05/05/2016 2:51PM

Fornatale: Contest patriarch Podratz dead at 68


Dennis Podratz, the patriarch of a family of accomplished tournament players, passed away suddenly this week at the age of 68. Podratz was a contest player himself, competing as recently as two weeks ago in an event at Los Alamitos.

There were several highlights to his tournament career, including making the National Handicapping Championship finals twice and attending as emotional support for friends and family another three times. Another big moment in his personal horseplaying came when he won in the finals of Santa Anita’s low-roller series of contests, securing a berth in one of big live-bank events. As a result, he got to appear on Tom Quigley’s simulcast show.

“That was a special day for him,” said his son Chris. “He was pretty nervous and he did well. He started well, hit a rough patch in the middle, but finished up strong.”

Podratz worked for the phone company from early adulthood until he retired at age 50. For most of the last two decades, he spent his time enjoying being a grandfather, rooting on various USC sports teams, going on the occasional cruise with his wife, Kathleen, and playing the horses when he could.

Podratz loved sports and games and coached his sons and grandchildren in baseball. “He was very analytical, even at the youth level,” Chris said, “He was always looking for a chink in the armor of the other team. But he wasn’t hyper-competitive as much as he enjoyed coming up with different strategies. It wasn’t about winning and losing with him – he was always happy if we did our best and took advantage of the things we could.”

To NHC Tour power couple Ken McMahan and Jeannie King, he was Uncle Denny. McMahan got into tournament play before King did, and when she was getting into contests, she didn’t want to learn from her husband, so she turned to her husband’s Uncle Denny. “He was always willing to teach me everything he knew about the horses, the Racing Form and the game,” King said. “One of the things I admire most about him was the fun we all always had together in tournament play.”

Podratz was a fan of wagering from way back, playing sports, dogs, and horses with great aplomb, but it was the latter category that seemed to mean the most to him, not in the least because it was a great way to bond with family and friends. From a young age, Chris and Ken both recals family reunions, twice monthly, out in the Santa Anita infield.

Podratz was a big fan of John Henry, but in later years, his equine fandom shifted to the horses that Chris and Ken owned pieces of. “It didn’t matter if it was an $8,000 claimer,” Chris explained, “if we owned him, that was his favorite.”

He was a regular at all the Southern California tracks, but Santa Anita held a place of particular importance to him. “Every trip to the track with him was a special one,” said Chris. “It was the place he loved to be.”