04/28/2015 9:03AM

Fornatale: Flanders knows both good and bad luck


Ryan Flanders is no stranger to doing the unexpected in the contest world. Two years ago, as a first-time player at the National Handicapping Championship, Flanders got all the way to the final table. Just one month ago, Jonathon Kinchen was way out in front on the NHC Tour and a clear favorite to win the $75,000 that goes with a tour victory. But in just a few weeks, the 41-year old Flanders, who works in the vitamin distribution business, has surprised the contest world by catching Kinchen on the tour.

Flanders, a native of San Diego, got into racing because his stepfather, Michael Fromme, trained racehorses at Agua Caliente. As he grew older, as much he enjoyed racing, he was frustrated in his attempts to make money at the windows.

“When I realized that I was probably the worst money manager at the track – ever – I got serious about tournament play,” Flanders said. “It’s great for me because there is a bottom line, and I’m not going to lose any more than I purchase. I would encourage any player that feels like they can handicap but has a hard time turning a profit to look to tournaments.”

Flanders’s tournament career was almost over just after it started. He was very frustrated by his experience at the NHC two years back.

“I had a first-timer at Tampa that, had he won, I’m convinced I would have won the NHC,” he said. “I’ll never forget it – his name was Imaginationrunwild. He broke so slow right out of the gate going 5 1/2, and I let out a loud expletive.”

The horse came charging to the lead but just got run down late. Had he won, Flanders would have gotten very close at the NHC. “It’s a cruel, intellectual, exciting, beautiful, and unforgiving game,” he said.

But the real issue Flanders had was that despite his accomplishment, there was so little financial reward. Flanders vowed that his NHC-chasing days were over – until the NTRA announced a new, more balanced purse structure. “Here I am again,” he said, “trying to get back to that table for a chance at a big payday.”

While an NHC Tour win seems within his sights, Flanders is surprisingly ambivalent about the tour. “I’m not dead set on the tour,” he said. “I’d like to win, sure. But the tour, fiscally speaking, is just not a good investment unless you win.”

More than most players, Flanders is well aware of the role that luck plays in tournaments. “I would tell anyone that goes to the track to get involved and play them,” he said. “On a given day, anyone can win. If I sat here and touted my skills as a horse player, I’d be a fool. I get it: This is a competitive game, and we all have egos, but tournaments can be decided by pure luck. It happens all the time.”

Part of that luck comes down to the decision of which horses to play based on where you are in a given tournament. For example, last weekend, the horse Flanders played in the last race isn’t one he would have played had he been closer to the lead going into the last race. Flanders cited Salsita’s win March 22 in a race that was part of an NHCQualify.com event.

“I could sit here and tell you why I liked Salsita, but the fact of the matter is had the tournament been a format where all the picks have to be in before the contest, there is no possible way I’d have taken Salsita, and anyone that’s honest with themselves would tell you the same,” he said. “But I was getting my face kicked in, so I took a shot on a first-time grass closer in a race with a ton of pace, and it won.”

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Of course, luck cuts the other way as well. “On April 4, I needed an even-money shot that to me looked super solid for what would have been a live tournament win, something I really wanted,” he said. “But it got beat a head, and I ended up third.”

Over time, the best players tend to maximize good luck and persevere through bad luck. That’s why we see so many of the same players – including Flanders – atop leaderboards week in and week out. But Flanders isn’t sure that’s enough. “I guess my point is this,” he said. “The racing gods and pure chance will decide the tour. Too much luck is involved. And for that reason, I am not dead set on chasing the tour.”

Also, as a father of three, the youngest of whom is just seven months, Flanders is nervous about the time involved for an all-out tour grind. He said, “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to win, and I’m going to press here for a little while and see what happens. But in the grand scheme, this is a game. That’s it. I want my kids to know me as the dad that took them to cheer and basketball practice, not a guy that once won the NHC Tour.”

More weekend results

Saturday Monmouth live-bankroll contest
1. Derek Deutsch, $1,345.20
2. Donald Fischer, $1,334
3. Ron Rios, $994
4. Bernard Reilly, $845.50
5. Anthony Kite, $800
Top two win seats to the National Handicapping Championship.