Zoombie Helps Zoom Brendan Fay to $77,000 Grand Prize in the 2023 The BIG One

Late on Day 1 of The BIG One at Laurel Park, Brendan Fay could be forgiven if he was starting to think of the two-day, $200,100 all-cash contest as The BIG Bust. His first 11 “$2.00-to-win-and-place” picks had yielded just a single, measly $5.20 place payoff. 

The 54-year-old retired dentist from Oriental, N.C., liked a horse, though, in Saturday’s next-to-last contest race, the 10th at Keeneland. It was 30-1 morning-line outsider Zoombie, who would be trying the turf for the first time after 15 synthetic sprints to begin his career.

“I saved my last pick for him,” said Fay. “He had speed, and there wasn’t any other real speed in the race. And I looked up his dam and saw that she had won sprinting on the grass. I didn’t think he’d really be 30-1.”

As it turned out, Zoombie was 30-1 and then some—and Fay was happy to be wrong about the odds estimation. When Zoombie wired the field under Luan Machado, he did so at closing odds of 44-1. The $90.12, $32.16 win-place return shot Fay all the way to first place at the end of Day 1.

On Sunday, though, conditions were ripe for someone to have a big day and pass Fay. Each day, there are five mandatory races that all contestants must play, and the first four on Sunday featured win payoffs of $39.40 (Laurel race 3), $22.20 (BAQ4), $46.40 (GP5) and $52.00 (LRL7).

“Sunday was a struggle,” Fay admitted. “With all the bombs hitting in the mandatories, I thought my goose was cooked.”

Fay’s concerns were well founded. Although he padded his lead early in the day thanks to having the BAQ race 4 mandatory winner (Duke of Gloucester), this year’s Players Championship winner, Lucas Van Zandt, was about to embark on a big run.

After Fay’s connection with Duke of Gloucester, Van Zandt was nowhere to be found on the first page of the leaderboard.

But then Van Zandt hit Travel Guide ($46.40, $17.00) in the mandatory 5th at Gulfstream.

And then Van Zandt added another $64.00 to his total with Fortune’s Fool ($52.00, $12.00) in mandatory race 7 at Laurel. Suddenly, he was breathing down Fay’s neck.

Van Zandt then completed a “mandatory Pick Three” of sorts by scoring with Romagna Mia ($6.76, $4.54) in the day’s final compulsory event, the 7th at Keeneland, and now he was in front.

Fay was not done, however. A $6.30 place payoff with BAQ7 runner up Shaky Pants and a victory with Agoo ($7.58, $4.04) in race 8 at Keeneland put him back in front. In the final race the 9th at Keeneland, Fay went with favored Just a Care, who finished 2nd. Van Zandt opted for 22-1 Hurricane Debby, who wound up a half-length behind Just a Care in 3rd. Had Hurricane Debby bested Just a Care for 2nd, Van Zandt would have prevailed. Instead, the 2023 The BIG One title—and the $77,000 that went with it—belonged to Brendan Fay.


—Lucas Van Zandt earned $38,500 for his fine second-place finish. It has been quite a year for the Berlin, Conn., stockbroker. In April, he won $154,153 for capturing The Players Championship at HorseTourneys.

Brendan Fay (left) with Lucas Van Zandt

—Fay and Van Zandt were far from the only winners last weekend at Laurel. Others were:

3. Ron Myeress, $19,250

4. Steve Arrison, $14,450

5. Brian Gola, $9,650

6. Ivar Cuellar, $8,700

7. Robert McIntyre, $7,700

8. Nick Noce, $6,750

9. Ken Jordan, $5,800

10. Peter Osella, $4,800

—Steve Franckowiak, Jayson “Radio City” Rockett, Kirk Tesar, Francesca Francese and Michelle Sakowicz reported home 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th, respectively. They each collected $1,500.

—Despite being a $2.00 win-and-place tournament with 12 plays (7 optional and 5 mandatory) per day, The BIG One was still a live-bankroll event. That meant that all 54 players got to keep the cash from their end-of-day scoring totals.

—The scoring system at The BIG One also created a few other rarities…at least where HorseTourneys is concerned. 1. There was no price cap (since the in-house scoring system at Laurel didn’t allow for it, and scoring would have been a nightmare had we tried to impose one manually). 2. All players started with $96.00 (with which to make their 24 plays) rather than the usual $0.00. 3. As a result of the $96.00 starting point, The BIG One was the only HorseTourneys competition in which players’ scoring totals could decrease from one race to the next.

—Nick “48 Hrs.” Noce had led for a good portion of Day 1 prior to being passed by Brendan “Zoombie” Fay. Noce was less lucky, on Sunday and he wound up 8th, which still earned him a very nice prize of $6,750. However, since Noce was only able to put together 24 really good hours at The BIG One rather than 48, he is in danger of nickname revocation by the appropriate parties here at HorseTourneys.

Even though the “live-event” aspect of The BIG One was interrupted for three years by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was nice to see that many time-honored The BIG One traditions held strong despite the hiatus.

One was the Friday night Welcome Party with buffet dinner and open bar at The Hotel at Arundel Preserve.

Speaking of The Hotel at Arundel Preserve, another The BIG One tradition is just a stone’s throw from the hotel:

Bagels N Grinds is a low-key establishment that prefers to let its food do the talking. There’s another The BIG One service provider, though, that is less shy about blowing its own horn.

Happily, doctors assure us that those seated near the Men’s room exit should regain their hearing within another couple of days. 

Seriously, though, we at HorseTourneys were thoroughly delighted by the friendly and collegial group of 54 we had the privilege of hosting this year. Even if you didn’t take home the big money, we hope we made it fun for you. You certainly made it fun for us.