Dan Fischer Earns Five Grand Prizes (and More) on Saturday; Mark Stillmock Captures Thursday Cash Feature and Friday Flo-Cal Qualifier; Anthony Mattera and Ronald Tang Each Double Up on Sunday (Weekly Recap, January 4-8)

On the first Saturday in 2023, Dan Fischer enjoyed a day that could prove to be something of a “year maker” for him.

In our first qualifier to the popular NHC First Chance/Last Chance tournament on NHC Eve in Las Vegas, Fischer finished best of 119 to lead a parade of a dozen $500 entry winners that also included John Vail, Matthew Thomas, Gregory Lewis, Kevin Willett, Cheryl Knepper, Joseph Karabaich, John Vogel, Kevin Engelhard, G.T. Nixon, Michael “Copa” Kavana and Roger Cettina (who also turned in a big performance, winning that day’s on-track Monmouth contest with an all-in, $900 win bet at the end).

As wonderful a day as it was for the 11 behind Fischer (since winning any seat at HorseTourneys or HorsePlayers is always a great accomplishment), one could forgive Fischer if this First Chance/Last Chance triumph is now something of an afterthought for him. Take a good look at his scorecard above—because a great number of players saw plenty of it on Saturday.

The same 4-win, 3-place Pick & Pray scorecard put Fischer on top of a quintet of $1,500 seat winners in Saturday’s qualifier to next weekend’s $250,000 Guaranteed Flo-Cal Faceoff (which seems on the verge of busting through its guarantee). Among those “facing off” against Fischer later this week will be 2nd- through 5th-place finishers Dan Shugar (5W, 4P), Scott Nelson (3W, 3P), Crystal Andaur (3W, 3P) and John Kaiser (3W, 3P).

In Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship play-in, Fischer didn’t have to share the victory podium with anyone.

Now let’s shift our focus to HorsePlayers. Heading into Saturday, Fischer had yet to qualify for the NHC—which may have been a factor in him entering the First Chance/Last Chance play-in above that he won. Well, Fischer is no longer a “non-qualifier.”

Fischer’s stellar scoresheet gained him a $21.10 victory in this tourney that was restricted to those who had yet to win a 2023 NHC seat.

The truly amazing part of Fischer’s Saturday, though, was that he managed to pull off the very rare feat of winning two NHC seats in one day.

There’s quite a bit to unpack here. Fischer elected to play in the “open,” $210 qualifier in addition to the $165 game against restricted competition. Perhaps he noted that the 2-seat guarantee in the $210 tourney actually made for a better winning ratio given the 104 entries than did the restricted, 74-entry one-seater. (And that doesn’t even take into account that some of the 104 in the open game may have been double-qualified and, thus, playing for NHC Tour Points.)

There’s something else to note when looking at Fischer’s two NHC qualifier victories. Here he was…fighting for his first 2023 seat in two different Live-format games…and his top picks were basically on display for all to see in the First Chance/Last Chance and Pegasus Pick & Prays highlighted above.

With three races to go, what did Fischer do? He split the baby. 

In the restricted game for non-winners, he stuck with all 12 of his Pick & Pray selections. In the open, $210 qualifier, he opted for different horses over the final three races. 

The switch wound up costing Fischer $25.60 in scoring as a win and two places turned into just one placing. The modification allowed Raj Satyan to nip him by $2.00 for the top spot. However, Fischer had just enough left to hold off 3rd-place finisher John Kaiser by 80 cents and grab the other available seat.

It’s pretty rare when you switch your picks, the horses you decide against win, and yet you still prevail (especially in an NHC qualifier). That’s the kind of day it was for Fischer.

We’re not quite done on the Fischer front.

If you subscribe to the theory that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, then you could argue that Fischer’s best Saturday result came in a game in which he did not take home the grand prize.

It was rather incredible that Fischer didn’t have the top score of the day. That honor belonged to Anthony “Doczilla” Trezza (second to Travis Pearson in the 2022 HT Tour standings).

