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Q&A with NHC champ Matties

You've heard all about Paul Matties's win in the 17th National Handicapping Championship by now, but what do you know about Paul Matties the horseplayer? Here's a recent Q and A with the champ.

How did you become involved in racing in the first place?

My father is a guy who likes games and anything related to games and sports. He was the quarterback of his high school team, he was a pro bowler, he's a scratch golfer. He's good at everything: pool, ping-pong, tennis. We were all pretty good bowlers and golfers but for me. I always felt the most comfortable around horse racing. It was the place I belonged. Those same competitive fires come through when you're handicapping, too. And as I got older, the more I grew into it and knew this was something I wanted to do. And I realized you can't do well at it on a day-to-day basis without working really hard.

How much of your handicapping process did you learn from your dad?

My father wasn't much of a speed figure guy but he had some friends that were. And then I kind of learned about figure-making myself. He's more of a trainer-angle, trainer-intent guy who uses a lot of logic in handicapping. And that was a big advantage I had, the ability to combine the two.

What are the benefits of making your own figures?

Doing figures is a funny thing. Even though there are so many figure outlets out there, I suggest to everybody that if they really want to learn handicapping, do some kind of figures, even if only for a week or two. It's a good way to go back over races to try to figure out how horses win, why horses win, and what different scenarios get played out in races.

What is the first thing you look at when handicapping a race?

I like to start with the pace figures that I do that are in conjunction with the final figure. I like to call them line figures. It's the pace scenario of the race. It's a mathematical line and it's got an abstract concept to it of how each horse performs in the race. I try to think of it as an exponential line that follows how the horse progresses through the race. I start from there and I use all the other contributing handicapping factors - pace, bias, trainer intent, trouble, workouts, form cycle -- in terms of how they affect the race line of a horse. And then I compare that horse's line with all the others in the race to get to a final conclusion. It's hard to comprehend saying it in two seconds but that's my approach to develop a feel for how a race is going to develop.

How important is feel versus straight data when it comes to the work that you do?

The guys who are just straight mathematical don't like it when I start talking about having a feel for a race. And I think that's what great about handicapping -- it's a combination of things. It's not just science -- let's get to the moon -- and even on the betting end, it's not just "this horse should be 7-2 and he's 4-1, I have to bet." All that rigidity that scientists have to have works against you as well as it helps you because handicapping and betting are a combination. It sounds pretentious to say it's an artist thing, but it's a combination of a feel and a science.

One of the key horses for you on Friday was All Up in Lights, who scored at 27-1. How did you come up with him?

I was joking to everybody that I'd spent all this time on Indiana Downs watching replays and checking out biases and it hadn't paid off for two years. And then this horse who had run on a bad rail at Indiana pops up in an off-the-turf race at Gulfstream, and even before he won, I said to my father, "All that Indiana work is finally gonna pay off!" I could just go with who I wanted to play from that point on. All the crazy time I put into this, it paid off for me.

You had a small lead going into the Final Table at the NHC. What was your strategy at that point?

I didn't really have an opinion, so I was trying to handicap Roger [Cettina] more than worrying about what I liked. I didn't think he would take the horse that won, What a View, because of all the speed in the race. I ended up picking a closer I thought he might take.

He was close enough that if Alert Bay had inched up over 5-2, I would have taken him. I didn't think Roger would take him -- he hadn't played any favorites -- but I wasn't going to lose the contest by him taking the most likely winner. I wasn't going to let that happen. I waited as long as I could, watching the pools.

I couldn't have been more wrong, because he took a horse [Soi Phet] I didn't think he would take, but it all worked out when both horses ran out.

How hard is it to be a winning horseplayer?

I always hear that it's impossible to be a lifetime winner, but I think there are a lot of people who can show a profit. When it gets to be where you're doing it for a living that's a big jump. Handling the inevitable losing streaks isn't for everybody; it can really get you down and affect your everyday life. You have to be mentally tough to handle that part.

What has winning the NHC meant to you on an emotional level?

I'm overwhelmed by all the support I got from my friends and family. It was odd for me to watch my father. I feel very lucky to have him as a father. He was a little different with emotions throughout the whole thing. It was very humbling. He could be tough on me sometimes and to make him proud is a good feeling.

What advice do you have for your fellow horseplayers?

Don't be afraid to win, go for the big score. If you don't take chances, then you don't have good stories.