06/29/2015 8:33AM

Fornatale: Bongiovanni prevails over Streiff to win Santa Anita contest


Phil Bongiovanni, 42, has won the two-day Santa Anita Gold Cup Betting Challenge. In addition to his $12,961.40 bankroll, Bongiovanni gets $25,000 in cash plus seats to both the National Handicapping Championship and the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge for a total haul worth more than $50,000. Bongiovanni, who lives in Yorba Linda, Calif., is the co-owner of Gulliver Racing, who ran Motown Men in yesterday's Santa Anita Gold Cup.

"I wanted to play in the contest because it was closing weekend and I thought it would fun," Bongiovanni said.

His big score came in the second race when he crushed the $86.20 exacta and the $1,413.80 trifecta. "After that I played conservatively," Bongiovanni said. "I had a few opinions but mostly I kept an eye on the leader board but no one was running away with it."

He swung and missed in the last race when some prices came in, including a big longshot, Stipend, for second, who many assumed would turn the leader board upside down. "I absolutely thought I lost," he said. "At that point I would have been happy to hang on for second."

In the end, no one else hit the last race enough to surpass Bongiovanni. He credited lessons learned in the first tournament he played, last summer's Del Mar live-bankroll contest, with helping him succeed. "I did well for a while at Del Mar," he said, "but I didn't have enough experience to deal with the strategic side of things."

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This time around, Bongiovanni reached out for a consultant to help him with his contest decision-making, well-known Southern California handicapper and Horsebills.com founder Bob Ike. "I met Bob recently, and we had a great conversation," said Bongiovanni. "I thought it would be helpful to have the advice of someone whose business this is."

Bongiovanni was engaged in a ding-dong battle on the lead throughout day two with eventual second-place finisher Mark Streiff. The two traded the lead several times. Streiff, the 2012 NHC Tour winner, is a 58-year-old financial consultant from Mission Viejo, Calif. He has been quiet on the tour thus far this year. His only qualifying finish for Tour points was a sixth on Derby Day, May 2, at Treasure Island, the home of the 2016 National Handicapping Championship.

"I've lost interest in it a little bit," said Streiff. "I 've played in a few tournaments, mostly live bankroll, but mostly I've been dead money because I haven't been doing the work you need to do to be successful."

Things did not go well on Saturday for Streiff. "I ended up with $300," explained Streiff, "and that's a pretty short stack. Fortunately I've made myself into a pretty good short-stack player."

That stack got even shorter on Sunday – Streiff got down to a mere $77. Then things changed completely. "A couple of things clicked," he explained. "I liked the winner of the San Juan Capistrano and I bet a $55 trifecta."

That trifecta, keying $48.40 winner Crucero, paid $203.30 for the trifecta and propelled Streiff to the top of the leader board. "After that I hoped I could hang on for the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge," he said. Streiff achieved his goal, and he also walks away with a seat to the National Handicapping Championship, $15,000 in cash, and his $11,205.60 bankroll.

How did Streiff come up with such a high-priced winner?

"I liked the breeding," said Streiff. "You don't usually bet a horse coming back in a week in a mile-and-three-quarter race after just running a mile and a quarter, but I thought he was a good key horse at that price."

Contest rules required players to wager their $3,500 bankrolls over the two days in the win, place, show, exacta, and trifecta pools on the races at Santa Anita. Players had the option to go all-in at any time and get to keep any remaining portion of their bankrolls at the contest's end. Santa Anita will run another live-bankroll contest when racing resumes this fall.

1 Phil Bongiovanni $12,961.40 $25,000, full BCBC entry, NHC seat
2 Mark Streiff $11,205.60 $15,000, full BCBC entry, NHC seat
3 Ken McMahan $10,603.70 $6,000, $2,500 BCBC entry fee, NHC seat
4 Ray Arsenault $10,194.00 $4,000, $2,500 BCBC entry fee, NHC seat
5 Bryan Carney $9,764.00 $2,500 BCBC entry fee, NHC seat