08/11/2016 9:06AM

D'Amato uses cold trifecta play to take Saratoga contest

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A first-time starter broke his maiden at Saratoga on Wednesday. This firster was not an equine but a human: Mark D’Amato of Green Bay, Wisc. In his first ever trip to Saratoga, D’Amato took down the first-ever live-bankroll handicapping contest at the Spa with a final bankroll of $8,049. For his efforts, he won an additional $24,600 plus seats to the National Handicapping Championship and Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. Tomorrow there will be another $1,000 buy-in contest at Saratoga as well.

In truth, D’Amato has been playing in handicapping contests for several years, with multiple close calls but no real success. “I beat myself a bunch of times,” he said, citing a couple of times where he finished out of the money by less than a dollar.

He credited the Saratoga atmosphere with the difference today, keeping him more focused and on top of his game. “It’s bringing me back to when I used to come to the track when I was a kid,” said the 56-year old paper mill worker. “It’s old school.”

D’Amato had an unusual day and an unusual approach. He stuck to playing cold trifectas throughout the card, connecting with a bet in the first at Delaware, and the last at Saratoga, getting nothing in between.

Speaking of firsters, he bet one in the Saratoga nightcap, on top of his straight $100 tri. The horse was Kid Friendly, trained by Francis Abbott, one of many Fair Hill–based horses to excel at the Saratoga meeting. “He was a first-time starter in a field that didn’t look that good and I like [jockey] Florent Geroux,” he explained of his decision to play the horse on top.

The hit in Delaware’s first was a $60 trifecta. His son Michael D’Amato was on hand for emotional support. That support was needed after his father went cold after the good start. “You could see on his face that he was getting down,” Michael D'Amato said, “but he is the tri king, I've never seen anyone hit as many tris as he does. If he had the confidence he could be a professional horseplayer.”

D’Amato is looking forward to playing in the BCBC and the NHC for the first time. But right now he has more pressing business. “I’m all paid up and I’ll be back tomorrow,” he said.

Second place went to a more familiar name: 2012 NHC champ Michael “Million-Dollar Man” Beychok, who earned his first NHC qualification for 2017. Beychok, hanging with a group of friends he called “the boys from Baton Rouge,” whooped and hollered in delight went the unofficial results first went up. “I’m going to have so much fun tonight. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” he said.

Here is a look at the unofficial top 10, with prizes listed in parantheses:

Mark D’Amato $8,049 ($24,600 + NHC + BCBC)

Michael Beychok $4,370 ($12,300 + NHC)

Ron Bowden $3,991.96 ($9,840)

Scott Hillowe $3,407 ($8,200)

Frank Grybowski $3,377.90 ($6,560)

Jonathon Kinchen $3,078.10 ($5,740)

William Roth $2,871.55 ($4,920)

Nick Tammaro $2,611.00 ($3,280)

Cheryl McIntyre $2,526.00 ($3,280)

Phil Lam $2,363.80 ($3,280)