For finishing second to Trezza, Fischer received $6,153 in Saturday’s $30,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which ended up with $34,188 in the pot. It has to be nice for Fischer to have some cash in his pocket to go with all the seats he won.

As for Trezza, an optometrist, the victory got him off to a fast start in the 2023 HT Tour standings, and his prize of $15,384 wasn’t bad either. Imagine, though, if he had played more tourneys on Saturday instead of foolishly showing up for his appointments to assist patients with their eyesight. Let that be a lesson to us all.

Rex Robinson certainly had 20/20 vision when it came to Wednesday’s featured tourneys.

Robinson had Laker Mamba ($45.40, $17.20) in the 8th at Gulfstream among his 3 firsts and 2 seconds. The five collections earned Robinson $3,048 in $5,000 Guaranteed cash tourney, which closed its doors with a total of $6,774 in the prize pool.

That one was a Live-format tourney, but Robinson used the same picks in Wednesday’s Flo-Cal Faceoff Pick & Pray. 

Robinson won this one too. Also earning $1,500 berths to play for the big money on all the Gulfstream and Santa Anita races this weekend were Neal “Mad Bomber” Lamonica (3W, 2P), the 2021 Players Championship winner Dan Wilde (3W, 2P) and Craig “Home Sweet” Hom (3W, 1P). All four came up with Laker Mamba.

December’s Month-End Blowout champ Dale Hatfield kept the good time rolling right into the new year.

Hatfield didn’t have any winners that paid more than $7.40—but he did pick 5 winners, and a runner up too, and that got him the top spot in Thursday’s multi-track Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier. Second-place finisher Jake Brown (4 wins, 1 place) got the other $1,500 berth. Like Hatfield, Brown’s top winner paid $7.40.

Mark Stillmock found the day’s top price—Broadway Boogie ($17.20, $6.20) in the 7th at Gulfstream.

That pick plus 3 other winners and one runner up got Stillmark the up-top money of $3,577 in Thursday’s $6,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which had a final purse of $7,949.

The next day, Stillmock came back and grabbed himself a Flo-Cal Faceoff seat.

He did so in a special Gulfstream-full-card qualifier—a game in which Stillmock benefited greatly from his…Drinking Problem!

The Drinking Problem race was not part of the Friday, multi-track array of contest races. So as it turned out, the highest-priced winner among the featured 10 heats was Sturdy Girl ($18.80, $6.20) in the 7th at Gulfstream.

Jose Sahagun counted Sturdy Girl among his 4 firsts and 1 second, and he was the victor in Friday’s HT Tour event, our $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which finished up with a pot of $18,620. Sahagun’s share of that came to $8,379.

Ron Tackett also liked Sturdy Girl.

She was one of 5 winners that Tackett selected (along with a runner up) en route to earning a $1,000 seat in Friday’s Tampa Bay Downs High Rollers Contest qualifier.

Steven Meier (3 wins, 0 places) and Michael Caposio (3W, 1P) both had Sturdy Girl as well.

They were the two to secure $6,500 Pegasus World Cup Betting Championship packages in Friday’s play-in to the January 28th event. Things were tight at the top, though. Zachary Agamenoni finished a hard-luck 3rd. He was just 60 cents behind Caposio and a dollar shy of Meier.

You’d think the high scorer of the day, Richard Scarangello, would have had Sturdy Girl, but he didn’t.

Scarangello made up for the omission by racking up 7 wins and a place from the 10 contest races, and that earned him a low-cost NHC spot in Friday’s $75 qualifier at HorsePlayers. Basil DeVito (3 wins, 3 places) checked in second to nail down the other available spot.

There were four winners in Friday’s multi-track Flo-Cal Faceoff qualifier.

Congratulations to Lawrence Kahlden (4 wins, 4 places), John “The Clocker” Nichols (4W, 2P), Ronald “Winter” Cote (4W, 1P) and Anthony Trezza (2W, 0P), who kept those pesky patients at bay just long enough to sneak into 4th place by 40 cents

Time to take a look at the few Saturday tourneys that didn’t involve Dan Fischer.

