04/07/2016 12:47PM

Fornatale: Kaplan takes advantage of friend's mistakes


Dan Kaplan is a 66-year-old retired retail manager and salesman, though the consensus is that he looks younger than that. These days, he mainly just plays the horses. Last weekend represented his apex as a horseplayer. At the Orleans in Las Vegas, he won the Horse Player World Series, netting over $326,000 between the winner’s share and day two money.

His horseplayer origins date back to his college days. “I had a friend who grew up in Santa Monica and I started going with him,” he said. “I fell in love and I’ve been playing ever since.”

Just like all players, there was a learning curve. “It wasn’t profitable in the early days but as time went on and the pick six came in I did pretty well,” said Kaplan, an old-school pen-and-paper Daily Racing Form capper who augments his form study with workout reports and information from friends in the industry.

His previous biggest jackpot score came in 2008, when he was part of a pick six at Aqueduct that paid over $500,000. “I just had a small piece of that one so this is my biggest ever score,” he said.

In 1991, Kaplan moved to Las Vegas, where he remains to this day. In that sense, this year’s HPWS was a home game for him. He had a great day on Thursday, finishing first and collecting day money. On Friday, day two, he was still in second when he was one of 23 players in the 592 entry tournament who caught Match Trial in the fourth race at Tampa, a $130 winner.

“It was a weak-looking field of maiden claimers on the turf,” Kaplan said, “and Match Trial had only raced once and had trouble at the start. I felt that if he broke better in his second start and showed speed he had as good a chance as anybody.”

Kaplan ended the day in third overall. That night he had dinner with his friend John Connelly, who he knew through a mutual friend in Vegas. Connelly, who Kaplan often sits with in the FrontRunner at the Santa Anita contests and at the Del Mar contest, was in fourth.

“He’s a great guy, very generous,” he said of his friend with whom he’d soon become linked in handicap contest history.

As Saturday, the third and final day, progressed, both friends continued to do well. Going into the second to last race, Santa Anita’s ninth, Connelly’s two tickets were in second and third behind Kaplan. Connelly made two plays on the race and with one of them, he caught $6 worth of place points on River Pass, points that should have been enough to put him in first over Kaplan. When the scoreboard was posted, both men thought there was a mistake and that Connelly should be in first.

“I thought the machine had made an error because I saw the ticket where he’d bet River Pass in the previous race,” said Kaplan.

In the last race, Santa Anita’s 10th, by happenstance Kaplan and Connelly played the same horse, the winner, Opsec. Had Connelly been in the lead, as he thought he was, he’d have won. But when the leaderboard updated, it was still Kaplan’s name on top.

There was a tense 30-minute audit, at the end of which Connelly realized that the computer hadn’t made a mistake, he had. Connelly had indeed bet the place horse in the penultimate race, but had done so on the wrong ticket. It’s a common mistake in tournaments where players attempt to manage multiple entries under high-stress conditions, it just couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Connelly.

“He said, ‘It’s my mistake, you deserve to win,’ ” Kaplan said, adding that there is no friction between the friends even after the $200,000 punching error.

As for the rest of the year, Kaplan’s hopes are high. His aim is to hit an impressive double when he plays in the Santa Anita Preakness contest next month. “Sometimes you can get on a roll and stay on a roll,” he explained. ”I was sitting next to Jose Arias at Surfside in December of 2013 when he won the last available NHC seat, and he went on to win the whole thing.”

The bankroll infusion means a lot to Kaplan. “I feel like I’m set to keep doing what I enjoy doing,” he said, “and now I can travel more to do it.”