Defending Champ David Harrison Wins Second Entry for 2023 NHC; Michael Caposio and Evan Trommer Score Hat Tricks; Michael Slanina Captures Wednesday and Saturday Cash Features (Weekly Recap, July 20-24)

No one has ever won the NHC twice, but if David Harrison fails to repeat in 2023, it won’t be for a lack of ammunition.

On Sunday, the 2022 champion doubled his chances to make history by finishing second to NHC Hall of Famer Stephen Wolfson in the $165 Pick & Pray. 

By virtue of his 2022 victory worth $725,000, Harrison automatically earned one entry with which to defend his title. Now, he will have the maximum two entries. He (4 wins, 0 places) and winner Wolfson (4W, 1P) each had the one double-digit-odds winner out there on Sunday—Direct Line ($38.40, $14.60) in the 3rd at Del Mar.

Another of the week’s headliners, Michael Slanina, won the very first event of the featured-tourney week.

Slanina hit the last two winners—at odds of 9-1 and 5-1—to finish with 4 firsts and 4 seconds and grab the winner’s share of $3,577 in Wednesday’s $5,000 Guaranteed tourney, which closed with a final purse of a robust $7,949.

The Wednesday win by Slanina was certainly nice, but what made him a weekly headliner? It was because he came back on Saturday and won an even tougher cash game for significantly higher stakes.

On a day in which six of the 12 featured-tourney winners paid $17.60 or more to win, Slanina had the right strategy—aggression—in Saturday’s HT Tour event, our $30,000 Guaranteed cash game, which finished with a pot of $36,036. Slanina’s three winners paid $30.20,  $44.00 (on track) and $39.40. And his lone place collection paid double digits ($13.20) with  22-1 Saratoga race 11 runner up Seaver. Here was his best-of-day scoresheet:

When the dust settled, Slanina pocketed $16,216 for his Saturday triumph, bringing his cash winnings for the week up to $19,793. Impressive!

Jumping back to Wednesday action, we had two winners of $2,500 entries in the day’s Spa & Surf Showdown play-in.

Mark Richards had 5 winners and 2 places, including the day’s highest price, Dream Central ($21.40, $7.10) in the 9th at the Spa. Stephen Doyle (5W, 3P) cashed in each of the final four races to snatch the other available spot in the $400,000 Guaranteed tournament…which is already up to 125 entries.

Thursday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier was commanded by “The Admiral” Steve Nemetz.

Nemetz (5 firsts, 1 second) scored direct hits in the final two races to torpedo his opponents. 

Bill “BC” Chenvert also nailed the “late double.”

Those two, plus one earlier visitor to the winner’s circle got Chenvert a $5,000 entry for this weekend’s Del Mar Summer Challenge.

Alan P. LeFevre (6 wins, 1 place) was the victor in Thursday’s $6,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

LeFevre reeled off six consecutive winners at one point.

He took home a grand prize of $3,608 in a game ultimately worth a total of $8,018.

Friday was opening day at Del Mar, and the winner of the day’s HT Tour event capitalized on a Del Mar longshot.

Robert Ricci’s three winners came in the final four contest races, including a sizable tally with Bellamore ($47.60, $16.80) in the final contest race, the 6th at Del Mar. The late rally got him into first place by one measly dollar.

That dollar was worth a lot. Ricci earned $9,800 in our $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which wound up with a pot of $21,778.

Don’t feel too badly for runner up Michael Caposio. Though he finished second behind Ricci in the cash feature, he was still the big winner of the day.

The Temecula, Calif., car dealer uncovered 5 winners and 2 runners up to take the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio Pick & Pray at HorsePlayers.

The same picks (which included Bellamore) also landed him a $3,500 entry in our first qualifier for the October 15th Keeneland Fall BCBC/NHC Challenge.

And just in case Caposio doesn’t score an NHC seat at Keeneland, he took care of that already in Friday’s $75 NHC play-in at HorsePlayers.

Leading the way in the low-cost, high-reward competition was Shilo Merwitz, who compiled Friday’s best score.

Finishing in between Merwitz and Caposio and also earning a spot in the 2023 big dance was Dan Shugar (3 wins, 2 places).

Meanwhile, Clint Littlejohn (3 wins, 2 places) and William “23” Sadoo (5W, 0P) punched their respective tickets to the final leg of the 2022 Tourney Triple, the Spa & Surf Showdown here in a couple of weeks.

They both had 22-1 Del Mar winner Bellamore in their portfolios.

On Saturday, Patrick Cronin had speedy Caress Stakes winner Robin Sparkles ($44.00, $19.40) as his primary contributor among 4 wins and 2 places in the day’s NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers.

For the second straight week, the double-qualified Jay Johns finished “in the money” in an NHC qualifier. So the other available spot went to Ciaran Thornton (4 wins, 1 place).

Thornton also enjoyed success in Saturday’s Del Mar Summer Challenge play-in.

Runner up Thornton and winner Daniel Zaretsky (3 wins, including Robin Sparkles and 2 places) finished far ahead of the rest and both earned $5,000 seats for the on-track event this Saturday and Sunday.

