Gaudy Scoresheet Sends Ciaran Thornton to both the NHC and BCBC; Joseph Zuer Takes Top Two Spots in Featured Friday Cash Tourney; Good Weekend for Past NHC Champs (Weekly Recap, July 6-10)

Win two big bombs win during a given tourney, and you have one of them, you’re in position to do some damage. When you have them both, the world is pretty much your oyster. That pretty much sums up Ciaran Thornton’s Saturday.

Not only did Thornton have Key Biscayne at 36-1 in the rain-softened Robert G. Dick at Delaware, he showed he could find long-winded turf bombs on firm ground as well, nailing grass debuter Classic Causeway at 26-1 in the Belmont Derby. That one-two punch got Thornton home first in Saturday’s NHC qualifier that also saw Dennis Klein score a 2023 seat.

With that performance, Thornton would have won anything he entered. Fortunately for him, he did play those same picks back in a really nice tourney over at HorsePlayers.

The same 3 wins and a place earned Thornton a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry to go with his newly-earned NHC seat. Well done. I’ll be closely checking his picks in the Bowling Green and Sword Dancer at Saratoga…I hope we’re running Pick & Prays those days!

On Friday, Joseph Zuer also registered a pair of victories. His domination took on a different shape, however, compared to Thornton’s.

Zuer had 4 wins and a place to take Friday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier in which Thomas Kolschowsky also bagged a $2,500 entry. 

Zuer played the same picks back in Friday’s HT Tour event, our $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a purse of $19,950. Sadly, his winning Spa & Surf Showdown score was only second best in the cash game.

Happily, Zuer ran second to his other, even better entry! By locking down those top two spots, he won a total of $12,568. Here’s a look at his “good” ticket:

On Wednesday, the best ticket of the day belonged to Gary Gristick.

Gristick had the day’s biggest price — Lady Demaree ($18.60, $6.20) in the 6th at Horseshoe Indianapolis — among his 3 firsts and a second. The end result was a $2,500 berth into the $400,000 Guaranteed Spa & Surf Showdown…now less than a month away on August 6-7.

Alan P. LeFevre (4 firsts, 2 seconds) didn’t have Lady Demaree, but he did smoke out a couple of double-digit winners on Wednesday.

The six-pack of collections earned LeFevre top money of $2,661 in Wednesday’s $5,000 Guaranteed cash tourney, which closed up shop with $5,322 in the kitty.

Sean Nolan’s biggest Wednesday winner only paid $10.40.

No matter. Nolan (3 wins, 2 places) still prevailed in Wednesday’s Haskell Challenge qualifier. 

There was just a single featured tourney on Thursday, our $6,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray. 

Michael Bailey swept the final three races to finish with 6 winners out of 10 races—thereby securing himself the grand prize of $3,266 in a tourney ultimately worth a total of $7,258.

On Friday, the key horse to have was Moon Hunter ($34.00, $11.40) in the 9th at Belmont.

All three who took home $1,000 entries in Friday’s Haskell Challenge qualifier came up with the victorious 16-1 shot. Congratulations (and good luck on the 23rd) to Joseph Calvo (2 wins, 3 places), Nick “529” Fazzolari (2W, 2P) and Kirk Tesar (2W, 3P). They were the only three whose scores exceeded $70.00.

Louis Masry counted Moon Hunter among his 3 winners and 2 runners up.

The authoritative $24.30 victory at HorsePlayers meant that Masry will be doing battle—on the house—at the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

Surely the winner of Friday’s 441-entry NHC qualifier had Moon Hunter, right? 


Slow and steady won the race for Myles Richards. He collected in all but one race of the 10-race battle royale, amassing 7 winners in the process.

The winner, Richards, is a former NHC Final Table contestant. The runner up on Friday was a former NHC Champion, Paul Matties (3 wins, 2 places). There were enough entries to hand out a third NHC seat, and that one went to the other triple-digit scorer, Michael Foster. Matties and Foster took more conventional routes to their  Friday success. They both had Moon Hunter.

We mentioned earlier that Ciaran Thornton stood out in the Saturday crowd for having selected both Key Biscayne and Classic Causeway. No one else had both, but all other Saturday winners had one or the other.

Count Michael Solakis in the Classic Causeway camp. In fact, the Kentucky Derby also-ran was his only winner all day—though he did augment the 26-1 victor with no fewer than six place collections.

Solakis earned $14,414 in our richest tourney of the weekend, our $30,000 Guaranteed cash game, which closed with a pot of $32,032. 

Two more Classic Causeway fans were John Vail (5 wins, 0 places) and John Orrecchio (5W, 1P).

John and John were the only two to top the $100 mark, and they picked up $1,000 entries on Saturday to the Haskell Challenge at Xpressbet.

