03/08/2016 10:01AM

Fornatale: Kinchen back with a vengeance


At the first leaderboard update of the 2016 National Handicapping Championship, Jonathon Kinchen was drawing live for roughly $3 million.

“This might sound crazy but when I saw my name up there in first and third I really thought I was going to win,” said the 2015 NHC Tour champ.

But at that moment the script flipped for Kinchen. He went cold, finishing out of the money in the tournament where he’d announced his arrival just a year earlier when he landed two entries in the top 10.

“As horseplayers, we all have those off days,” he said. “Mine just came at the worst possible time.

As the year continued, Kinchen was mired in a deep slump.

“From that day on it was pretty bad,” he said. “I was so hyper-focused on doing well in that tournament that when it didn’t work out there was a letdown.”

Kinchen is known for the work he puts in, but he outdid himself at the NHC – watching more replays and taking more notes than ever before.

“I didn’t cut any corners,” he said, “and after it didn’t work out it was hard to put that much effort in for a little while.”

That all changed this weekend when Kinchen renewed his focus and dominated all four events in the Daily Racing Form universe, netting his second NHC seat (he got his first for winning last year’s Tour), two seats to the Ultimate Betting Challenge, and a place in BCQualify.com’s Round Two event at the end of the month.

“I got back to doing the intense, over-the-top, amount of work,” he said. “For me, when I do 95 percent of the work I can identify the livest price horse, but when I do that extra 5 percent I can tell you if it’s worth it to play that horse or the shorter-priced horse that’s actually going to win.”

In Sundays’ contests he played three horses under 2-1 that got him points. In the end, he was clear by $17 going into the anchor leg, so some might suggest that those short collections didn’t really help him. That’s not how he looks at it.

“Getting those extra points changed the way I was able to play,” he explained. “They allowed me to use horses for protection later on because the shorter prices in the last legs couldn’t beat me anyway. They gave me freedom.”

Kinchen provides weekly insight on the DRF Players’ Podcast, and as he’s discussed on the show, working hard isn’t the only reason for his success. He is also all about working smart.

“I think I’ve developed a really good feel for the game and I’ve been fortunate enough to surround myself with good products and good people,” he said.

A lot of players get overwhelmed by all the information that’s available, but Kinchen is able to navigate a sea of data through his handicapping process.

“I try to create a work flow and stick with that,” he said, describing how he’ll try to look at the same information in the same order for a given type of race.

For example, he might use speed figures to get a shortlist of contenders, then create a pace projection, then look at trainer information, then consult clocker information, then look to friends for their opinions and any additional information. By looking at the same information in the same order, he is able to better understand it.

“When I am in the right mind frame I can get in a pretty good groove of processing it all,” he said.

In his short time in the game – he started playing contests only two years ago – he’s become known as a master at playing multiple tickets and contests.

“To quote Paul Shurman, a player I really admire, my strategy has always been to play who I like,” he said. “On Saturday, I loved a 13-1 shot and played it on all four entries across two tournaments, and you can’t be afraid to do that.”

When his opinion isn’t as strong, that’s when he’s happy to split his tickets.

“On Saturday I hit a cap horse in the first leg but I only used it on one ticket,” he said. “I don’t play many 35-1 shots, so I just didn’t have the confidence to play it on both, but if I have a strong opinion, I don’t want to split.”

He acknowledges the role of luck, but like the old expression goes: the harder he works the luckier he gets. The best thing for him about this weekend might well end up being the positive reinforcement he received for taking the time and energy to do the 100 percent job in his handicapping.

“It’s like when you’re on a diet and you step on the scale and see you‘ve lost five pounds,” he said. “That makes it easy to say, ‘Okay, now I can see that skipping the ice cream was actually worth it.’”