09/10/2016 1:41PM

Fornatale: Florida man reaches NHC for free

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Daniel DePonte, a 36-year-old risk manager who lives in Jupiter, Fla., will be heading to the National Handicapping Championship for the first time come January, courtesy of the free NTRA tournament held last weekend on DRF Tournaments.

Like many horseplayers, DePonte’s love of racing was born at Saratoga. “I really started to respect the sport that allows us to see how these amazing animals can perform and loved the camaraderie of the fans that I met,” he said. “Everyone has an opinion and is willing to share it and is always there for a high-five when you hit. That’s a nice way to spend the afternoon!”

He’s been a casual fan for a decade but recently started getting more serious about pursuing racing as a passion. “I was very much into sports betting but quickly got tired of trying to beat Vegas,” he said.  “My horse-race betting started with the big races and slowly turned into my hobby, where I would watch, bet and rewatch for hours a week.”

Travel has been another important piece of the puzzle for DePonte, and that ties into his interest in tournaments as well. “I began traveling to different tracks starting in 2008, and that quickly became part of the overall experience,” he said. “I like how DRF has feeders into Gulfstream, Santa Anita, and Saratoga live tournaments, as those are my favorite tracks to play and visit. I like how the feeder structure is set up to win your way into larger tournaments so I am able to get into bigger-money situations without always having to buy in for the full amount.”

There is definitely a correlation between DePonte’s day job and his hobby. “My job is to think about many of the angles and possible areas of value and risk of a deal and to talk to many different folks about their opinions and issues with a certain trade,” he said. “I approach handicapping the same way.”

There are important differences as well. He has a background in finance, leading many to assume he will want to attempt some sort of numeric or “black box” approach to racing, but he insists that will never be the case for him. “I do that stuff all day,” he said. “The last thing I want is to come home and do it some more.”

Instead, he handicaps with the Daily Racing Form, using pace as a way in and incorporating replays and trip notes as he goes along. Unlike some players, who guard the ears from the opinions of others, he welcomes them. “I listen to the DRF podcast every week, and I read handicapping blogs and websites to find angles that I may have missed or just didn't have time to formulate,” he said.

At that point, he re-handicaps the races and settles on his final choices, marking contenders as As, Bs, and Cs based on value. From there, it’s a matter of picking the right pools and writing the correct bets.

When it comes to tournaments, his approach is straightforward. “My strategy in tournaments is to play each race like a spin of the roulette wheel,” he said. “I don't worry about hitting a theoretical amount of money. I simply try to pick the winner of each race. Picking a cap horse in every race may get you there once in a blue moon, but I want to win every tournament, and longshots don't win every race.”

DePonte looks forward to his maiden voyage at the NHC. “I love the fact that the NHC is restricted to players who win their way in,” he said. “Anyone can buy their way into anything, but I think it’s special that this one is reserved for players who have already proven themselves.”