03/24/2015 10:29AM

Fornatale: Can anyone catch Kinchen?


The question of the day in the contest world: Can anyone catch Jonathon Kinchen on the National Handicapping Championship Tour?

One prominent tour member, Bill Shurman, summed up the general feeling: “He’s 95 percent to win the tour. I can’t recall anyone putting together a stretch of great performances as Kinchen has done this year. The NHC was less than two months ago. His performance there, getting two entries in the final 10, plus five very high finishes in tournaments since then is incredible. Who would be crazy enough to aggressively go after winning the tour now?”

Another contest wunderkind, Eric Moomey, was equally impressed. “What an amazing run,” last year’s tour champ said. “Despite double qualifying myself already, he makes me look like I'm standing still. Before today, I said, ‘Well, at least he hasn't finished first in a tour event.’ Now he’s done that, too. Major kudos to a great player.”

But Moomey did reserve the right to make a run of his own. “I believe it's too early to declare victory to anyone at this point,” he said. “For me, my initial target is the midyear awards.”

The top five players on the tour July 31 each get $10,000. “I will reassess at that point,” Moomey said. “For now, let's celebrate Jonathon's amazing performance.”

What about the guy who has been going back and forth with Kinchen all year atop the tour standings? Roger Cettina has a similar attitude and approach to Moomey.

“Jonathon is pretty incredible, but his success doesn't change my plans one bit,” said the former NHC second-place finisher.

“If anything, I may be better off being in second as I always seem to get beat in the end when I'm in first,” he joked. “My goal is the top five for the first half, and then we go from there.”

As a handicapper, it’s all of our jobs to try to poke holes in favorites, even strong-looking ones. So, I asked Kinchen’s competition some probing questions. Does he have any weaknesses? Two possible ideas came up.

The first is that he still needs an onsite score. The bulk of Kinchen’s success has come online. Yes, he crushed it at the NHC in an onsite event, but the NHC is a unique event. Kinchen still needs to prove he can translate his success onsite, particularly in the live-bankroll format. Kinchen is convinced he will succeed.

“I’ve played in four onsite events in my whole life,” Kinchen said. “One was the NHC, which I consider a win. The [Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge] last year was my first one, and with a couple of things here or there, that could have been a good one. I played at Hawthorne last year, where you can play multirace bets. I played the pick six and went 5 of 6, not far off. And I was alive at Santa Anita recently with a significant bankroll, and I went all in on the last race, trying to win. I’m confident that I’ll put a score up at some point.”

Shurman agrees that it’s only a matter of time – and he takes the under.

“Even though Jonathon still needs an onsite score, I saw how he played at the NHC and at Santa Anita, and his aggressive style combined with playing in a lot of events make it a virtual lock that he’ll score somewhere,” said the 13-time NHC qualifier. “I put the over-under (sooner-later) for him scoring 2,000 points in an onsite event June 1, and I’ll take the under (sooner).”

The other idea, brought up by a player who wished to remain anonymous, was that the bulk of Kinchen’s success has come playing the same circuits.

“Once the tracks change, things will change,” said the player, who has known a lot of success in tour events. “Due to the changing in track meets, they have been the same for four-plus months. He's good at Gulfstream and Santa Anita. The way the tour scoring is, you can improve your overall score only so much, and it all gets tight because of that and can come down to the end. Everyone gets hot and cold. I would bet a pretty penny that he may go through a rough patch when the big-boy tracks open.”

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I asked Kinchen what he thought of this notion, and he didn’t really accept the premise of the question. “Historically, I’ve never looked at Tampa, and some of my biggest scores over the last three months have been there,” he said. “I don’t think I play Gulfstream very well. Two of my biggest lifetime scores in real life are at Belmont Park and Churchill. I don’t know what that means, but I think I’ll be fine.”

He did admit that his strength is Southern California. “I don’t know what’s going to happen when they go to Los Al,” he said. “But I’ll adjust and figure out a way to make it work. Really, all it takes is opening up the Racing Form. And I think that’s how it is for good handicappers as a whole. I’ll handicap the seventh race at Presque Isle and have a shot.”

At this point, it’s safe to say he’d have more than a shot – he’d be a strong favorite.