Eric Kurzhal Earns Keeneland and Kentucky Downs Seats; John O’Brien Hits Last Race to Collect $16,354 (Weekly Recap, August 23-27)

It was a “Share the Wealth” week with just a couple of multiple winners out there among 24 featured events and 38 grand prizes.

One of them was Eric Kurzhal.

With 3 winners—including Song of Shadows ($28.60, $12.40) in the 1st at Del Mar—plus a runner up, Kurzhal led the way in Friday’s Keeneland Fall BCBC/NHC qualifier that also saw runner up Jim Templin (4 firsts, 1 second) garner a $3,500 Keeneland spot.

The same selections also landed Kurzhal in first place in Friday’s Kentucky Downs Turf Handicapping Challenge play-in.

There were enough entries in this one to award three grand prizes. The other two went to Steven Murray (3 wins, 1 place) and Evan Trommer (2W, 5P). Trommer’s best return came with a runner up via a $17.00 place collection.

In fact, that runner up, Yo Yo Mama in the 1st at Del Mar, paid off twice for Trommer…making him the week’s other multiple winner, in addition to Eric Kurzhal.

Trommer topped all but Robert Childress (4 wins, 1 place) in Friday’s Del Mar Pacific Classic Challenge qualifier, and they both came away with $4,000 entries for this coming Saturday. Thanks to one of his five place payoffs in the final contest race, Trommer got his “PCC” spot by $1.20 over 2019 Horse Players World Series champ Loyal Sprague.

The featured-tourney week began as usual on Wednesday, when Pete Acocella captured the day’s $5,000 Gtd. cash game.

The best winner of the day came in the final contest race, the 10th at Saratoga, and Acocella had it—Cherokee Cottage ($37.00, $19.40). Acocella finished with 4 firsts and 1 second, and he pocketed $3,110 in a game ultimately worth a total of $6,912.

Thursday’s big winner was Kevin Cornett. 

Cornett (2 wins, 2 places) had Evvie Jets ($60.50, $19.00) in the 9th at Saratoga and added a $27.00 winner later at Del Mar to collect the top prize of $3,390 in Thursday’s $6,000 Gtd. Pick & Pray, which closed its doors with $7,534 in the kitty.

The Friday cash feature, an HT Tour event, was taken by Joseph Brocato.

Song of Shadows ($28.60, $12.40) in the 1st at Del Mar was the best of four winners that Brocato selected. That helped Brocato to a payday of $8,453 in Friday’s $15,000 Gtd. Pick & Pray, which closed with a final purse of $18,786.

Another Song of Shadows fan was Kirk Rockwell.

Rockwell picked 3 winners, including the Del Mar 13-1 shot, to capture Friday’s Low Ratio Breeders Cup Betting Challenge Pick & Pray at HorsePlayers. Adam Haskins finished 2nd and received a $5,000 partial BCBC entry.

Alan Hoffman picked 4 of the first 5 Friday winners, and Eric Brothers came up with 5 of the first 6.

Song of Shadows and Major Blue ($18.20, $6.10 in the 5th at Saratoga) were on each of their tickets, and they were the two low-cost seat winners in Friday’s $75 NHC qualifier at HorsePlayers.

The week’s richest tourney was Saturday’s $30,000 Gtd. Pick & Pray—an HT Tour game—which had a total final pot of $36,344.

John O’Brien (2 firsts, 2 seconds) nailed Pride of the Nile ($15.60, $7.00) in the final contest heat (the 5th at Del Mar) to get up for the victory—which was worth $16,354.

College administrator Joel Wincowski will be making a return trip to The BIG One at Laurel Park in October.

Wincowski (4 firsts, 1 second) also had Pride of the Nile at the end, and he finished best of 10 in this guaranteed qualifier. 

Paul Fishman and Ciaran Thornton both racked up 3 winners and 2 runners up on Saturday.

And now they will both be participating in this coming Saturday’s Del Mar Pacific Classic Challenge.

Rick “I-65” Broth (4 wins, 2 places) and Steven Meier (3W, 4P) both need to get their pencils sharpened by this Thursday.

