09/29/2016 11:25AM

Friends, partners, and sometimes rivals


A whole lot has changed in horse racing over the past 50 years, but one thing remains the same: Chick Matties and Michael Ray are still playing partners.

The two first met in the fall of 1965 at a college in upstate New York where they were both members of the same fraternity. “We hit it off right away because of our passion for racing.” Ray said, “There was a small track, Green Mountain, about an hour away, and we’d go there just on Friday and Saturday afternoons.”

Ray emphasized the word “just” in such a way to suggest that there was some skipping of classes in favor of an equine education on other days of the week as well.

After college, the two men drifted apart. Vietnam was raging on and both served in the military. Matties entered the Army, and Ray the Air Force. That put their friendship on hold for roughly 20 years until a chance encounter brought them together once more.

“We ran into each other on the street in Albany [New York],” Ray explained. At that point, Ray was established as an accountant and Matties ran a computer software company. “We started playing in a weekly poker game, we played a lot of golf together, and we started in with horses again.”

Both men enjoyed Las Vegas and in the mid 1990s, before the advent of the National Handicapping Championship, they discovered handicapping contests.

“We started playing and didn’t do much, but we were occasionally competitive, and after playing for a few years we started getting more and more people to come with us,” Ray said.

That group included Matties’ sons, two of whom, Paul and Duke, have become mainstays on the contest scene themselves. Others joined in as well and soon there was a regular group of 12 to 15 guys who were all friends and good horseplayers making semi-annual pilgrimages to the Orleans to hang out and bet horses all day.

“There was a lot of kidding around and great camaraderie,” Ray said.

The best moment for the Ray-Matties team during that era came at the inaugural Horse Player World Series. The tournament didn’t start off as planned. After the first day they were 250th in a field with 770 entries, Matties recalled. By the end of the second day they’d moved up to 133rd.

“I can remember coming in to the third day,” Matties said, “and I saw a gentleman I knew from the Albany teletheater who was in the top 10 at the time and I told him, ‘Good luck, you gotta carry the banner for upstate New York.’ ”

Early on day three, the tide started to turn. “We weren’t going to win, but all of sudden we got a little bit hot,” Matties said.

They had a nice price in the last race at Aqueduct and then Ray hit back-to-back bombs at Santa Anita, an $81 horse and a $95 horse. These were no mere shots in the dark.

“He planned on playing them right from the start of the day,” Matties said.

 “I bet them in my pocket as well,” Ray confirmed.

Ray left the casino to pick his wife when there were still a couple of races to go in the tournament. “When I saw her I told her I thought we were going to do pretty well, that we’d definitely be top five and maybe top three. When I got back and walked in and Duke came running up to me and said ‘YOU WON!’ ”

The win was an impetus for getting the Matties clan more involved in contests, a move that’s paid off big time over the years. Duke Matties has been in the money in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, and has won multiple Santa Anita live-bankroll contests. Paul Matties won last year’s National Handicapping Championship, an event where Duke ran fourth.

Was there any envy from the older generation? Actually, it was the opposite.

“I don’t get nervous when making a bet or throwing a bowling ball or making a putt,” Matties said. “I was more nervous for them this last NHC than I ever was for myself. They deserve all their success because they pay more attention than we do, they work very hard at it, and it was just a matter a time before one of them won the big one.”

Matties and Ray ran one-two last year in the Santa Anita Autumn Championship and the two will be competing again next Saturday and Sunday at this year’s renewal of that event.

“Chick introduced his sons to racing at an early age and taught them well,” Ray added. “They have surpassed those teachings and I now see them often instructing others. In all the contests we have been in, I have never seen them not rooting for us or us not rooting for them.”

Last chance at qualifying

Players interested in joining Ray and Matties at Santa Anita next weekend have their final opportunity to win a $5,500 package this Saturday in the final DRF Tournaments qualifier. Buy-in is $225. Also on Saturday, for $135 you can win your way in to the Gulfstream Conquer the Crown contest, or win a low buy-in feeder into Sunday’s qualifiers for the National Handicapping Championship and Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge.