Steven Meier and Roger Cettina Dominate Saturday; Five Straight Pricy Winners Send Jack Schwartz to the NHC (Weekly Recap, June 15-19)

There were plenty of big prices floating around out there basically every day except Thursday, and since it was a “Pick & Pray weekend” here, one might have expected lots of multiple winners. That was not the case, however. A single big price can be great for a deft multi-tabler. Two or more can bring about chaos. We also had a 39-1 bomb on Sunday that, to this observer, was really hard to dope out—and not many could. 

Two who did manage to light the lamp more than once were Steven Meier and NHC Hall of Famer Roger Cettina.

Meier accumulated the high score of the day in taking Saturday’s HT Tour showdown, our $30,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

For his 4 winners and 1 runner up, Meier received $16,909 from a total final purse of $37,576.

He also led the way in Saturday’s $165 NHC qualifier, which saw 2018 NHC champion Chris Littlemore also earn a seat.

This was no simple copy-and-paste job for Meier, however. A review of his two scorecards shows that he only had six common horses across the two entries. Those six plays generated two wins and a place, so Meier made plenty of hay with his “secondsary” or “backup” selections. Though the two winners that Meier did have among his “Prime 6” were his two best, reporting home first and 14-1 and 17-1, including Venezuela First ($36.00) in the final contest race.

Cettina, meanwhile, leaned a bit heavier on his first choices, but no two of his tickets were alike either.

He won Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge play-in at HorsePlayers and ran third, earning a $537 breakage return, with his other ticket.

In Saturday’s Haskell Challenge qualifier, he played two similar—but not quite identical—sets of 12 selections…and won with both!

Another NHC Hall of Fame member, Stanley Bavlish, finished third to also gain a $1,000 entry—so you know already that the Haskell Challenge will have a pretty salty field. 

If you look at any two of Cettina’s Pick & Pray entries, you will find somewhere between 9 and 11 common horses. So he certainly had the courage of his convictions most of the time, but wasn’t afraid to spread a little when he was less certain about who was offering the best value.

Sometimes it can be frustrating to score well and lose to someone who is “running the table.” But keep in mind—they are paying for the right to do that via not-incidental entry fees…and in many cases, what they are doing is more intricate than merely playing the same 12 picks over and over again.

The featured-tourney week got underway on Wednesday, and that was the one day of the week when prices were relatively modest.

The juiciest winner of the day was Borgobythesea ($14.80, $7.20) in the first contest race, race 5 at Delaware, and Barbara Maffei had it. She earned $2,799 for capturing Wednesday’s $5,000 Guaranteed cash tourney, which finished things up with a pot of $6,221. Her score over the 9-race event was $41.40.

Michael Odorisio also had Borgobythesea on the way to compiling the day’s high score of $66.00.

Odorisio needed 6 wins and a place (all in the first 7 races) to reach that $66.00 mark. Doing so made him the recipient of a $2,500 seat in the $400,000 Guaranteed Spa & Surf Showdown here on August 6-7.

On Thursday the gaudiest scoresheet belonged to Nick Mandrones.

Among his 3 wins and a place were a 19-1 winner in the 7th at Belmont and a 24-1 victor in the following race at the large Elmont, N.Y., oval.

The 4 collections got Mandrones the top prize of $3,919 in Thursday’s $6,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which wound up with a pot of $8,709.

There were longshots galore at Belmont on Thursday, and Jim Colbert reported in with the biggest one.

Me N’ Sap ($65.00, $29.80) in Belmont race 9 was the key for Colbert, who finished with 2 wins and a place in capturing Thursday’s Pick & Pray qualifier to the Spa & Surf Showdown, the final leg of the 2022 Tourney Triple.

On Friday, winning the Low Ratio Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge was no problema for Jeff “Land” Ho, because he had Polema.

The Gulfstream race 9 winner went off at 17-1 and sent Ho (2 wins, 1 place) home with the $10,000 entry.

Larry Messier (3 wins, 2 places) had Polema…but he couldn’t guarantee victory until coming up with Cherubic Factor ($7.40, $3.80) in the final contest race, the 11th at Santa Anita.

Messier’s hat trick of winners and two helpers rewarded him with $9,201 in Friday’s HT Tour competition, our $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which ultimately paid out a total of $20,448.

Friday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier attracted enough entries for us to award two $2,500 seats—but we only paid out one. We can explain!

Eldon Stivers nailed the first 3 winners and finished with 4 firsts plus a second to get the lone $2,500 seat in this “two seater.” The two seater became a one seater, though, because Steve Arrison and Kevin Willett finished in a flat-footed tie for second. Not only did they have the same three winners…not only did neither one have a runner up…they also finished tied in third-place finishers (one apiece). So they split the value of the second seat ($2,500) plus the 3rd-place breakage refund ($147) equally.

Jack Schwartz had the day’s high score on Friday. He made a place collection, then reeled off five straight winners without a chalk in the bunch.

The impressive handicapping feat of strength in this $75 qualifier at HorsePlayers earned Schwartz a spot in the 2023 NHC. Trey Stiles, an NHC Hall of Famer, finished second, but he was already double-qualified and was playing mainly for NHC Tour points, so the other available berth went to 3rd-place finisher Allen Carrick. Like Schwartz and Stiles, Carrick came up with Polemic in the 9th at Gulfstream.