John Vail put up 5 firsts and 2 seconds to make off with the $1,000 on-track entry in Saturday’s Tampa Bay Downs High Rollers Contest qualifier.

Gary Machiz’s 3 firsts and 4 seconds included the day’s priciest winner, Candidate ($17.20, $6.60) in the 7th at Gulfstream.

The speedy 3-year-old turf filly helped Machiz collect $9,973 in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray, which closed with a purse of $14,248.

Kevin Willett swept the first 3 races on the menu and added an additional winner later.

He earned the $1,000 berth in Saturday’s Pick & Pray play-in to the January 28th NHC qualifier at Sam Houston Race Park.

Over at HorsePlayers, Zachary Borgelt was the winner of the $10,000 entry in Saturday’s $179 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier.

Borgelt (4 wins, 3 places) nailed the final two race winners to get himself up into first place.

We mentioned early that 2022 HT Tour runner up Anthony Trezza got off to a fast beginning in the 2023 standings. So did 2021 HT Tour champion Jorge Cruz-Aedo.

The Houstonian had 5 wins and 2 places, including top-winner-of-the-day Oncoming ($15.60, $4.60) in the final contest race, the 5th at Santa Anita to take Sunday’s HT Tour event, our $20,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray. Cruz-Aedo received $12,207 from a final purse of $26,906.

Anthony “ATM” Mattera had an enjoyable Sunday (other than the New York Giants losing to the Philadelphia Eagles).

Mattera (6 wins, 1 place) and Steve Arrison (6W, 0P) both had Oncoming in the end, meaning that participation in the NHC is upcoming for them.

Mattera played his same picks back in Sunday’s Pegasus World Cup Betting Challenge qualifier.

Here, Mattera reeled in a $6,500 package ($6,000 entry plus $500 for travel) for the January 28th event playable either on track or at Xpressbet.

Dr. Ron Tang also recorded a pair of Sunday victories.

In Sunday’s $7,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks game, which closed with $8,142 in the coffee can, Tang posted 4 wins and 2 places and earned a winner’s share of $5,699.

Tang altered his picks slightly in another Live-format feature, the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers.

Here, Tang wound up with one fewer winner but one more runner up. His final score was almost equal, though (just 80 cents less), and he got the $10,000 entry with 2nd-place contestant Max Schnepf getting a $5,000 partial BCBC spot.

Sunday’s 17-entry play-in to the Sam Houston NHC qualifier on January 28 came up remarkably tough.

Winner Greg Gass had the highest score of the day with his 7 firsts and 1 second. Condolences go out to the other 16—especially runner up William Inman, whose score of $97.80 was the 3rd highest of the day, trailing only those of Gass and of Jorge Cruz-Aedo in the $26,000 cash game.

Five players pushed their tickets to next weekend’s Flo-Cal Faceoff in Sunday’s multi-track qualifier.

Congratulations to John Gaspar (4 wins, 2 places), Gary Blair (3W, 3P), Linda Peters (4W, 1P), Jon Carlson (4W, 2P) and Gary Gristick (5W, 1P).

There were twice as many winners (10) in Sunday’s play-in to the NHC First Chance/Last Chance tournament.

Leading the way was Mike Coutu with his 5 wins and a place. Also picking up $500 entries for NHC Eve at Horseshoe Las Vegas were Gary Johnson, Michael Foster, Jimmie O’Nail, Rick Vasquez, Brian Kubik, Cheryl McIntyre, Ron Tang, Matthew Nixon and Stephen Berdar.

Bill Redman was the winner of the $1,000 entry in Sunday’s Tampa Bay Downs High Rollers Contest play-in.

Redman (2 wins, 4 places) got up late with Oncoming. However, his best return on the day came via a max $22.00 place payoff via a 49-1 runner up in the 7th at Tampa Bay Downs. Perhaps that bodes well for Bill’s High Rolling pursuits on February 10-11.

Thanks to all of you for playing and/or reading. If you have the opportunity, check back in with us tomorrow. We will have a special Tuesday blog in which we get to know 2022 HT Tour champion Travis Pearson.