Inflation Comes to HorseTourneys as High Prices Everywhere Dominate the Week; Bruce Rossi, Brett Wiener and Pete Acocella Each Win Twice (Weekly Recap, July 13-17)

Maybe it was the opening of Saratoga on Thursday—or maybe the Fed did something (or didn’t do something) when we weren’t paying attention—but inflation reared its ugly head here this week. From Thursday on, our sky-high prices made those at the supermarkets and gas stations look cheap. 

Wednesday was the lone exception. This was when we could hearken back to the good old days when a dollar was actually worth something…when any work was good work…and any winner was a good winner. Just ask Mike Cebula.

Cebula wasn’t looking to impress anyone. He just rolled up his sleeves and put forward an honest day’s work in hopes of getting an honest day’s pay. His various 3-1 and 3-2 shots—including the first four in a row—didn’t elicit many oohs and ahhs, but in the end, he had something to show for his labor: a $2,500 Spa & Surf Showdown seat. So did runner up Cara Yarusso—who received equal pay for almost equal work.

Unlike Mike Cebula, Bruce Rossi was on the bread lines for those first four Wednesday races. 

During the last six, however, Rossi was singing “Happy Days are Here Again.” His six collections at the end gave him the day’s top score (of $64.00) and earned him $2,592 in Wednesday’s $5,000 Guaranteed cash game, which closed with $5,184 in the cash register.

Ross “Hot” Szlasa (4 firsts, 1 second) was the victor in Wednesday’s Haskell Challenge play-in.

Szlasa’s collections included the day’s biggest price—Love Drunk ($13.40 to win) in the 5th at Horseshoe Indianapolis.

On Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, HorseTourneys consumers found that $13.40 didn’t buy what it used to.

It was opening day at Saratoga and Mark Stillmock (2 wins, 1 place) smoked out the big bomb hiding in race 6 there—Winter Sun ($89.00, $26.00). Stillmock made $3,110 in Thursday’s $6,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which had a final pot of $$6,912.

Jeff Joffrion also had Winter Sun.

That 43-1 shot plus a winner at the other end of the odds spectrum (6-5) lit the lamp for Joffrion in Thursday’s special $75 NHC qualifier, which attracted 81 entrants.

There were a couple of Saratoga-only featured qualifiers on Thursday in honor of the Spa’s opening day.

Mark “Santana” Tabakman hit a $21.20 place payoff with Tweaqued in the final race to get up late and take our single-track Haskell Challenge qualifier.

Wendy Long hit the same two double-digit winners that Tabakman had early on.

Long went on to capture the Saratoga-only Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier.

Thursday’s multi-track Spa & Surf Showdown play-in was something of an anomaly.

All of the good prices out there seemed to elude the 20 entrants in this one. That left the spoils, a $2,500 Showdown entry, to Stephen Gravina with a 10-race score of $35.80. His big return came with the 4-1 winner he hit in the first contest race (the 7th at Delaware) and, not surprisingly, his margin of victory was razor thin—just 30 cents over John Kennedy—in what was a blanket finish.

There were no soft spots in the Friday schedule. Greg Altieri (2 wins, 1 place) won the Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier with $122.90, and that was the lowest winning score of the day.

Altieri’s two winners reported home first at odds of 27-1 and 21-1. Scott McFaden put together four winners to finish second and grab the other available $2,500 entry for the $400,000 Guaranteed event here on August 6-7.

Ron Ferrise, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge runner up, had the two big bombs—Canadian Pharoah at Woodbine and Beautiful Star at Monmouth—that helped Altieri so much.

As a result, Ferrise will have a chance to improve upon his 2017 performance in the 2022 BCBC.

(By the way, here’s a blogger/turfwriter’s lament: Since the Zayats spelled American Pharoah’s name the way they did, instead of what would have been a more correct “Pharaoh,” all horses/owners since then seem to use the Zayat spelling of “Pharoah.” It also means that if you are on a computer and type the word “Pharoah,” auto-correct will not-so-helpfully change it over to “Pharaoh” for you. I wish I had a similarly convenient excuse for my other typos!)

The high score on Friday was provided by Jay Johns.

It came in the $75 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers. The only “catch” is that Johns was already double qualified, so he was basically playing for NHC Tour points.

That meant that the three available 2023 berths went to the 2nd-, 3rd- and 4th-place finishers Scott Cavalieri (2 wins, 4 places), Brett Wiener (3W, 3P) and Robert Gilbert (2W, 3P). The top four all prospered significantly by collecting a max $22.00 place payoff in the final contest race on Mosienko, a 27-1 runner up in the 10th at Saratoga.

Mosienko, incidentally is a well-named horse. He is a son of Hat Trick—and in 1952, while playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, Bill Mosienko made NHL history by scoring three goals in a game all within a span of 21 seconds. 

Enough digressions. Brett Wiener won some cash on Friday to go with his NHC seat.

Using the same picks as in the NHC qualifier, Wiener bagged $9,201 in Friday’s HT Tour matchup, our $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed its doors with a final pot of $20,448. Here’s a look at his doubly-successful scorecard:

The other Friday feature was a Haskell Challenge qualifier in which there were three winners of $1,000 entries for this Saturday’s contest at Xpressbet.

Congratulations to Mike Lazarus (3 wins, 2 places), Cheryl McIntyre (3W, 4P) and Nick “529” Fazzolari.

High prices continued to roll in on Saturday. Remember on Wednesday, when Bruce Rossi went from the Poor House to the penthouse? (Or to Millionaires Acres for you Game of Life fans.) Well, Rossi enjoyed some more good fortune on Saturday.

