09/09/2016 10:00AM

Fornatale: Girlfriend gets sick at just the right time for NHC qualifier


Luck takes many forms in horse racing, both on the racetrack and in our handicapping. Dominick Capobianco, 54, knows a little something about luck after last weekend.

The FileMaker database developer (a fancy title for a computer programmer) wasn’t supposed to be at home playing in a contest last Saturday. But due to a little luck, the longtime racing fan is now headed to the National Handicapping Championship for the first time.

Capobianco has been a racing fan since Seattle Slew’s Triple Crown year in 1977. He grew up along the East Coast and still considers Floral Park, N.Y., his home. Like most successful horseplayers, he had some help in the beginning. “I have to acknowledge Pete Castellanos, Tommy Marchiano, and Danny Spinner as my ‘senseis,’ as I like to call them,” he said.

“I used to tag along with them at Aqueduct and learned a lot of what I know about horses from them. The first person to actually take me to a racetrack was Jeff Stroehlein, who took me to Belmont Park when I was 15. I was hooked.”

He discovered contests in 2014 after reading an article about NHC champion Judy Wagner, and he thought he’d give them a try. He’s played in them casually ever since. Despite his success last Saturday, he prefers live-format contests.

“I’m not a big fan of all-in events because sometimes the track condition may change from fast to sloppy, or a turf race may be taken off the turf, and then you’re stuck with a horse you may not have otherwise played had the track condition not changed,” he said.

The NHC has been his primary tournament goal these last few years. “What I truly enjoy about tournaments is that I’m up against some very good handicappers, and I’ve always loved the idea of possibly getting into the NHC just to prove to myself that I can do it,” he said. “It was very important to me as a confirmation that I can play with the big dogs, so to speak.”

For many players, just qualifying for the NHC is a big win. Count Capobianco in this group. “As I told a friend of mine, if I could possibly win a cash prize in January, that would be great, but for all intents and purposes, I’ve already won,” he said. “I got in, and for me, it’s confirmation that maybe I have what it takes to be good at something I love to do: handicap horses.”

The original plan last Saturday was for Capobianco, who now lives in Greeneville, Tenn., to be at Kentucky Downs with his girlfriend, Kimberly, to celebrate her birthday. But Kimberly had a minor medical issue – a change in medication – and her doctor suggested she stay closer to home. Capobianco, of course, agreed with the plan. “I told her, ‘The track isn’t going anywhere,’ and figured maybe we’d go the following week.”

Shortly thereafter, Capobianco received a timely e-mail touting a free chance to win into the NHC. “There were 1 1/2 hours left to put in an entry, and I thought, ‘What the hell? I’ll pick 10 horses in the all-in-format tournament and hope for the best.’ ”

He made his first pass through the Daily Racing Form and chose his 10 horses. Then he made a second pass, changed a couple of picks, and locked them in. For Capobianco, the relatively quick look through the past performances proved that sometimes it’s best to go with your intuition and not overthink things. He hit four of the first five races, but the horse who really gave him a shot was the cap horse All Right.

“Channing Hill guided All Right from the No. 11 post and urged him home at Kentucky Downs at 44-1, which gave me the max-out amount of $64 for the tournament and put me in second place with two races to go,” he said.

Even though he missed on the last two races, he was able to hold on for third, good enough for his goal. “Now, I’m entering my first NHC tournament, but if it hadn’t been for my girlfriend having to stay close to home, I would never have even entered,” he said. “Talk about luck!”