday’s featured action in that the Friday high score came not from the $75 NHC game, but instead from a 67-entry qualifier. That’s what Chris Cupples managed to pull off in his Keeneland play-in victory.

Also, having African Heritage at 24-1 in the first contest race turned out to be a prerequisite for Friday success.

Chris Grutsch came up with African Heritage and plenty more to take Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio Pick & Pray.

Others on Friday were more less able to rest on their African Heritage laurels. Eric Kurzhal hit the early Tampa longshot and just one other winner, plus a place. 

The $97.00 total earned Kurzhal $9,501 in Friday’s HT Tour event, our $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which finished up with a purse of $21,113.

Cara Yarusso managed to skate by with African Heritage and little else.

Yarusso hit African Heritage at the outset, an $8.00-to-place runner up three races later and…that was it. She hung on from there despite fanning on the final six races, and she earned the $2,000 seat for the June 4th Monmouth Pick Your Prize Challenge.

Rewinding back to Wednesday, Andrew Walker posted 4 firsts and 1 second, including Buck Moon ($26.80, $9.40) in the 7th at Keeneland. 

His $94.40 total got Walker $3,577 in Wednesday’s $5,000 Guaranteed cash game, which closed with a purse of $7,949.

The featured-cash-tourney victor on Thursday was 2021 HT Tour champion Jorge Cruz-Aedo.

“Smooth Cruz” had Curly Ruth ($18.80, $5.80) in the 8th at Keeneland among the 4 winners and 3 runners up that rewarded him with $4,168 in Thursday’s $6,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray. The final overall prize pool here ended up at $9,263.

On Saturday, Michael “Copa” Kavana finished first in the $15 Pick 4 Jackpot tourney…

…and Crystal Andaur took the Sunday version.

The $15 Pick 4 Jackpot will start with a carryover of $3,585 this Saturday because neither Kavana nor Andaur went 4-for-4. That the bad news for them. 

The good news is they each substantial victories elsewhere.

Stretching his talents out over 12 races, Kavana uncovered 3 winners and 2 runners up to take Saturday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier.

Andaur, meanwhile, won far more on Sunday than the $481 she picked up for finishing first (and second) in the Pick 4 Jackpot game.

She bagged another $12,206 for her 4 wins and a place in the Easter Sunday HT Tour get together, our $20,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a pot of $27,125. Andaur got up for the rich W by nailing #2 Gerlach’s ($11.00, $3.80) in the final contest race, the 8th at Santa Anita, after earlier smoking out Lavery ($49.00, $24.20) in the 8th at Gulfstream.

The biggest of the big-money winners last weekend was Shawn Turner.

He pulled in $15,661 from a total purse of $34,804 in Saturday’s HT Tour game, our $30,000 Guaranteed cash tourney. Two of Turner’s four collections were winners—Ebben at 21-1 in the 7th at Keeneland and Awesome Gerry at 20-1 in Keeneland’s race 11.

Mike Steindler, the Player Services Manager at Lone Star Park, is always quick to trumpet the tournament successes of others. On Saturday, it was his turn to receive the accolades.

Steindler had just two winners, but they were the day’s two big prices—Ebben and Awesome Gerry—and that got him a berth in the 2023 NHC…where he will be joined by runner up Paul Cush (3 wins, including Awesome Gerry at the end, plus one place).

Jared Henry also doped out Ebben and Awesome Gerry…along with two other winners plus a place.

That got him the top spot—and a $10,000 entry—in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier at HorsePlayers. 

Robert Rosenzweig (3 wins, 3 places) missed out on Ebben, but he had Awesome Gerry in the final contest race.

Rosenzweig’s cause was further aided by a couple of double-digit-to-place runners up and he got the grand prize of $9,261 in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray, which closed its doors with $13,230 in the kitty.

The Sunday Big Bucks winner was Kevin Willett.

It was a rare weekend in which both of the Big Bucks tourneys were Pick & Prays (due to the Easter holiday). Willett filled his basket up with 4 wins and a place to take home $7,124 in a $7,500 Guaranteed game that wound up with a pot of $10,177.

The high scorer on Sunday was Rudolph Hardin.

Hardin selected 5 winners to lead a group of three Keeneland Grade One Gamble seat winners. The others were Ken Jordan (3 wins, 1 place) and Matthew Kroska (4W, 2P).

Easter Sunday was also the day of our first qualifiers to the $400,000 Guaranteed Spa & Surf Showdown here on August 6-7 and The BIG One here in September.

There were enough entries to award three $2,500 seats in our Spa & Surf qualifier. The top two finishers—Charles Welch and Eric “B Connected” Boyd—did most of their damage early. Welch put up 4 wins and 2 places…all in the first 7 contests races. Boyd recorded 3 wins and 2 places, all in the first 6 races. Also punching an early ticket to the final leg of the 2022 Tourney Triple was Cody Conley (4W, 3P).

The qualifier to the September 17-18 The BIG One was also well attended with 24 of a possible 27 entry slots filling up.

David Wheeler became the first online competitor to assure himself a spot in the “high expectation” event. He racked up 2 wins and 3 places, topped by Lavery ($49.00, $24.20) in the 8th at Gulfstream.

Michael Caposio (3 wins, 3 places) was the winner of the sought-after $3,000 entry in Sunday’s Kentucky Derby Challenge qualifier.

Caposio’s biggest return came with Jan Jan Can ($18.20, $7.80) in the 4th at Golden Gate.

Jan Jan Can also led Dr. Ronald Tang’s hit parade.

In all, Tang had 2 wins and 3 places en route to victory in Sunday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize qualifier.

Qualifying action is heating up for the Lone Star Spring Betting Challenge, to be held a week from Saturday in suburban Dallas.

This week there were two winners of $1,000 seats to the LSSBC. Congratulations to David Long (2 wins, 3 places) and Ray Barnes (4W, 1P).

Over at HorsePlayers, the two to crack the triple-digit barrier were the two to come away with NHC spots in Sunday’s $210 Pick & Pray.

Tammy Johns (4 firsts, 1 second) and Joseph Kelley (2 wins, 1 place) both used 23-1 Gulfstream race 8 winner Lavery as a springboard to success. All of Kelley’s scoring came during the first 5 contest races.

Timothy Hughes also counted Lavery among his two Sunday winners.

That Gulfstream cap horse plus a pair of double-digit place collections served Hughes exceedingly well in capturing Sunday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio qualifier.

For those still hoping to land a cut-rate seat to Saturday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble, qualifiers to this Saturday’s big ontrack/Xpressbet contest will continue here through Thursday.

If the Keeneland Grade One Gamble isn’t quite your cup of burgoo, there are plenty of other featured tourneys this week that may tickle your fancy. The next of those take place on Wednesday. Hope to see many of you then.