12/09/2014 1:04PM

Fornatale: Johnsen plays for winners and picks plenty of them


Last Sunday, C.J. Johnsen of Hendersonville, Tenn., ran the table in the BCQualify event. Inquiries have been made to many contest industry veterans and none of them can recall this happening before – Johnsen cashed in every single contest race, with nine winners and three seconds.

Johnsen, a 32-year old who works as the simulcasting and live racing manager for Kentucky Downs got interested in handicapping through his father, Corey Johnsen, the president of Kentucky Downs. His initials stand for Corey Junior. There are pictures of him at age 3, in the Louisiana Downs pressbox, already reading Daily Racing Form.

A racing fan all his life, C.J. got interested in handicapping about 10 years ago. “I grew up around the track my whole life and I’ve always had a love for horses as athletes,” he said, “and that evolved into wanting to learn more about the sport and the answers got more complex. I got more into it.”

It’s that intellectual challenge aspect of handicapping that got a hook into Johnsen. “There’s a thirst for learning more,” he explained, “No matter how old you are, you’re always going to learn something new.”

In 2012, he qualified for the National Handicapping Championship for the first time. For his birthday this year, which was Saturday, his dad bought him two entries into Sunday’s BCQualify.com event.

Johnsen took a different approach in this contest. “In the past, I was one of these guys looking for one longshot to win the contest and I would reach for that – and sometimes it would take my reach horse 10 minutes to cross the finish line,” he explained, “But in Sunday’s contest I just tried to pick winners. To play consistently and chip away little by little and then go from there.”

Johnsen was clearly in the zone. Halfway through the contest, he got passed for first place. Despite having five winners, he didn’t have the cap horse who won the sixth contest event. “I knew there was no reason to panic,” he said, “So I just focused on continuing to pick winners.”

Going into the last race he was in second, $12.60 behind the leader. He was talking to his dad on the phone while the contest was going on. “Usually I will defer to his 30 years of experience handicapping,” he said, “but this time I actually took a stand against him in that race.”

At first, Johnsen looked at the scenario defensively, over-thinking the situation. “I was sitting in second and thinking, ‘Who can pass me with which horse?’ ” he said, “But I shut that down. I said, ‘I like this horse, I think he’s going to win.’ ”

In Woodbine’s 11th, Johnsen went with Oro Vero, who delivered $12.70 combined to win and place – just enough for the outright win and a little piece of contest history.

Johnsen was thrilled with how the day went, but recognizes the big prize lies ahead. “My real goal is to win a big tournament,” he said. “If this ended up being the best I ever did in a contest, I’d feel kind of like an athlete who wins an MVP but doesn’t win a championship. But it’s still nice to be able to say that I did it.”