10/20/2015 9:03AM

Fornatale: Matties sticks with the plan - and is rewarded


Duke Matties already had one of the best résumés a contest player could have. He’s qualified for the National Handicapping Championship in each of the 13 years he’s played on the NHC Tour. He owns several wins and high-place finishes in major tournaments, including an in-the-money finish in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge and a third in last year’s Horse Player World Series.

You can add a win in the Santa Anita Autumn Championship to his list of achievements. The two-day contest required players to put up $4,000 -- $1,500 of which funded the prize pool, with $2,500 acting as a live-bankroll for the two-day contest.

Matties, 43, a professional gambler from a racing family, finished with $17,550, tops in the field of 70 at the Arcadia, Calif., track. Matties walked with over $60,000 on the weekend, including his second NHC seat for 2016 and a $10,000 seat to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.

Matties, who had won a smaller version of the Santa Anita contest back in 2013, hit the nightcap on Day 1 with Papa Turf. Papa Turf was a popular selection in mythical money contests, where many players used him simply because of his outsized price, but Matties actually liked the horse enough to bet real money. He played $150 to win and five $20 exactas with Papa Turf keyed in second.

“I bet him because last time he ran he was dueling on a day when the track was really bad inside, and three back he had run just as good as anybody in this race. He was a ridiculous overlay. He should have been 15-1. I don’t know how he went off 47-1.”

Bias handicapping is critical for Matties. In The Winning Contest Player, he explained: “I watch probably 50 to 100 replays a day, from around the country. I’ll take a day and I’ll note in what path each horse was, if they were on the inside or the outside, and  I’ll compare their speed figures from that day to previous speed figures -- that’s where I come up with the idea that there was a rail bias or outside bias.  It’s all based on real data.”

The contest hit was extra sweet for Matties because in his cash betting he didn’t manage to collect despite keying Papa Turf in various vertical and horizontal bets. He collected an extra $5,000 for being the leader at the end of Day 1.

His score was $11,000 heading into Day 2.

“There are always anxious moments when you’re on the lead because everyone is gunning for you,” he said. “I kept thinking, ‘They know what I have. If I don’t bet, somebody’s going to bet enough to win on a horse to pass me,’ so I kept betting,”

He kept betting, and he kept cashing. He played five races as required by the contest minimums, but he stayed aggressive within that framework. He put the contest out of reach in the last race by betting $600 to win on Perdona at just over 3-1 off his 8-1 morning line.

“I liked the horse and I bet him, even though he was bet hard,” he said. “I figured if I hit the race then it wouldn’t matter if there was somebody behind me just shooting for my [previous] score.”

It likely helped Matties immensely that the first four slots in the contest were paid out with both NHC seats and BCBC seats in addition to the cash.

“I think most of the guys were playing for fourth,” he said. “It seemed like that when I talked to a bunch of the players afterwards.”

Matties’s strategy proved to be correct. Had he conservatively show bet his way through Day 2, it’s possible he would have just missed out on the top slot to Michael Ray, the only player to end Day 2 with a score higher than Matties’s $11,000 on Day 1. There was an $18,000 difference between first and second – plus, of course, the $6,500 Matties made playing on Day 2 will spend just fine.

Now it’s on to the BCBC next week. For Matties, the BCBC is a complicated beast.

“I was going to skip it but I’m going now,” he said. “It’s so hard to win because a lot of players in there don’t care about the money; they play like it’s mythical money. It seems like they just want to win the contest no matter what.”

That makes things difficult for a professional bettor like Matties. Because he’s out there betting serious cash day-in and day-out, it’s difficult to adjust to the contest player's mindset in a tournament where the established template for victory often involves going all-in on the last race.

“If it’s a race I like anyway, then I might bet it all,” he said, “but there’s not necessarily enough incentive to do that every time. If I’m at $20,000 or $30,000, I don’t want to risk that just to win the contest. I wouldn’t bet that much in one race on a regular day and it just seems strange to me.”

Second-place finisher Michael Ray – who won his $4,000 buy-in on DRFQualify.com [link] – finished with $11,708, good for an additional $12,000 in cash plus seats in the NHC and BCBC. Thomas Goldsmith ($8,600) got the seats plus an additional $6,000. Fourth-place finisher James Henry ($8,220) is already double-qualified for the NHC, so he received a $5,000 bonus, a BCBC seat, and $4,000. Sixth-place finisher James Connelly ($7,631) also gets an NHC seat because fifth-place finisher Mark Streiff was already double-qualified for the NHC. Streiff and Connelly also each received $2,500 entry fees to the BCBC.

Top 10 finishers in the Santa Anita Autumn Championship.