10/26/2016 11:59AM

Kinchen goes splat! in BCBC qualifier


Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.

In 2015, Jonathon Kinchen was all windshield. He won four tournaments on the way to capturing the National Handicapping Championship Tour title. To this point, 2016 has been a different story. He’s had a modicum of success, but there has been more disappointment. That disappointment was never as acute as it was late Sunday afternoon.

Just two weeks ago, Kinchen rededicated himself to the goal of winning a Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge seat through DRF Tournaments. Last week, he played in feeders and ended up winning two tickets to Sunday’s $400 qualifier.

He got off to a strong start, getting place points in the first tournament event. Kinchen’s approach to playing two entries is to designate a “main” ticket and a “backup” ticket. At the start of the day, he puts in all his picks.

“I do that in case I get distracted or I lose Internet access,” Kinchen said. “At least that way I know I’ll have something in there.”

His approach to which horses to put on which ticket is very similar to the way Steven Crist suggests playing multirace bets. “I put my best picks on my main ticket and others I want to use on my backup ticket,” Kinchen explained. “If I really like a horse I’ll use it on both tickets.”

When a backup horse does well, the tickets get flipped around. The main ticket becomes the backup ticket and vice versa. In other words, Kinchen changes up the picks so his preferred selections are on his ticket with the highest score.

On Sunday, Kinchen was playing on his computer from the Bluegrass Room at Keeneland. In the second race, his backup ticket hit for $33.20 courtesy of Barbara Beatrice. At that point, he should have gone through and flipped his selections around: His backup ticket had become his good ticket. But that’s not what happened.

“I was distracted, and I meant to put Strike Midnight on my new main ticket,” he said. “I didn’t use him at all in the morning because I thought he’d be 3-1 or lower, but when he was 9-1, I added him.”

The problem was he added him only to his original main ticket, which was now his backup ticket. “I celebrated when he got second but then got annoyed when I realized my mistake,” he said.

When Kinchen used to coach high school football, his mantra to his players was “Don’t let one mistake turn into two.” He could have used his own advice at this point. Irritated, he went for a walk and missed the chance to move 1-9 American Gal to his main ticket also. One of the reasons he uses horses as short as American Gal in contests is so he can be in an advantageous position in the end game.

Santa Anita’s fourth race looked like the place he’d vault into an undeniable position. He backed 11-1 shot Klondike Creek, who assumed a commanding lead in the stretch. Had there been in-progress wagering on the event, he’d have been 1-50. But then the stride shortened late and Student Body Left came to get him in the shadow of the wire.

All was not lost. Le Cat Warrior, whom he’d had on both tickets since he first put picks in, got him $63.00 and he was drawing live on both tickets heading to the anchor leg.

He was within a few dollars of fifth and sixth, so he figured all he needed was to pick the winner. He settled on Filly on Fire, who got the job done for $10.80 win-place. Kinchen needed one of the two players ahead of him to have picked another runner. No dice. He was double-blocked, even though there were two other short prices in the race.

When the prices posted, Kinchen realized he had another out. Christopher Skinner, the fourth-place person heading into the last, had whiffed, and with a longshot running second, maybe Kinchen could catch him, a possibility he’d originally discounted.

“I did the math fast in head and realized we were tied,” Kinchen said.

But the tiebreaker rules went against him. Both Kinchen and Skinner picked four winners, meaning the second tiebreaker had to be used. Skinner had a higher winners’ mutuel total, so he got the seat.

It was an impressive combination of bad racing luck, randomness, and human error that spelled doom for Kinchen on this day. “There are wins and losses in this game, and you just want to avoid the ones that are within your control,” Kinchen reflected. “That’s what makes this one so frustrating.”

The next day Kinchen, who flies standby, looked home free at Bluegrass Airport. There was a no-show, his bag was tagged, and he was minutes away from the cutoff. He looked over his shoulder and saw a guy with a bag storming down the middle of the terminal hallway toward his gate, the human version of Student Body Left. All that was missing was Tyler Baze aboard, throwing crosses.

For the second time in two days, Kinchen was the bug.