04/04/2014 1:12PM

Santa Anita: Local horseplayer Decauwer has eyes on Double Down Challenge II

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ARCADIA, Calif. – Dennis Decauwer has a tough act to follow – his own.

The local horseplayer – retired accountant, grandfather, family man – will be among more than 100 handicappers gunning for $75,000 in prizes next weekend, April 12-13, when Santa Anita hosts its second handicapping tournament of the season.

Decauwer got hot the first contest, combining a good opinion and bold wagering to clear $10,000 in one race. It vaulted him to the tournament lead, and he won a package worth more than $30,000 including a berth in the 2015 Daily Racing Form /NTRA National Handicapping Championship.

“Everything had to go right for me to win,” Decauwer said. And it often does go right for the self-described traditionalist.

“I’m an old-school guy,” he said. “I’ll handicap first with the Form , then I’ll get workout reports, and lastly I’ll watch videos. I watch a lot of video. Those are my things.”

Those things have worked very well for Decauwer, who is 64. Married 43 years to Diane, with three kids, five grandchildren, and an active volunteer schedule, he has been betting horses for more than 40 years. Turns out, he is very good.

He finished eighth in his first tournament, based partly on an “angle” – Jorge Chavez riding in the mud at Aqueduct. On June 9, 1996, when he bet a $36 pick six on races at Golden Gate using trainer-jockey combo information, Decauwer hit for $58,134.

A weekend bettor in the 1990s, Decauwer fine-tuned his play, focusing on sprints and toying with the idea of diving in all the way. His work as a certified public accountant was in the way, so he focused on big days such as the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup.

“I had a pretty good strike rate, and thought if I can do [the same] preparation and just focus on races I really like, I could do this full time.”

In 2006, he sold the accounting practice and never looked back. With partner Don Beardsworth, Decauwer began playing tournaments regularly. They won $50,000 in a Las Vegas tournament, finishing second. They won $150,000 finishing second in back-to-back years at the NHC.

The Santa Anita tournament in March was a $1,500 buy-in, with the same rules as the upcoming April tournament – win, place, show, trifecta, and exactas.

Decauwer liked race 7 at Santa Anita on March 2. He was not alone. “That race was probably the race where virtually every player was taking their shot. It was the biggest field of the two days, and probably the most wide-open betting race.”

It was a chance to make a score, if a handicapper happened to be right.

Decauwer liked Dress Code at 6.90-1, for reasons including a better-than-looked last out, when he raced wide against a bias. “I thought he was really against it that day in the stretch; the track was really not favoring horses outside.”

I Run for Fun was 11.70-1, back from a layoff in a $25,000 claiming race, ineligible to be claimed via CHRB rule 1634. It happened before. “He’s the first horse I can remember that was using the waiver for the second time,” Decauwer said. I Run for Fun previously came from a layoff with the no-claim waiver, and won. Some patterns are obvious.

What was not obvious was how Decauwer would bet the race. He was in the black, and it was a good time to attack. He wagered $100 win and place on both, a $40 exacta box, and a $5 trifecta that keyed the two. Total outlay: $600.

“It’s extremely rare for me to bet two horses in a race,” he said. “If I had not been going so well, it might have been a $10 box, maybe a $30 win-place bet, and a $1 trifecta. Instead of a $10,000 score, it might have been a couple thousand – maybe. And I would have been very happy with that.”

But this time Decauwer was doing well, and he sent it in. The race unfolded as he visualized. Dress Code pressed two wide, and won clear at $15.80 and $7.80. I Run for Fun clunked up for second, $11.80 to place.

The score was the exotics. The $1 exacta returned $74.80; he had it 40 times. The $1 trifecta returned $1,051.30; he had it five times. Total return: $10,018.

“That’s not going to happen every day; we know the game is not that easy,” Decauwer said.

Of course, that is one reason horseplayers keep coming back to tournaments such as the April 12-13 Double Down Challenge II at Santa Anita.

The contest is open to all comers; walk-up registration begins at 11 a.m. in the Eddie Logan Suite. The $1,500 buy-in includes $500 in fees and a $1,000 bankroll. Bettors keep what they win.

As for Decauwer, he will be the guy with the target on his back.