Here, he defeated all but Lucille DeRuisseau in Saturday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier. DeRuisseau booked 2 firsts and 3 seconds, including also-eligible Lookin to Fly ($23.80, $9.50) in the final contest race, the 11th at Saratoga. Rossi again got off to a slow start, picking just 1 runner up early…but he reeled off 5 consecutive winners later on. Never count Rossi out!

The high score on Saturday came in the NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers, courtesy of the 2018 The BIG One champ Joe Pettit.

Pettit picked 6 winners, including the day’s biggest price, Makin It Look Easy ($30.00, $9.20) in the 9th at Monmouth. The other grand prize in this two-seater went to the other triple-digit scorer, Bob White, who also picked 6 winners (plus a place). His biggest win payoff was the $15.00 he collected on Beren in the 10th at Laurel, the DeFrancis Dash.

The richest tourney of the week was Saturday’s HT Tour battle, our $30,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a purse of $33,264.

Daniel Goldstein (4 firsts, 2 seconds) had Lookin To Fly at the end to snatch the top money of $14,968. Here’s how his day went:

Ilan Cuellar collected on two winners and two runners up that paid double digits to place, and he earned his way into the field of no more than 57 for The BIG One.

Cuellar’s big horse was Mo Strike ($18.40, $8.60) in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga.

We had a trio of winners in our first qualifier for the August 16 Colonial Downs Handicapping Challenge.

The three to pick up $600 entries were John Vail (3 wins, 0 places), Bill Bochenek (3W, 1P) and Evan Trommer (3W, 2P, including Lookin to Fly at the end).

Frank Gryboski Jr. had 1 place followed several races later by 4 straight winners that were capped off by Mo Strike in the Sanford.

The “cold Pick 4” got Gryboski $11,398 in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray, which closed up shot with a final pot of $16,284.

John Behnke (4 places and then the final 3 winners) and Paul “Morning” Kloeker (4 wins, 1 place) both prospered by Lookin to Fly drawing in off the Saratoga race 10 also eligibles.

As a result, Behnke and Kloeker will both be in the body of the field for the July 30-31 Del Mar Summer Challenge.

Steven Meier (3 wins, 2 places), Frank Foss (4W, 2P) and DRF’s Kenny Peck (2W, 3P) were the three winners of $1,000 entries in Saturday’s Haskell Challenge play-in.

Appropriately, all three had the day’s big price at Monmouth, 14-1 Makin It Look Easy.

Philip Fairbanks whiffed on the first five Saturday races, but racked up 5 wins and a place over the final seven heats.

The furious late rally, topped by Lookin to Fly, earned Fairbanks a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry in Saturday’s $179 qualifier at HorsePlayers.

On Sunday, the prices were coming in hotter and heavier than even on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Five of the 12 win payoffs in our featured-tourney races were $82.40, $34.40, $26.80, $25.20 and $18.90. 

Stephen Lerma had the big magilla—South Pointe Drive ($82.40, $26.40 in the 8th at Gulfstream) in Sunday’s HT Tour event, our $20,000 Pick & Pray.

Lerma banked $13,682 in an enthusiastically-attended tourney that finished with a prize pool of $30,405. Here was his productive scoresheet:

As you would expect, scores were high on Sunday. The two highest of the high both came in our Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier.

Bruce Dagostini (4 wins, 2 places) and Paul Fishman (4W, 0P) certainly earned their $2,500 Showdown spots here. They both had the day’s two most lucrative winners—South Pointe Drive and Lady Thornhill ($34.40, $13.80) in the 7th at Saratoga.

Sunday’s guaranteed qualifier to The BIG One attracted just 14 entrants—and it still took a score in the $130s to win it.

Adam Lewis did the trick here, besting cash-game hero Stephen Lerma. Lady Thornhill was the big horse for Lewis.

Pete Acocella led the way in Sunday’s Colonial Downs Handicapping Challenge play-in.

Using the same plays, Acocella also garnered a Haskell Challenge seat. So did the two who finished in front of him—Dan Weisenburger (3 wins, 2 places) and Kevin Engelhard (3W, 0P). 

All three had Three Two Zone ($25.20, $7.50) in the 9th at Saratoga.

The winning comment line for Phillip Shelton might read: “Sprinted clear early, lasted”

Shelton’s 4 wins and a place all came in the first 7 races. Despite the five late donuts, Shelton held on for an 80-cent victory over David McCarty in Sunday’s Del Mar Summer Challenge qualifier. Shelton receives a $5,000 entry into the July 30-31 contest.

Neal Thomas (2 wins, 1 place) got it done with a score of $65.10 in Sunday’s $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney.

Thomas earned $5,250 in a game that went off with a takeout to players of 6.8%.

Over at HorsePlayers, we were reminded again about one of the great things associated with contest play.

Winning money here or at the track is always great. But there’s a different feeling involved in winning a contest. And when the contest is an NHC (or BCBC) qualifier, a victory can somehow feel like even more of an “achievement”. Congratulations to Anthony Schiavone…and also to Dave Wang…on their 2023 NHC seats—and on the great “feeling” that goes along with that. Here are their scorecards:

Jared Henry (2 wins, 1 place) was on the receiving end of the thrills in Sunday’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge at HorsePlayers.

Henry was the only one of 26 to pick South Pointe Drive and, as things turned out in this Low Ratio Pick & Pray, that was all he needed.

If the racing is anywhere near as competitive over the next seven weeks as it was this past week, we have an exciting summer ahead. And this week, Del Mar joins the fray. Here’s hoping!