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.

Scott Dixon 25 days ago
Very nice tribute. Sorry he didn't publish any handicapping books (that I know of, and I have read most that matter). I would have bought them. My thoughts for the wonderful family he left.
Peter Fornatale 23 days ago
Yes, he would have been an excellent candidate to do a book. I feel lucky he shared some of his insights with me.
Mike Boreale 26 days ago
Nice tribute, Thanks! One correction; as a former Patersonian, there is one "T" in Paterson.
Peter Fornatale 26 days ago
You know, I was thinking that and google spot checked it and thought I saw two Ts. Just goes to show you can't trust what you read on the internet.
Joseph Rotell 26 days ago
Sorry for your loss, I met Ron a few times and he was a top notch guy.
Robin Buser 26 days ago
A Humble Tribute to Our Friend Ron Rippey A mentor to most of us, a proud man and legendary public handicapper; a Jersey guy whose softer side was the grace of his wife, Arlene. It was always a treat to see the Saratoga "gate touts" try to sell you their treasured picks......they did not know they were in the presence of Royalty. Your Championship weekend on ESPN at Bally's in 2006 is forever preserved. We will all miss you at Monmouth, the SPA, Belmont, The Wynn and Treasure Island. You leave behind a huge foot print on our game. Already a Legend, you are now immortal. -rdb
Dan Cronin 26 days ago
We will pray for his family, Heaven just got a great handicapper.
Michael Griffiths 26 days ago
I hope there is horse racing in heaven, RIP
fbwinners 26 days ago
I would like to pass along my condolences to the Rippey family. My prayers are with you all at this time.
mikey 26 days ago
Ron danced every dance to the last song.Saw him at Saratoga after his vegas win.He looked tired,but those trips to Vegas is no walk in the park.The NTRA needs to have a prize for the player who enters the most contests every year.Call it the RIPPEY Marathon award.He will be missed not only by his family. but his contest family.
Rick Berend 26 days ago
RIP, Ron Rippey.
William Eisele 26 days ago
r.i.p. ...
Chuck Berger 26 days ago
Sorry to hear this sad news. R.I P. Ron.