05/17/2015 8:35PM

Fornatale: Former trainer wins Santa Anita Preakness Challenge


Gary Johnson won the Preakness Betting Challenge at Santa Anita this weekend with a final bankroll of $21,290, topping a field of 85 players. For his efforts, Johnson won a $10,000 Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge seat, a National Handicapping Championship seat, and an additional $25,000 in cash.

Johnson, who qualified for the contest on DRFQualify.com, was sixth coming into the day. He was able to tread water through the afternoon until he went all-in on a double win bet in Santa Anita's eighth race.

"I just wanted to get to the end of the day with an opportunity to win," said Johnson, a former trainer, "Fortunately nobody pulled away and I didn't want to wait until the last race so I bet the eighth race down the hill. I knew if one of them won I was going to be in good shape."

He ended up splitting his stake between Gold Chaser and Clever Royal. Gold Chaser ran fourth but Clever Royal got the job done and paid $10.80. Johnson had $3,900 to win.

"I got lucky because I actually only got up at the wire," he said.

Johnson relies on a combination of being a horseman and traditional handicapping.

"I'm an old-fashioned handicapper," he explained, "and this tournament is really special because you can sit outside and watch all the horses warm up whereas a lot of places when you're inside you can't really see anything."

Johnson also won a tournament two weeks ago  at Treasure Island but despite his two recent outright wins, he has no interest in chasing the NHC Tour.

"I'm friendly with a couple of the guys who have won the tour and I know how hard it was on them," he said, "I think it takes away from your game so I'm not going to get involved with that. I'm having too much fun."

Brian Herrity, the Day 1 leader, had two entries in the top 10  heading into Day 2. The worse of the two blew up -- he went all in the midst of the card and lost -- but on his main entry he held on for second place. He won a Breeders’ Cup BC seat, an NHC seat, and $16,000 in cash -- plus the $5,000 he already won for the day money on Saturday.

Herrity was understandably pleased with his performance.

"I made money in the three races I liked," he said. "I was happy because even though Gary nailed me, in this tournament, the difference between first and second place is only $9,000 so you have to be smart about what you're willing to lay out. I didn't want to bet so much to  knock myself down to fourth or fifth."

He is a big fan of live-bankroll tournaments and plans to attend several more before the year is out.

"I'll be back here in June and I'll go to all the live-money BCBC qualifiers," he said, "I love them."

Final standings

1       Gary Johnson      $21,290 (plus $25,000)

2       Brian Herrity       $14,772 (plus $16,000)

3       Don Chung          $13,349 (plus $6,000)

4       Florine Sima        $12,986 (plus $4,000)

5       Robert Traynor   $9,417

6       Robert Crowe      $8,887

7       Christian Hellmers $6,280

8       Craig Kaufman    $5,318.15

9       Bruce D'Agostini $4,310

10     George Chute      $4,301

Top two win full $10,000 Breeders’ Cup BC seats. Top five win NHC seats. Finishers three through five win $2500 Breeders’ Cup BC entry fees.