02/01/2016 1:41PM

Fornatale: NHC 17 winner a horseplayer, born and bred


It was the greatest performance by a sire in the history of the National Handicapping Championship. Chick Matties’s sons Paul and Duke ran first and fourth, respectively, in the 17th running of the world’s most prestigious handicapping contest, netting $800,000 and $100,000.

“It’s better than winning myself,” he said, “and they really deserve it because there’s nobody that works any harder than they do at the game.”

In the end, Paul bested a field of 629 players competing for record overall cash and prizes which totaled $2,778,760, including the money awarded for the NHC Tour.

Paul Matties, a 46-year old professional horseplayer, amassed a winning score of $399.50 over the three-day tournament from 53 mythical $2 win and place bets – 18 each on Thursday and Friday, 10 in Saturday morning’s semifinal round, and seven in the dramatic Final Table contest exclusive to the overall top 10.

Matties first assumed the lead during the semifinals round with a $47 winner, R B Rainbow Dash, in the sixth race from Tampa Bay Downs. Coupled with the $17.20 place money, the $59.20 added to his bankroll boosted Matties from third to first.

He maintained his lead throughout the Final Table round. In the seven mandatory races at the end he cashed in two of them – Risetotheoccasion ($17.60 to win, $5.40 to place) in Oaklawn’s seventh and Sevens ($8.40 to place) in Gulfstream Park’s 12th. 

Duke Matties, 43, made a big run at his older brother at the Final Table, but there was no sibling rivalry here. “Duke is the greatest,” said Paul. “He was rooting for me more than himself the whole time.”

Chick Matties, 69, noted that while Paul and Duke are both pro players, they couldn’t be more different in their styles. “Duke plays solid horses, Paul is very creative,” he said. “Those bombs he hit are his style and they fit his personality. When he’s playing live money he can lose 20, 30, 40 bets in a row and bet the 41st one just like it’s the first one. And that’s hard to do.”

By comparison, Duke is more consistent, and this dynamic played out in the contest with Duke getting on the leaderboard right away while Paul’s ascent was meteoric. “If Duke is going good, he’s going good every day,” said Chick. “If Paul is going well he might miss a few days but then hit something really good.”

The family started playing in contests over a year ago. Chick Matties won the inaugural Horse Player World Series at the Orleans playing in partnership with Michael Ray. “I think that got everybody’s appetite really rolling for contests,” he said.

Paul Matties said that both his brother and father felt the nerves more than he did at NHC 17. “My father has been an athlete his whole life. He’s played every sport you could imagine and at a high level,” Paul said, “and I’ve never seen him as nervous as this.”

The Matties’ have a third brother, Gregg, who couldn’t make the NHC because he was training horses in New York. The good breeding for horseplaying goes back a generation further as well. “My grandfathers were two opposite ends of the spectrum,” explained the champ. “One was a real handicapper who didn’t bet much, and the other, my father’s father, was an action guy. I was bred both sides for this.”

Paul Matties has appeared in the contest many times, and had never even sniffed the money let alone the winner’s circle. “I finally lived up to my potential,” he joked before offering a bit of advice. “Keep trying, it can happen.”

His coach from an early age was, of course, his father. “Probably the most important lesson I taught the boys is that betting is more important than picking,” Chick said.

“Paul has always said that it’s not what you lose when you lose, it’s what you win when you’re right. It drives him crazy to have a horse and miss everything or not make enough.”

Paul made sure he made enough at NHC 17 by not only winning the whole thing but also placing a bet on himself, using the $100 chip each contestant receives, to win the contest at Treasure Island’s sports book. His $100 to win paid an additional $10,000. “This tournament is the greatest,” he said. “When you’re here, it feels like you’re playing for the championship.”

No word on what Chick Matties’ stud fee will be as we approach the 2016 season.