03/01/2016 11:05AM

Fornatale: Tournament winner shows Unbridled enthusiasm


Just call him The Frozen Pizza Man. Kevin Costello, 47, last weekend’s outright winner on NHCQualify.com, is the vice president of sales for Home Run Inn Frozen Foods, a producer of frozen pizzas. But it’s his academic background that ties in to his recent contest success.

“Back in my college days I earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering with a thesis in uncertainty analysis,” he said. “That's probably the professional part of me that helps me at the races.”

He only got involved in contest play in 2015 via a familiar method: with a little help from his friends.

“My friend Mike Tolaney from California, who has probably forgotten more about horses than most of us know, recommended back in August that I should try these things,” he said. “I was skeptical at first, but after winning an entry into the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge back in late November, I decided to try for the NHC.”

Former NHC champ Jose Arias, a friend of Tolaney’s from California, was also very encouraging and supportive.

“When you have guys like that in your camp, it gives you a lot of positive energy,” Costello said.

Costello describes himself as a class-pedigree player, a potential advantage in a game where so many players are focused on speed and pace.

“I am constantly reminded of the importance of pace and track bias every time I bet a closer on the dirt at Gulfstream or a speed horse at Saratoga,” he said. “I have plenty of losing tickets for proof, including Liam's Map and American Pharoah.”

He has been a racing fan since Unbridled won the 1990 Kentucky Derby. He didn’t even see the race, he just read about it in the Chicago papers.

“As a 22-year-old kid, I just thought it was cool that the Kentucky Derby winner was a Chicago-based horse, since those type horses always seemed to come from New York or California,” he said.

Although he never got to see Unbridled run, he felt a connection to the bay Fappiano colt, enough so that when the horse retired he wrote a letter to his trainer, Carl Nafzger.

“He not only answered my letter but he sent me a nice video of some of Unbridled's races,” said Costello.” I still have the video, and in 1994 I visited Gainesway Farm in Kentucky and took a picture with the big guy that is still hanging on my wall.”

The meeting was an unqualified success. Costello fed Unbridled a couple of candies while his groom took their photo outside the stall. All the while the Derby champ was trying to dig into his pockets for more candies.

“It was hilarious,” said Costello. “He was just the coolest, most jovial animal. I was hooked on racing from that moment on.”