01/30/2014 4:52PM

National Handicapping Championship: Questions and answers with Nick Alpino


Peter Fornatale interviewed Nick Alpino of Laguna Hills, Calif., the third-place finisher at last weekend’s 15th annual National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas. Here are questions and answers as a follow-up to the tournament.

How do you feel looking back on your performance in this year’s NHC?

I’m thrilled. I almost got the whole thing in the last race. I was in it until the very end but those last couple of races I couldn’t do anything. But I’m thrilled to come in third place.

This was not the first time you qualified for the NHC.

This is the third year in a row that I qualified. The first year I did pretty good but didn’t cash. The second year I did lousy. And this year I was really surprised and delighted to be there with my son, Vincent. It was so cool that we both qualified.

Did it help your handicapping to have your son with you?

Absolutely. I’ve been doing this a lot longer than him. But he knows so much more about horses and handicapping. He reads all the books. Sometimes he’ll handicap a race and tell me everything that’s going to happen during the race and he’ll be exactly right about everything. It’s too bad he can’t do that all the time!

How did you get your start as a racing fan?

I started out going to the racetrack as a teenager in New York at Aqueduct. I used to go with a friend and his uncle and we were too young to bet but his uncle would bet for us. We used to chip in money to get the Telegraph. That’s what the Form was called in those days, the Telegraph or just the Telly. We’d get one of those and sit in the corner somewhere and look at the past performances. We all had favorite jockeys and that sort of thing.

Is there any special information that you use?

Over the years, my main source of handicapping has been the Daily Racing Form: all the information is there. I always bring the Racing Form with me, and depending on how my sight is that day, I’ll have a magnifying glass.

When I interviewed Vince last year he agreed that he was more the technical handicapping guy and you were more the hunch player. Give me an example of that.

Well, as you know my son’s name is Vincent. If I see a horse called Vincent’s Delight, I’ll go right to him and start looking at him right away. I’ve won a lot of big races that way. Because when you do something like that you come up with a lot of prices and I’ll still bet them based on my hunch.

Did anything like that happen at this year’s NHC?

The 7 horse at Oaklawn Park on Day 2 [Muazzaz] was one of three cap horses I had that day. I was sitting there and I asked my son, “Who do you like?” He said, “I like the 6 and the 7.” And they both were longshots and he told me, “I think I’m going to go with the 6.” And I go up to the window to play the 6 but something happens at the last second and I decide to play the 7. And he won it by a whisker.

For being the day leader on Saturday, you won $6,000 and a trip to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge. Are you excited about that?

I’m so excited about that. After the last race on Saturday, my son said “you got it,” but I wasn’t too sure. But a guy from the Breeders’ Cup came up to me and told me I made it.

What’s your experience in contests?

I started playing contests online and I started going to the contest at Surfside in Del Mar. And Vincent would join me down there and it was really nice father-son time. We have lunch and a few drinks and it’s a very enjoyable day. Last year, I got a seat from that.

How did you qualify this year?

It was at Barrett’s and it was like a fairy tale. It was Saturday afternoon and the tournament ended and I finished in fifth place. The first three won seats. But two of the guys ahead of me had double qualified so I made it. I couldn’t believe it. I told the guy who runs the tournament that he made a mistake but then he explained it to me. I really backed in.

Yea, you backed in all the way to the bank! When you were going in to the last race, did you consider making a cash bet to hedge at all?

The first day I was making cash bets. By the third day, I got so focused on the contest I only made one cash bet – I split a pick six ticket with my son that went nowhere. But I didn’t make any other cash bets. Broker Bread was the horse I liked and I thought to myself, “I have to go for it, this is it.” And I wasn’t happy that Tony [Brice, who played the winner] passed me in that last race but I’m still over the moon with what I got. It was so exciting and so great to be there. I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life.