08/27/2014 2:43PM

Fornatale: Rippey, 2006 NHC winner, dies at 70

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Ron Rippey won the 2006 National Handicapping Championship.
Credit: Horsephotos/NTRA

Ron Rippey, a beloved figure in the world of handicapping and the 2006 National Handicapping Championship winner, died Tuesday at the University of Pennsylvania medical center due to complications from hepatitis C. He was 70.

Rippey, who had a congenital heart defect, contracted the illness in 1965 from an infected transfusion after open-heart surgery. He liked to joke, “I didn’t get it from drinking. That probably would have been a lot more fun.”

Rippey is among the top 10 tournament money winners of all time. In addition to his NHC victory, he won contests such as the Aqueduct Betting Challenge as well as contests at the Meadowlands and Freehold. He qualified for the 2006 NHC by running second in the 2005 Sports Haven contest in Connecticut.

His most impressive victory might be the one he earned this summer at the Wynn contest in Las Vegas. Rippey had been battling his illness for years and hadn’t felt well enough to play in live tournaments, though he remained active online. His health improved early this summer, and he won a $29 online qualifier that got him the $2,000 entry fee at the Wynn, which he then parlayed into $132,000.

His first day at the Wynn was one for the ages. Of the 15 required win-place bets, he had five winners and five additional place horses. His longtime friend and rival, Paul Shurman, described his Wynn performance: “It was as good a day as any handicapper has ever had. In some way, it’s fitting that he got to have this perfect day before he died. He was a great handicapper who loved the game.”

The win meant something to Rippey on a personal level as well. His wife of 48 years, Arlene, explained: “He was very big on the idea that if something happened to him, he wanted to make sure I was taken care of. Not only did he accomplish that, but he did it doing something that he loved.”

In addition to contests, Rippey showed off his excellent opinions as a public handicapper for the Newark Star-Ledger, where he worked since the 1970s, publishing daily picks for the New York circuit in print and later online. Before that, he was the sports editor of the Patterson News.

More than anything else, Rippey was proud of his family. Arlene frequently accompanied him to tournaments for support. His son, Ron Jr., 45, gave him five grandchildren. His daughter, Kelly, 42, was inspired by her father’s long fight with his illness to become a trauma critical-care surgeon at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. He also is survived by a brother and a sister.

The handicapping contest community also held a special place in Rippey’s heart. “He told me many times that tournaments took his mind off of any other problems he had,” Arlene Rippey said. “When he was playing, he forgot that he didn’t feel well. The community of people we’ve met have been so supportive and outgoing. They’re a different kind of family.”

A service for Rippey will be held at Moore’s Funeral Home in Wayne, N.J. Details are pending but will be posted when available at http://mooreshomeforfunerals.com/home.