Brett Wiener and Ron Tang Combine for Eight Grand Prizes Across Two Days; Newly Crowned NHC Tour Champ Jay Johns Wins Spot in Players Championship (Weekly Recap, February 15-19)

With daily qualifiers to the NHC First Chance/Last Chance contest yielding 27 winners of $500 berths last week, there were plenty of goodies to go around. Brett Wiener and Dr. Ron Tang were among the 27…though they didn’t limit themselves to First Chance/Last Chance seats…and they didn’t stop at one day of largesse.

Wiener was one of five players (along with John “The Clocker” Nichols, Martin Scaminaci, Gary Johnson and Michael Guadagno) to grab First Chance/Last Chance spots on Friday.

And he was one of seven to do so on Saturday. 

The others were Bob McIntyre, Thomas Labordo, Greg Knepper, Daniel Edwards, Carolyn Stovall and Gary Gristick. 

Wiener will obviously be plenty busy on NHC Eve, not to mention the three days thereafter. However, his post-NHC schedule is starting to fill up as well.

In Friday’s Monmouth Pick Your Prize Challenge play-in, Wiener was the only contestant to turn a flat-bet profit.

That made Wiener the one to get a $2,000 spot in the June 3 hybrid contest that’s playable on-track or at Xpressbet.

The opposition was a bit tougher for Wiener in Saturday’s Monmouth qualifier…but he won that one too.

His “What do you do for an encore?” effort was highlighted by Freedom Flyer ($16.40, $6.60) in the final contest heat, race 9 at Santa Anita.

Happily for Wiener, he copied and pasted those same picks into Saturday’s Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier.

The result was the same, but this time the seat was worth $3,500. Not a bad 48 hours.

For Dr. Ron Tang, the party began early in the week on Wednesday.

Tang will oppose Brett Wiener in the Keeneland Grade One Gamble field after capturing Wednesday’s play-in with 5 firsts and 1 second that were topped by the aptly-named Money’s Worth ($29.00, $10.60) in the 8th at Tampa Bay Downs.

Tang’s total of $108.80 was the best of the day—and since he used the same picks in Wednesday’s Players Championship qualifier, he obviously took that one as well.

After a quiet few days, Tang came back on Sunday to earn a $2,000 Monmouth Pick Your Prize seat.

Tang saved his best for last in this one, sweeping the final four races to get up for second place behind Richard Gorzkowski. The best return for him and Tang came with Sittin on Go ($20.40, $7.00) in the 6th at Santa Anita.

Tang didn’t participate in the one-seat Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier on Sunday, and that was a good thing…because Gorzkowski DID take part.

Gorzkowski will now take on Wiener, Tang and all the rest in both the Pick Your Prize and Grade One Gamble events.

Rewinding (again) to the beginning of the week, the Wednesday featured-cash-game winner was Alan “The Muscle” Baze.

Money’s Worth helped Baze (4 firsts, 1 second) get his money’s worth in our $5,000 Gtd. No Limit tourney, which shut its doors with $8,225 in the kitty. The winner’s share came to $3,701.

Our first NHC First Chance/Last Chance qualifier of the week awarded five $500 berths.

Congratulations to Jimmie O’Nail (5 wins, including Money’s Worth, and 1 place), Devanathan Murugesan, Michael Bailey, Mark Stovall and Michael Caposio.

Jon Petoskey (5 wins, 1 place) and Michael “Million Dollar Man” Beychok (5W, 3P) were the two to punch their tickets on Thursday for NHC Eve.

The top returner for each during a somewhat chalky day was Media Darling ($11.60, $5.60) in the 7th at Mahoning Valley.

Thomas Piotrowski also liked Media Darling.

That horse plus 5 other winners and 1 runner up got Piotrowski the grand prize of $4,012 in Thursday’s $6,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed with a purse of $8,917.

We mentioned earlier that John “The Clocker” Nichols grabbed himself an NHC First Chance/Last Chance entry on Friday for finishing first in the qualifier in which Brett Wiener came in sixth. Nichols was also one of three that day to pick up a $2,000 berth in the $350,000 Guaranteed Players Championship here on April 7-8. 

Nichols (4 wins, 1 place) finished second behind Kevin Engelhard (who had the first 4 winners en route to a 5-win, 1-place day) and 10 cents ahead of fellow seat winner “Battlin’” William Smith (3W, 2P). All three came up with Jellicle Katz ($28.40, $6.80) in the 9th at Gulfstream. Smith crossed into 3rd place (by just $1.20) and gained hope for the Players Championship thanks to a final-race, $7.20 place collection with Zihuatanejo.

There were two $20 horses out there on Friday—the aforementioned Jellicle Katz and Go Mika ($27.20, $8.00) in the 9th at Tampa.  Neil Thornbury had them both.

Thornbury had 4 winners in all to earn a “marvelous” prize of $10,623 in Friday’s HT Tour test, our $15,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which wound up paying out a total of $23,607.

Ted “Forbidden” Apple (2 firsts, 4 seconds) enjoyed an excellent Friday.

Go Mika was the apple of Ted’s eye in both the Keeneland Grade One Gamble qualifier and in our first play-in to the 1/ST Ultimate Betting Challenge on March 4. The two seats Apple bagged are worth $3,500 apiece.

Friday’s top score was posted over at HorsePlayers in the $100 NHC qualifier that guaranteed one seat.