Saturday was the first of two qualifiers last weekend to The BIG One. It went to Paul Cush (2 firsts, 4 seconds).

Cush got off to a flying start with Leo Monte ($34.00, $9.00) in the first contest race, the 9th at Monmouth.

Leo Monte was also central to the success of Anthony Mastropietro in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray.

Leo Monte was one of just two winners that Mastropietro came up with, but that was sufficient for him to leave with $10,686 out of a total final purse of $15,266.

Leo Monte was far from a prerequisite for Saturday success. Another good one was Castle Leoch ($30.40, $11.40) in the 7th at Belmont.

Ted “Forbidden” Apple didn’t have Leo…but he had Leoch, and that plus two other winners and two places got him the top spot in Saturday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier. Tony Calabrese (2 wins, 2 places) didn’t pick either Leo or Leoch, but he did smoke out Venezuela First at the end, and the Gulfstream 17-1 winner got Calabrese the other available $2,500 Spa & Surf Showdown seat.

On Sunday, the best horse to have was Dream Central, who won race 9 at Belmont, the Cupecoy’s Joy division of the New York Stallion Series, a 7-furlong grass race for New York-sired 3-year-old fillies. Dream Central paid $81.50 to win and $32.00 to place. Ken Kieras (4 wins, 3 places) had her…

…and that was a big part of Kieras winning $12,600 in Sunday’s HT Tour game, our $20,000 Guaranteed Father’s Day Pick & Pray, which shut down with an even $28,000 in the kitty. Kieras made collections in each of the first 6 races.

Dream Central was the only winner of the day for Adam Lewis (1 win, 1 place).

The cap horse was all Lewis needed to win Sunday’s Breeders’ Cup Low Ratio Pick & Pray at HorsePlayers.

Dream Central was also a prominent part of the high scorecard on Sunday—the one belonging to Glen Berman (4 wins, 2 places).

All four of Berman’s winners were of the double-digit variety, and he finished first in Sunday’s special $100 NHC qualifier with three spots guaranteed. David “Chelsea” Pyrz also had Dream Central, and he came in second with 2 wins and 3 places. Dream Central eluded Julie Kochensparger (4W, 2P), but she still managed to check in third, which was also good for an NHC berth.

You might think, at this point, that it would be hard to succeed on Sunday without Dream Central, but that was not the case. Most of Sunday’s grand prize winners didn’t have her, and with good reason…because she was a hard horse to like.

Year in and year out, the New York Stallion Series events on grass for young horses are weird races. It’s not a “New York-bred” race…you have to be sired by a stallion standing in New York (which eliminates about half of the NY-bred population!). Half the horses in these Stallion Series races are maidens, and many of them—even the non-maidens—haven’t been on grass yet. With Dream Central you at least got one bit of clarity: the horse had run on grass and wasn’t very good on it, finishing 7th, 3rd and 5th in three state bred maiden specials.

That said, the rest of the field was so sketchy that you couldn’t fault anyone taking a shot with Dream Central. And after the race, it was even harder to fault them!

Given the lack of, ahem, obvious merits with Dream Central, it is perhaps less surprising than normal that a 39-1 winner could be absent from the entries of so many winners on Sunday. One of those was Vaughn Bair.

He picked 6 winners to punch his ticket to The BIG One in September. His big horse was Standing O ($21.80, $9.60) in the 8th on the closing day program at Santa Anita.

Neither Bill “BC” Chenvert (3 wins, 5 places) nor 2019 Horse Player World Series champion Loyal Sprague (4W, 2P) had Dream Central…

…but that didn’t stop them from winning $5,000 entries in Sunday’s tightly-contested Del Mar Summer Challenge qualifier. The best return for each came with Standing O.

Standing O was also the top dog…err, horse…for all three winners of Sunday’s Spa & Surf Showdown seats on Sunday.

Congratulations to Jonathan Burns (4 wins, 2 places), Michael Simon (4W, 1P) and Jeff Bussan (4W, 3P).

Ryan Mueller DID have future Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Dream Central in Sunday’s Haskell Challenge qualifier…

…but fellow $1,000-entry winners Mark Wilgard and Steven Culhane did not. (Those two had Standing O.)

Standing O was also the greatest common denominator on the scorecards of Matthew Ransdell (4 wins, 4 places) and Todd Van Drie (also 4W, 4P).

They were the two winners of $1,000 entries in the Lone Star Summer Betting Challenge qualifier.

Last but not least, Howard “Big Bucks” Welsh was the victor in Sunday’s…yup…$7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney.

Welsh didn’t even need to drill down to Standing O, let alone Dream Central, among his 3 winners (and 2 places). The top return for him came with Breakpoint ($20.20, $9.80) in the 9th at Santa Anita. When the dust settled, Welsh had bagged $5,699 from a final pot that totaled $8,142.

Thanks to all who played during what was a pretty vibrant Father’s Day weekend around here. Next weekend, we have another $50,000 Guaranteed Month-End Blowout on tap to anchor another robust slate of featured tourneys. We hope you find one or two games—and 10 or 12 horses—that tickle your fancy.