08/17/2015 11:30AM

Fornatale: TicketMaker the ticket for Kinchen


Earlier this year, it looked like Jonathon Kinchen was an unstoppable force on the National Handicapping Championship Tour. In just a few months, he'd racked up two wins, two seconds, and a fifth in NHC Tour events. The problem for Kinchen was that all of the scores had come online.

Tour rules count a player's best six scores for the year -- but at least one of those scores must come in an on-site event. The mission for Kinchen was clear -- go to a live event and get a score.

Kinchen is a hyper-aggressive player by nature, and he wasn't interested in merely trying to finish in the top 10 percent to get a score, he kept playing to win. In both Santa Anita's June contest and Del Mar's contest -- both live-bankroll events -- Kinchen was in the top 10 after day one but bet himself out of points position in an effort to finish at or near the top of the standings.

"I was starting to feel like a sprinter stretching out who couldn't quite get the mile," he joked.

At last week's Saratoga contest, he was ninth heading into day two but finished off the board. All the travel and stress were starting to take a toll. "To be honest, I was feeling tired and a little bit dejected," he said, "It's been a long time to be away from my family -- I haven't been home 26 of the last 30 days."

On Saturday morning, Kinchen woke up on a friend's couch in Saratoga and took an early flight to Chicago. Another friend, Eric Bialek, grabbed him at the airport and together they drove to one of the Hawthorne OTBs where another live-bank event was taking place. The Hawthorne contest has interesting rules in that they allow multi-race bets. Kinchen chose to attack the Pick 5 using TicketMaker.

He started off with a bang, getting 14-1 Mizz Money home in the Pucker Up. "I thought that race two back at Canterbury was actually pretty good, and I used both horses coming out of that race as A's," Kinchen said.

In the next two legs, he went A-A also, with Lucky Speed in the American St. Leger and Highland Reel's dominating performance in the Secretariat. In the whole sequence, the Beverly D. was the race he was the most nervous about. "Before the Beverly D., I was very confident about the horses I used in the Million," he explained.

Unfortunately for Kinchen, he didn't use Secret Gesture, the clear winner, for a penny. "We were watching at the same spot that we watched every race in the sequence and I was in the dumps," he said, "and we walked back to where were sitting and we saw the connections of Watsdachances and they were the reason I knew there was an inquiry. Somebody said, 'We might go up.' "

"It was the longest eight minutes of my life. When the inquiry sign went up, I did something I haven't done in a long time. I dug in my bag and got out the Lightning McQueen toy my son Austin gave me for luck. I rubbed the paint off that thing."

When Watsdachances number went up, Kinchen was sitting on a ticket. "In the middle of the whole thing, I had this overwhelming feeling that I needed this one so all of this could be worth it, all of this time away from my family," said an emotional Kinchen. "Because if I spent all this time chasing this thing and don't give myself a chance to win the Tour, then it was all for nothing."

Kinchen did something he's done in the past when he was sitting on a big score. He got out his phone and called many of the people he loves, letting him know the situation and what numbers they should be rooting for. "I want all that positive energy out in the air: 'two, four, seven, ten,' I told them."

At the start of the Million, the numbers in question weren't near the front, but Kinchen wasn't worried. "I knew that with the rabbit in there, Big Blue Kitten and Slumber were going to be flying late," he said, "but then the good old Pizza Man came through and everything was okay."

The win, worth 3,203 points, vaults Kinchen to the front, around 3,000 points in front of last year's champion, Eric Moomey. Moomey isn't out of it, but that's a lot of points to make up in a relatively short time. "Jonathon has put some pretty impressive numbers on the tour leaderboard," Moomey said of his friend and rival. "I've never seen anyone multiply their bankroll 65 times in a contest."

Moomey has the utmost respect for Kinchen.  "He deserves to be on top as he has outplayed his competition," he said. "Someone called Jonathon 'lucky' a few weeks ago -- it made me smile because that's the same thing they said about me when I started out."

Kinchen gives a certain software prorgam a huge share of the credit for his win. "It would have never happened without TicketMaker," he said. "To have the ability to play your opinion without wasting money on combinations you don't think are going to happen and to maximize your strongest opinions makes you a much more likely winner."

For example, heading to the pay leg, Kinchen liked Big Blue Kitten and Slumber more than The Pizza Man and, because of TicketMaker, he had those combinations for $1.50 instead of 50 cents. "As long as one of my horses won the Million, I was going to collect between $18,000 and $20,000," he said.

TicketMaker also helped him stay alive through the Beverly D. Because his strongest picks had won the first three legs, he had a lot of backup combinations going, "Honestly, I didn't really like Watsdachances or Stephanie's Kitten all that much," he said, "but I used them both as B horses out of respect to Chad Brown."

Kinchen isn't claiming Tour victory just yet, but he's certainly odds-on at this point to be the next NHC Tour champion. "I feel like I'm on the lead going 49 and change," he said, "Stuff happens, we've all seen it, but I feel great about where I am."


Rank Name Score
1 Jonathon Kinchen* $19,534.40
2 David Gutfreund $4,400
3 Ken Keiras $1,800.50
*Double-qualified so playing for Tour points only

Gutfreund and Keiras win seats to the National Handicapping Championship.