FRANKLIN, Ky. (Monday, Sept. 13, 2021)— Kenny Mollicone, a 47-year-old real-estate developer from Somerset, Mass., is the 2021 National Turf Handicapping Champion, having won the six-day online Kentucky Downs Turf Handicapping Challenge at the FanDuel Meet at Kentucky Downs.
Mollicone finished with an aggregate total of $5,783.90 Sunday after playing in all three of the individual two-day, live-money competitions. That gave him a comfortable $1,163.90 advantage over runner-up Christy Moore, who finished on top in the second contest.
As the King of the Turf, Mollicone earned $20,000 in prize money and the BetMakers King of the Turf Trophy. He earned a seat and prize pack to the 2022 National Horseplayers Championship (NHC) in Las Vegas in late January by virtue of his second place in the second contest.
If Mollicone was a horse, his race-chart trouble line would read “left at the gate, rallied, won under wraps.”
Mollicone tapped out in the first two-day contest staged Sept. 5-6, finishing with a $0 score as Gary Gristick won the competition with a $2,500 bankroll. Undeterred, he finished second at $3,778.40 behind Moore’s winning bankroll of $4,620 in the second tournament Sept. 8-9 and seventh with $2,005.50 Saturday and Sunday in the final leg won by Ed Deicke at $7,392. Contest players were required to bet a minimum amount of money on a minimum of five races each day.
“I was going to bet Kentucky Downs anyway,” Mollicone said by phone Monday. “To be honest, I really didn’t concentrate on the tournament. I usually bet $200, $300, $500 a race. I liked a horse or two, so I screwed around and the horses didn’t win, so I was done (with the first tournament). Some people do so much a race and manage their money. Me, I’m just like if I take a shot and win, great; if not, hey, I’ll do the next tournament. Kind of like that’s what happened.
“Like, I did OK for the tournaments, but I did great betting on my own…. I entered the contest figuring if I like a horse, I’ll take a shot. If he does well and I win, I got money and I keep playing. If not, then I just keep betting on my regular account.”
Mollicone says he played some horses whose double-digit odds seemed too high, but he couldn’t generally remember their names. One name he clearly recalls, however, is Arklow, who got bottled up in traffic in midstretch before getting through late and coming up a neck shy of Imperador in Saturday’s $1 million, Grade 2 Calumet Farm Turf Cup.
“He got blocked, should have won the race for fun,” he said. “He wins that race, I probably win that tournament. I had big doubles going in to him and big doubles going out with him. That’s what kind of killed me. Then (Sunday), I just did what I had to do. I didn’t like anything on the card.”
He said he calculated that he had enough bankroll to win the overall title and quit playing after Sunday’s seventh race — his handicapping there proving correct.
Mollicone is a fan of the competition’s format.
“It kept it interesting,” he said. “I knew I didn’t do well on the first one, but I kind of liked a couple of horses in the second one; it kept me involved. I thought it was great, the way they set up it and the way they did the overall so you’re going to play all three. Whoever came up with it, I think it’s a great idea. It keeps you wanting to do it.
“A couple of guys who beat me (in the third leg), they didn’t do the other tournaments and they didn’t get the $20,000. Shame on them. You’re going to bet Kentucky Downs anyway. It’s great racing. You’ve got great horses. I think the more the people find out about it, especially with the bonus at the end, you’re going to find more people playing next year. Guys are going to kick themselves in the butt for not playing the whole thing.”
Mollicone calls his late father, Bob, the best handicapper he’s ever known. He says the first thing he learned how to read was the Daily Racing Form and went Suffolk Downs and the off-track betting at Rhode Island casinos with his dad, the two also traveling around the country to play contests.
“I love betting turf races,” he said. “It’s a more exciting race, a more true race. And I just love the set up (at Kentucky Downs). They’re going uphill, downhill. I just love it. You look forward to it. I’ve always done well at Kentucky Downs. You get horses who pay $25, $30 that you think should pay $8 or $10. Great racing and great value.”
Tournament Director Brian Skirka called the 2021 Kentucky Downs King of the Turf Handicapping Challenge “a massive success.”
“We had over 400 combined entries over the three contests and awarded over $171,000 in prizes,” he said. “I’d like to thank all the players who participated and Kentucky Downs for putting on six days of world-class turf racing. In just two years, these Kentucky Downs contests have proven themselves to be some of the most-challenging and most-lucrative in the country. I look forward to working with the Kentucky Downs team to grow them even more in the future.”
Kentucky Downs Turf Handicapping Challenge
Overall Top 5 (with final bankroll)
1 Kenneth Mollicone, $5,783.80 ($20,000 prize money)
2 Christy Moore, $4,620.00
3. Nick Noce, $3,768.00
4. David Rink, $3,206.60
5. Gary Gristick, $3,001.00
NHC – National Horseplayers Championship
BCBC – Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge
Name (score) — prizes
Gary Gristick ($2,500) – NHC, $9,000
Lawrence Kahlden ($1,940) — NHC, $4,500
Erin Doty-McQuaid ($1,905.50) — NHC, $2,700
Marikate Carter ($1,655.60) – NHC, $1,800
Name (score) — prizes
Christy Moore ($4,620) – BCBC, $6,600
Kenneth Mollicone ($3,778.40) – NHC, $3,200
Nick Noce ($3,746) – NHC, $2,000
David Rink ($3,206.60) – NHC, $1,350
Name (score) — prizes
Ed Deicke ($7,392) – BCBC, $8,600
Michael Doheny ($6,506) – BCBC, $4,200
Gary Wright ($6,229) – NHC, $2,500
George Chute ($4,041.70) – NHC $1,600
Chris Larmey ($3,403.50) – NHC $1,200
Joseph Regan ($2,259.70)- NHC $1,000