08/10/2016 12:28PM

Matties looking for figurative lightning strike


Wednesday at Saratoga, Paul Matties was to receive his trophy for winning the 2016 National Handicapping Championship, right in the winner’s circle. Matties, a 46-year old Ballston Spa resident was initially receptive to the idea, but mostly just because he’s an accommodating guy happy to help out his friends at the NTRA. But the other day, as he was walking around the plant, he realized what a good idea that truly was.

“Saratoga has been such a big part of my life since I was a little kid hanging out with my grandfather,” he said. “I walked by all these places and had a lot of memories come back and that got me thinking this really is the right place to do it.”

Matties has experienced some betting frustration since he struck NHC gold. “I’ve had way more mispunches and missed photos than usual,” he said, “but every time that’s happened I’ve said to myself, ‘I must have used up all my luck in winning the NHC, so I really can’t complain.’”

He composed an unsent tweet a little while back: “When is the expiration date on when I can start complaining again about my racing luck?”

The Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge is on his radar for later this year. Should he win, he’d be the first player to player to pull off the impressive double. “I’ve never played in it because I didn’t like how many of the winners have won by betting it all at the end,” he said, “but nowadays with so many NHC qualifications on the line I feel like more players will be tempted to be a little more conservative at the end.”

If he wins the BCBC, he will be eligible for a $3 million bonus should he go on to win the NHC again. “It’s probably not realistic but it’s more realistic for me than trying to find the time to win the Tour and be eligible for a big bonus that way,” he said, “but I feel like the BCBC is growing in prestige and if I were to win it, all of a sudden I’d be playing for a lot more money.”

Matties is among the players competing in the Battle of Saratoga contests this week. He projects to divide his time between the contest area in the Carousel and his usual spot in the backyard. “I don’t usually play in this tournament, but this year my brother" -- fellow contest player and California resident Duke Matties -- "decided to stick around for it and I can play from where I usually sit out back with my kids,” he explained.

That spot was the site of another incredible moment of luck in Matties’s life just three years ago. For the past 20 years, he has been sitting at a picnic table in the backyard by the Big Red Spring. A few years ago, their old TV bank was moved a short distance away. He and his crew decided to move away from the tree where they’d sat for many years to be nearer to the screens.

“Two years ago, lightning hit the tree near the old spot and it just exploded,” he said. “Had they never moved the TVs we’d all be gone. I stopped complaining about bad beats for a while after that, too.”

This year, there was a new addition to the Matties table area, a practical joke courtesy of Paul’s friend Tommy “Ogre” Owen: a red velvet rope. “He wanted to make fun of me and he saw on TV where some special prince was out in public and they had one of those velvet ropes around so people couldn’t get to him,” Matties explained. “When I showed up the first day this year it was there waiting for me.”

After receiving his trophy Wednesday, fans across the country will have a chance to salute the prince of Saratoga.