05/24/2014 1:23PM

Fornatale: Kinchen boldly displays his passion for racing

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Jonathon Kinchen wears his feelings about racing on his sleeve – literally. Kinchen, 31, a former football coach who works in real estate in Austin, Texas, has a racing-themed tattoo on his left forearm. His ink combines his passion for the sport with his deep love for his family,

“The front side of my forearm has my son’s birthday with saddle cloths, the 10, 13, and the 11 with roses and lilies for the Derby and the Oaks.”

Recently, Kinchen’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, inspiring an additional tattoo on the other side of his forearm.

 “I always admired Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta,” Kinchen said. “They had more will to win than any other horses that I’ve seen in my lifetime. After my wife was diagnosed, she started a blog called ‘Win the Day’ to keep the family updated. So to have Rachel and Zenyatta with the win the day logo made sense, because my wife is now demonstrating that same courage in life that they showed on the racetrack.”

The prognosis is good.

“Things are going in the right direction,” Kinchen said. “We couldn’t ask to be in a better place than we are now considering the news we got in October.”

As a distraction, Kinchen plays the horses every chance he gets. He has been following the sport since he was a teenager, but recently made his first foray into the contest world, in a Round 1 contest on BCQualify.com.

 “Last Sunday was my first tournament, and then this Sunday was my second tournament. And I was able to qualify both times.”

A betting strategy Kinchen devised for his father on Derby Day led to his winning his maiden at first asking.

 “I told him that rather than have him and all his friends bet the Derby individually, they should all pool their money together, and play a $1 eight-horse superfecta,” Kinchen said. “I left the Derby pretty much like a loser, but my dad and his friends hit the super for $7,500. And to thank me, my Dad paid for my entry in my first contest.”

Kinchen credits the show Horseplayers, and increased tournament coverage by Daily Racing Form with pushing him towards contest play.

 “Watching Horseplayers, the tournaments reminded me exactly of the World Series of Poker,” Kinchen said. “All these people cared about the same things that I care about and they hung out all day bantering back and forth. It was like a soap opera about stuff that I like.”

Kinchen is now one of nine players to have two entries in Sunday’s contest, where six players will win full rides to the $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

 “I wanted a second entry,” he said. “I felt that mathematically and strategy-wise, it gives you an advantage.”

Kinchen is hardcore when it comes to his racing fandom.

 “I go to as many tracks as I can,” he said. “I don’t care if I’m in town for a wedding. I’m going to try to get away for an afternoon and go to the track.”

Kinchen’s narrative has a lot of familiar elements to it. He first went to the track with his dad,

“My dad goes to the track, looks up at the board, and plays our address,” Kinchen said. “He doesn’t even look at the Form. As a teenager, I would go with him and I liked the gambling aspect – the idea I could give you two dollars and you might give me back 10. That was cool to me.”

The other common element to a lot of handicapper origin stories is the early score.

“The thing that hooked me was the 2005 Derby. I went to UT,” Kinchen said. “My buddies and I drove over to Manor Downs and I had $100. I was down $85 on the day going into the Derby so I bet $5 across the board on Giacomo. I won $500 and I was in love. That was it.”

Since then, Kinchen has been a frequent visitor to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

 “I’ve been to six Derbies, and I’ve been to the Super Bowl. And the worst Derby – the rainy one where I didn’t cash a ticket – was still better than the Super Bowl.”

Kinchen’s biggest win at the track came on the 2010 Belmont Stakes card, when he loved Champagne D’Oro cutting back in the Acorn.

“She was 40-1, and me and my buddy had the best betting day of our lives.” Kinchen said. “We hit everything, including the pick four that included Winchester and Drosselmeyer and paid $84,000. I go to the track all the time trying to duplicate that and I can’t.”

With a cash prize pool of more than $500,000 available in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, Kinchen hopes to soon have a story to beat that one.

As much as anything, it’s the visceral excitement of the sport that keeps Kinchen coming back.

 “I love the gambling, but I also love the sport,” he said. “There are replays that I watch that make my throat lock up. There’s no feeling in the world like having that horse that you picked in contention at the top of the stretch. There’s nothing else in the world that gives you that emotion.”