That’s because Thursday is Day 1 of the three-day Kentucky Downs Turf Handicapping Challenge—which Broth and Meier will both be playing after finishing one-two in Saturday’s play-in to it.

Michael Caposio hit the final two Saturday winners to wind up with 3 winners and 2 places on the day.

The Temecula, Calif., car dealer drove off with a $3,500 entry in taking Saturday’s Keeneland Fall BCBC/NHC Challenge qualifier.

Thanks to Pride of the Nile at the end, Scott Nelson 2 firsts, 4 seconds) took home the $7,000 top prize in Saturday’s $10,000 Gtd. Big Bucks Pick & Pray.

This high-end game went off with a takeout to players of 3.4%.

Over at HorsePlayers, Mark Wilgard (2 wins, 2 places) and Ren Zamora (4W, 1P) each punched their tickets to Vegas in the $165 NHC Pick & Pray at HorsePlayers.

Wilgard hit Pride of the Nile at the end to secure his place at the NHC. Zamora, meanwhile, ran off four straight winners in the 2nd through 5th of the 12 contest races.

Saturday’s $179 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge play-in went to Dane Moore.

Moore compiled 4 firsts and 2 seconds to make off with the coveted $10,000 seat for early November.

The Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge qualifier on Sunday was a Low Ratio affair that attracted enough entries for two entries to be awarded.

Those two skillful winners were Arthur Rizzo (3 wins, 1 place) and Brian “BC” Chenvert (2W, 4P). They both got up late thanks to a $15.80 place collection in the last contest race with Princess Midnight in the 10th at Del Mar.

By far, the busiest tourney of the week was the free NHC qualifier on Sunday at HorsePlayers (the fourth of five during the 2023 NHC Tour year).

Tom “Tank” McNamara (6 wins, 2 places), Mike Coutu (6W, 2P) and Janice Fairlie (6W, 1P) were the happy winners at the conclusion of this 2,115-entry scramble. All three had Sail With the Wind ($35.40, $11.00) in the off-the-turf race 11 at Saratoga.

In Sunday’s HT Tour event, the million-dollar man, Michael Beychok, got a little closer to his second million by taking our $20,000 Gtd. Pick & Pray.

Beychok, the 2012 NHC champ, recorded 4 winners and 2 runners up, including the aforementioned Sail With the Wind.

In early August, Frank Gryboski Jr. finished 2nd and 3rd here in The BIG One, earning a total of $127,618. In late August (as in August 27), Gryboski landed a spot in the October 21-22 The BIG One.

Gryboski came up with 2 firsts and 1 second. His big horse was Sanger ($25.60, $7.60) in the 7th at Del Mar.

Mark Stillmock made collections in 8 out of 12 Sunday races, and five of those collections were on winners.

Stillmock raked in the up-top money of $6,411 in Sunday’s $7,000 Gtd. Big Bucks tourneys, which ended up with a pot of $9,159.

Cesar Alvarez (5 wins, 0 places) and Michael Simon (3W, 2P) each picked up $4,000 berths in Sunday’s qualifier to this Saturday’s Del Mar Pacific Classic Challenge qualifier (playable on-track or at

They both scored with Born Dancer ($27.00, $11.20) the wire-to-wire winner of race 8 at Saratoga.

Rudolph Hardin picked Sail With the Wind ($35.40, $11.00) in the 11th at Saratoga and also had a pair of $13.40 winners.

To that trio of winners, Hardin added a pair of place collections—which he really needed…because he edged Pete Acocella by just 90 cents in Sunday’s Keeneland Fall BCBC/NHC Challenge qualifier.

Last but not least, there were four winners of $1,700 in entry fees in Sunday’s Kentucky Downs Turf Handicapping Challenge play-in.

Congratulations to Brian “Broad” Brush (5 wins, 1 place), Stephan Gravina (4W, 0P), Edward Reidy (4W, 1P) and John Vail, whose 2 wins and 2 places got him the final berth by a mere 30 cents over an unlucky Ron Tang.

Thanks to all for playing. There will be an extra day of featured-tourney action in the week ahead with the Labor Day holiday looming. Hope to see you again then.