09/20/2015 5:18PM

Fornatale: Kinchen rewarded for abandoning conservative strategy

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Heading into this weekend, Jonathon Kinchen was already nearly assured of winning the National Handicapping Championship Tour. On Saturday, in the Gulfstream Park Raise Your Game tournament, he made his season on the Tour one to remember.

Kinchen bested a field of 79 players, winning a $10,000 Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat and an additional $21,008 in cash between his live bankroll and the prize money. The NHC Tour chase, for which he was already an odds-on favorite, is now a foregone conclusion. For the Tour win, he’ll get $75,000, and a shot at a $2 million bonus if he wins the NHC itself.

Some tournament players were surprised that Kinchen showed up to play in Florida at all.

“I tried to qualify on DRFQualify but didn’t make it,” said Kinchen, “but I still wanted to go and hang out with my racing wife, Nick Tammaro. I figured we’d play in the contest, and spend a Sunday at Frankie’s [the sports bar] watching football.”

The leisure trip became all business for Kinchen when he shot to the front early in the day on Saturday. A few races later, he secured his position by nailing a win bet and trifecta key with Spin Cycle in Belmont’s fifth. Spin Cycle paid $16.80 to win and the trifecta came back $395.50. Kinchen had $200 to win and a $12 trifecta.

From there, Kinchen hatched a plan. The difference between the first three spots in the contest was only $5,700, so he decided to wrap up and play for third – instead of the aggressive style of play he is known for, he would just make conservative show bets.

“I just wanted a Breeders’ Cup seat because I hadn’t qualified for one yet,” he explained.

Players finishing first in contests receive a significant points bonus, but that wasn’t on his mind.

“Because of my position on the Tour, the points weren’t that important to me,” he said.

But a funny thing happened on the way to coasting into third place. When Kinchen got passed on the leader board, even though that was part of his plan, he didn’t like the feeling.

“I realized how competitive I am,” he said. “It might sound crazy but suddenly I just really wanted to see my name on the top of the leader board.”

That said, he didn’t want to be cavalier about going for the win. Heading into the last race of the contest, he was approximately $1,000 out of first and $238 clear of Chris Larmey in third place.

“I initially liked three horses in there but two of them scratched,” said Kinchen. “I really liked Barbarenda and my first instinct was to just bet $230 to win on her.”

After talking to his friends Tammaro and Blake Jessee, he realized that wouldn’t be enough to get him past the leader, David Bajorek.

“They convinced me that I needed to bet in a way to give myself a chance to do something special,” he said, “so instead I bet a $10 tri key with her and five other horses.”

Barbarenda went straight to the front and improved her position. The tri came in the best way it could have, with two longshots underneath, paying $364.20. Kinchen won by nearly $2,500, earning five times his initial bankroll of $2,000. But even if shorter-priced horses had come in underneath, Kinchen would have won anyway. He played the endgame as well as you can.

Bajorek and Larmey, both of whom qualified through DRFQualify.com, finished second and third. Each receives cash and a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat. Bajorek also wins an NHC seat. Larmey and Kinchen, because they were already double-qualified for Las Vegas, do not receive NHC seats. Instead, William Chenvert and Michael Mulvihill got the Vegas seats. An additional NHC seat was awarded to Ross Gallo, the highest finishing non-double-qualified player who also competed in the February Raise Your Game contest, which was rained out.

Kinchen isn’t done for the year by any means. He has an entry for next weekend’s Round 2 BCQualify.com, which he won while multi-tabling  Saturday. He will also try again to qualify for next month’s Santa Anita Autumn Handicapping Championship (he was second on DRFQualify.com Saturday, one spot short of a qualifying spot).

Though he lives in Texas, Kinchen considers Santa Anita his home track. “I absolutely love it out there – the place and the people,” he said. “I’ll play there any chance I get.”

The stoking of his competitive fires also caused Kinchen to make a decision about next year.

“I’m definitely going to go for the Tour again,” he said.

Rank Name Score Prize
1 Jonathon Kinchen $10,108.80 BCBC seat+$10,900
2 David Bajorek 7,720 BCBC seat + NHC seat + $7,000
3 Chris Larmey 6,224.50 BCBC seat + $5,200
4 Richard Chenvert 5,470.50 $3,700
5 Michael Mulvihill 5,301.00 $2,775
6 Kevin Cox 5,189.95 $2,225
7 McKay Smith 4,964 $1,850
8 Ross Gallo 4,806 $1,500
9 Robert Gianquitti 3935.50 $1,100
10 Phillip Ciprello 3770.80 $750