John Marino occupied the top spot with his 5 wins and 1 place. Happily for Brian Spear (4W, 2P), there were enough entries to give out a second seat. Marino and Spear each had the day’s two price horses, Jeillicle Katz and Go Mika.

On Saturday, Joe Migliore made a very favorable impression in the richest tournament of the week, our $30,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray.

The son of Richard Migliore is no stranger to big-money competitions. In 2017, he finished in the top 100 of the Main Event at the World Series of Poker, earning $61,000. The stakes were a little smaller in this HT Tour game…but Migliore came away with the up-top money of $14,137 after hitting the final three winners to round out a 5-win, 4-place session. 

Howard Welsh (runner up to Migliore in the $30,000 game) also pocketed five figures in Saturday’s $10,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks Pick & Pray.

Welsh picked up $12,111 for his 3 firsts and 1 second, which included Baby Billy ($21.00, $8.40) in the the first contest race (the 8th at Gulfstream) and Freedom Flyer ($16.40, $6.60) in the final contest race (the 9th at Santa Anita). The final overall pot here came to $17,301. And Welsh’s Saturday winnings totaled $17,765.

When people think of the top “brother combinations” on the NHC scene, many think of the Mattieses or the Shurmans…but don’t go to sleep on the Beychoks.

Ben Beychok (2 firsts, 4 seconds) hit Freedom Flyer at the end to capture Saturday’s NHC qualifier. Next month, he and brother Michael will look to bring a second NHC title under the umbrella of the Bettin’ Beychoks.

Not too many players have gotten off to a better start in 2023 than Steven Meier.

Meier’s latest conquest was our Saturday 1/ST Ultimate Betting Challenge qualifier. He brought this one home on the strength of 2 wins and 3 places, with those winners being bookend tallies by Baby Billy and Freedom Flyer.

Nick “48 Hrs.” Noce also had Baby Billy and Freedom Flyer.

The prize for Noce (3 wins, 3 places) was a $2,000 Players Championship entry…as it was for Shane Irish and Frank D’Ambrosio who came in second and third behind Noce.

For the second straight day, the high score resided at HorsePlayers.

The provider was Peter “Sharp Dressed Man” Dresens, another who had the winners of the first contest race and the final one. Dresens took home a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat in this $179 play-in.

On Sunday, Gary Johnson closed out the NHC First Chance/Last Chance play-in with 5 consecutive winners.

Overall, Johnson finished with 6 firsts and 2 seconds and recorded the day’s highest featured-tourney score. Also garnering $500 NHC Eve spots in this one were Bob McIntyre, Mark Renney, Stephen Berdar, Douglas Schenk, Mark Stovall, Matthew Ache and Mark Heider. For Johnson, McIntyre and Stovall, it was their second First Chance/Last Chance seat won this week.

It has been a nice seven days for Jay Johns. 

Early in the week, the skillful horseplayer (who moonlights as the president of IHOP) was officially named the 2022 NHC Tour champion. That means he gets $75,000 and a chance to play for $5 million at the upcoming NHC.

On Sunday, the prestigious honors continued when he was officially named the winner of our Players Championship qualifier.

That means that Johns gets a $2,000 entry into the middle leg of the 2023 Tourney Triple. So does runner up Joseph Zuer. He and Johns both had Sittin on Go as their heaviest lifter.

Zuer had two other profitable second-place finishes on Sunday.

This one, in the Low Ratio NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers, earned Zuer a spot in next month’s big dance. The winner was 2016 The BIG One champ Dan Flanigan, who booked 4 winners and another 4 runners up. Flanigan’s winners included the day’s biggest price—Greyzer ($22.20, $11.20) in the 9th at Tampa Bay Downs.

In the $7,000 Guaranteed Big Bucks tourney on Sunday, Zuer earned $1,831 for finishing second to James Henry.

The 2013 Horseplayers World Series champion, Henry won $6,411 of the $9,159 total purse for picking 4 winners (led by Sittin on Go) and 2 runners up.

Johns had a worthwhile 2nd-place finish in his own right on Sunday.

It wasn’t what he was hoping for, but Johns collected a $5,000 Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity partial Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge spot for finishing second to Leroy Schultz in Sunday’s Low Ratio qualifier at HorsePlayers. Schultz’s top return among 4 wins and a place came with 10-1 Greyzer.

Another Greyzer fan was Stephen Wagner.

Wagner accounted for the day’s HT Tour showdown thanks to Greyzer plus 4 other winners. He raked in $12,698 in our $20,000 Guaranteed Pick & Pray, which closed up shop with a pot of $28,218.

Todd Faro picked 6 Sunday winners.

That got Faro the $3,500 entry in Sunday’s 1/ST Ultimate Betting Challenge qualifier. Faro’s big horse was Albayaader ($18.40, $7.00) in race 5 at Santa Anita.

Last but not least, Steve Hendricks (5 wins, 2 places) and Marc Infante (6W, 2P) were the two seat winners in an NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers that was restricted to non-winners of a 2023 seat.

Both Hendricks and Infante had stretches during the tourney in which they reeled off four straight winners.

Next week, we’ll offer our first qualifier to the Lone Star Spring Betting Challenge, and we also have a few All Optional Live tourneys scheduled in our higher-end cash games…which may help sharpen your skills a bit for the Players Championship in April. Hope to see you then. In the meantime, thanks to all for another fun weekend of competition.