Having Classic Causeway got Alexa Zepp (3 firsts, 0 seconds) into position…but she needed Actuator ($8.40, $4.40) in the final contest race, the Indiana Derby, to get over the hump.

Zepp had to sweat out a steward’s inquiry with Actuator, but it was worth it. The handicapper/artist will be making a return trip to The BIG One, where she will be one of no more than 57 in the field.

The two winners of Saturday’s Spa & Surf Showdown used different longshots to stake out their common ground.

Paul “Morning” Kloeker had the first three winners, including 36-1 Key Biscayne, en route to a 4-win, 1-place day. Bruce Dagostini (3 wins, 1 place) did all his scoring, including with Classic Causeway, over the final 6 contest races.

Howard “Big Bucks” Welsh was the only player to have Classic Causeway in Saturday’s (what else?) $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks game. 

The longshot turf score, plus a deceptively important winner in the preceding contest race, got Welsh $10,686 in the high-end Pick & Pray that paid out a total of $15,266.

On Friday, Paul Matties booked his return passage to the scene of his greatest conquest—the NHC. Sunday was a good day for two other past NHC heroes.

Thomas Goldsmith won the 2020 NHC—not long before Covid reared its unwelcome head here in the U.S. Thanks to his 5 wins and a place on Sunday, he has a chance to be the champion of the 2022 Lone Star Summer Betting Challenge. (Not quite the same thing…but a win is a win!) Joining Goldsmith in suburban Dallas this Saturday will be runner up Drew Keaton (4W, 1P).

An even bigger potential windfall awaits recent NHC Hall of Fame inductee Michael “Million Dollar Man” Beychok.

The 2012 winner in Vegas picked 5 Sunday winners to earn a robust $5,000 entry into the July 30-31 Del Mar Summer Challenge. There, Beychok will do battle with another accomplished contest gladiator, James Henry, who got second behind Beychok for his 2 wins and 2 places. The year after Beychok won the NHC, Henry captured the Horseplayer World Series. Obviously, this upcoming Del Mar contest will be no place for novices!

The important horse to have on Sunday was Evvie Jets ($31.00, $12.20) and once again the key horse was supplied by Belmont Park (in race 6, to be precise). Anthony “Doczilla” Trezza had Evvie Jets.

Evvie…plus another winner and two runners up…punched Trezza’s ticket to the September 17-18 The BIG One here at HorseTourneys. 

That was the good news for Trezza. There was some (slightly) negative news as well.

Heading into this week’s action, Trezza was less than a point behind Travis Pearson in the HT Tour standings. That gap will grow somewhat as a result of Pearson’s victory in Sunday’s HT Tour competition, our $20,000 Guaranteed cash game, which closed its doors with a prize pool of $28,437. Pearson earned $12,796 for his efforts plus a little over 10 HT Tour points for what was his third HT Tour win of the year. (That score will replace Pearson’s lowest score among the 10 he had recorded to date…since only one’s top 10 scores count.). It should be noted that Trezza did manage to finish 8th in this one—good for $710.

Mike Lazarus (4 wins, 3 places), Stephen Luca (4W, 2P) and Travis Foelsch (3W, 3P) were the three winners of $1,000 seats in Sunday’s Haskell Challenge play-in.

All three had Evvie Jets in the first of 12 contest races, the 6th at Belmont.

Evvie Jets was also common to the scorecards of the three who obtained $2,500 seats in Sunday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier.

Congratulations to Wendy Long (4 wins, 3 places), Eric Brothers (3W, 0P) and Christopher Dewey (2W, 3P).

Jim Trepinski had Evvie Jets among the 3 firsts and 4 seconds that he racked up in Sunday’s $7,500 Big Bucks tourney.

Trepinski was rewarded with a first prize of $5,250 in a game that went off with a takeout to players of 6.8%.

At this point, you could be forgiven for thinking that anyone who did any good on Sunday played Evvie Jets—but that was not the case.

Jeff “Mike” Aldstadt was on “Team Evvie” but runner up Dave Gray was not. Aldstadt got his NHC seat in this $165 HorsePlayers qualifier on the strength of 6 winners. Gray picked just 2 on top (neither named Evvie Jets), but chipped up frequently with 6 place payoffs.

The winner of the other Sunday HorsePlayers qualifier also did so without the benefit of any propulsion from Evvie Jets.

Chris Grutsch pulled it off in Sunday’s $500 Low Ratio Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge play-in with 2 winners — topped by Venezuelan Dreamers ($18.60, $6.60) in the 9th at Gulfstream — plus 3 places.

Thank you all for journeying with us to this point. Next stop, Saratoga on Thursday…followed by Del Mar a week from Friday. All aboard!