Sean O’Malley’s three Saturday winners all paid between $30.20 and $39.40.

That trio, plus another trio of runners up, got him the top spot in Saturday’s Colonial Downs Handicapping Challenge qualifier. Also earning a $600 entry for August 16th was Paul Eliot Hughes (4 firsts, 1 second).

Michael Bailey’s big two on Saturday were Robin Sparkles and Stage Left ($30.20, $11.80) in the 8th at Saratoga.

As a result, Bailey exited with a berth in the September 17-18 The BIG One here at HorseTourneys.

Four players received $2,500 entries at the conclusion of Saturday’s Spa & Surf Showdown qualifier.

Congratulations to John Kennedy (3 wins, 2 places), Mack McClyment (2W, 3P), Rex Robinson (3W, 1P) and Greg Knepper (2W, 1P), who got up for 4th after blanking on the first six of the 12 contest races.

The big horse for Dylan Donnelly on Saturday was Stayincotai ($39.40, $16.00 in the 5th at Del Mar).

That big horse helped bring about big bucks for Donnelly (3 wins, 4 places) in…appropriately enough…our $10,000 Big Bucks tourney, which was a near sell-out. Donnelly bagged a hefty $13,536 in a 19-entry game that closed its doors with $19,337 in the kitty.

John Pacione also had Stayincotai along with three other winners that paid $30.20, $31.20 and $17.60.

The handicapping feat of strength earned Pacione a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge entry in the $179 Saturday qualifier at HorsePlayers.

(For those who are curious like I was…probably none of you…Cotai is apparently a glamorous strip of casinos in Macau. Sounds like fun…but I don’t think I’ll be staying there anytime soon.)

At the top, we mentioned that Stephen Wolfson won a Sunday NHC qualifier (the one in which David Harrison finished second). Wolfson also got himself a Spa & Surf Showdown entry.

Wolfson (4 wins, 1 place) topped all but Barbara Bowley, who hit the first three winners on the way to a 5-win, 1-place day. The other to merit a $2,500 Showdown entry was Lawrence Kahlden, who edged his way onto the podium thanks to having Johnny Podres ($7.60, $3.60) in the last contest race, the 5th at Del Mar.

Wolfson wasn’t only person to capture two grand prizes on Sunday. So did Bowley.

Bowley’s other prize came in the form of cash—$10,532 to be exact. That was the winner’s share of Sunday’s HT Tour battle, our $20,000 Guaranteed cash game. The final purse for this one amounted to $23,406. Wolfson was again second here…this time good for $4,213.

It was also a memorable Sunday for Evan Trommer.

Trommer picked 3 winners over the final four races to go with two earlier place collections, and he earned the $600 seat in Sunday’s Colonial Downs Handicapping Challenge play-in.

It was the same picks, the same result, but a bigger prize for Trommer in our Guaranteed qualifier for The BIG One.

In Sunday’s Del Mar Summer Challenge play-in, Trommer wasn’t best, but second-place worked just as well.

Jim Colbert didn’t have the pricey horses later on like Trommer did, but he counteracted that by nailing 7 out of the first 8 winners, finishing with 8 firsts and 1 second to finish on top in the battle for the $5,000 entries. 

Only an outstanding effort by Quincy Cunningham deprived Trommer of a fourth Sunday grand prize.

Like Trommer, Cunningham also did all his winning in the final four races (albeit with a slightly different mix of three horses)…and his two earlier place runners paid just a bit more than Trommer’s two runners up. That differentiation in place returns sent the $3,500 Keeneland Fall BCBC/NHC Challenge seat Cunningham’s way in what was a real knock-down, drag-out battle at the end.

The $7,500 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney was a tight, defensive-minded struggle.

Anthony “Doczilla” Trezza hit a 4-1 winner in the first contest race—and that was his biggest return of the day among 2 firsts and 4 seconds. Trezza came the closest of nine entrants to turn a flat-bet profit, and that got him the up-top money of $6,411 in a game ultimately worth a total of $9,159.

In our first qualifier to the August 13th Saratoga Challenge, Peter Liebman whiffed on the first seven races…but that didn’t stop him.

He recorded consecutive winners in contest races 8-10, and that brought him the $3,000 entry—redeemable on-track at Saratoga or at NYRABets.

Over at HorsePlayers on Sunday, Mike Sylvester was the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio qualifier.

Sylvester selected 4 winners and 1 runner up. The winners included Direct Line ($38.40, $14.60) in the 3rd at Del Mar and Emboite ($20.00, $9.00) in the 10th at Saratoga.

Last week we said something to the effect that if the racing at Del Mar was half as competitive as the racing during opening weekend at Saratoga, we’d be in for quite a week. It seems as though Del Mar more than held up its end of the bargain. May we have more of the same going forward, please! In the meantime…we’re thankful for your enthusiastic participation…and also thankful that none of last weekend’s “No Contest” races found their way into our featured tourneys. Luck can be key for tourney players…and sometimes for tourney organizers too.

I’ll be heading off later this week on vacation. See you again come Spa & Surf Showdown time. Until then, good luck!