02/13/2014 12:11PM

Q & A: Gary Johnson riding a hot streak in bid for BC Betting Challenge title

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All horseplayers are prone to hot streaks. Former horse trainer Gary Johnson is in the midst of a pretty good one right now. Already in 2014, he has qualified twice for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge via BCQualify.com. Since entries are limited to one per person, he’ll have to give away his second one to a friend, but he’s not complaining.

Gary, talk about your experience in contests.

I’ve been playing in the NHC since 2007 and I’ve managed to qualify for the finals every year since then. And last year I qualified for the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge for the first time. I always liked the NHC – I was second going into Day 2 a couple of years ago but I choked and finished 10th. But the Breeders’ Cup was the ultimate contest for me. I didn’t even do any good. But as soon as it was over, I said to myself, “As long as I live I’m going to go back to the Breeders’ Cup.” It’s the atmosphere, the excitement, the people – and the organizers went first class on everything. It was the best two days I’ve ever experienced in horse racing. I can’t wait to go back there.

:: Click here to purchase a copy of “The Winning Contest Player” by Peter Thomas Fornatale

Have you played in many online contests?

I usually don’t play many online contests. I usually try to play in live contests. But back in January I played in one of the two-stage contests on BCQualify and I finished fifth in the first stage and then managed to qualify in the main contest. And then last weekend, I saw there was a contest and I didn’t have a whole lot of intention to play but I just decided to play. And I guess I got lucky because I won again.

You’re being a bit modest there. It seems you take this stuff pretty seriously. You had two entries to the NHC this year. That doesn’t happen by accident.

That was funny actually because of course last year was the first year you could have multiple entries to the NHC and I got mine on back-to-back days at Surfside in April.

Wow, you’re clearly doing something right. What is it?

I’m prepared. I handicap every day of my life, seven days a week, morning, noon and night. I’m always watching races. I probably handicap more than anyone in the country. I’m single so I have the time. I’m a horrible bettor, but I am prepared.

What information do you use?

I’m old school, I use the Form. And actually these days I use Formulator. What a creation that was. I used to have stacks and stacks of Forms trying to do research on conditions and key races and Formulator has made that a lot easier.

Are there any particular handicapping rules you live by?

There are few rules for me. I don’t like to bet 3-year olds against older or fillies against the boys. But mostly I look for pace angles. And when I’m playing in a contest, I might not know which horse I’m going to bet in a particular race because that might change because of the odds and the value, but I can tell you ahead of time if I’m going to betting a speed horse or a closer in a particular race. I dissect all the races like that beforehand.

Talk about your training experience.

I was the leading trainer here in Cleveland for seven years in a row. I got into horses because I wanted to bet. I started out as a hotwalker when I was 16, living in a tack room. I’m a racetracker and you know how racetrackers are. I’ve been around horses my whole life.

What was your career highlight?

I once won six races in a day, four at Thistledown in the day and then I went over to Mountaineer and won two more that night.

As a horseman, how do you feel you fit in with the other handicappers on the NHC Tour?

The people I’ve met, like the people you’ve written about in your column, they’re a different breed of people. They’re really genuine. There are some good people out there on this tour and I’m glad to see it doing so well.

Let’s get back to what you said before about you just being lucky – do you really believe that?

I’ve seen some of these people on your blog and they say we contest players just stab or we do this or we do that. That’s not right. These are really good players. You’ve got to be prepared and you’ve got to make your own luck. You can never give up. I always try to be in position to win every tournament I’m in. The best players are going to win these and that’s why you see a lot of the same names at the NHC every year.

What’s your plan for the rest of the year?

I’m not real good at the live bankroll tournaments and that’s my goal for the rest of the year is to get better at those in time for the Breeders’ Cup. I’m more of a grinder – I don’t have the guts some of these guys do. It’s pretty wild out there – but this year I’m going to take more risks.

Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Gary, I lived in Cle when you were king. I can see how you don't like to take chances, as most of your wins were at 3 to 5. Best of luck to you and I'm sure your making more money doing this, vs winning the title at Thistledowns running for 4K purses.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
the N.H.C QUALIFIERS seem like they consistently draw the best handicappers in the world judging by the totals at the end.i would say it takes about $120 to qualify for sure and about $100 to be anywhere near qualifying which works out to $10 to $12 per race over the 12 qualifying races quite a feat with the caps.you basically need to have your horse finish 1st or 2nd in at least 7 races and have 2 long shot winners at least 15/1 shots.and all this on races not picked by you but designated.yet every tournament seem to have an abundance of people capable of these feats.
Ron Ruchtie More than 1 year ago
Nice to see Gary Johnson get his props. He is a genuine "trackie" and Horseplayer. The article didn't mention his work at Beulah Park. He's been the public Handicapper there for years. He even helped out the "Beulah Twins" with their picks.....wink, wink. I'm amazed at his energy. I'd bump into Gary at Northfield Park or at Mountaineer and he'd be talking a mile a minute! I'm also amazed that he can do this non-stop with little burnout effect. This stuff takes its toll on myself.
Bruce More than 1 year ago
Peter, I went to the DRF Handicapper's Expo a few years ago in Las Vegas. In the panel session on Playing in Tournaments, Tom Quigley advised attendees to play in tournaments with 100% payback. Could you address tournament takeout in an upcoming blog and identify tournaments with the best return?
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I write about this issue extensively in the book and I suggest you pick up a copy!
Russell Weber More than 1 year ago
A little off point, but when is someone going to take the NTRA to task for the huge takeout in the NHC? I've asked many times to "see the books", but have yet to get a response.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
This subject has been discussed at some length here in my blog comments and elsewhere. I am in the process of doing some research to provide an answer to what the takeout is. As to whether or not it's "huge," that will be up to the beholder.
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
Im a weekend guy. I like looking at stake races. I like the breeders cup and triple crown. I thought about contests but ultimately I just don't have the time to devote to it. These guys are performing with such precision i really admire the 'capping they do.
Art Detoro More than 1 year ago
While nothing can be done about inside information, to say it can have no impact, at times, in the outcome of a tournament is disingenuous.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
who said it had "no impact," that doesn't sound familiar to me. . .
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
personally i don't think trainers or even ex trainers should be able to enter handicapping contests. Its like having inside information besides they can use their links to jockeys and other trainers to affect the outcome of a race and easily qualify. with the amount of money out there anything is possible.
Peter Fornatale More than 1 year ago
I don't agree. All the "inside information" in the world isn't going to be enough to get you where you want to go. Plus, contests have rules about how trainers/owners must play the races in contests where their horses appear (can't recall but I think they must use their own horses or maybe they can't play those races at all?) There is no SEC of horse racing. Trainers bet all the time and any rule to prevent it that might exist is completely unenforceable. And if you banned horsepeople from contests, they could just play in other people's names. Frankly, I think we need to do a much better job getting trainers/owners/backstretch types involved in contests. It's a real potential growth area.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
they have to use their own horse if its in a designated horse.doesnt stop them from asking a buddy jockey to help them out in a race if they need that horse to win or loose.as for the using others names in the contest im sure they already do that why make it easier and give them multiple options?.just like a person who works for a company conducting a raffle or a sweepstakes cant participate in the event even if they have nothing to do with the draw ,trainers and jockeys grooms etc should not be able to participate in tournaments because they have access to people who determine the outcome.lets say for instance a trainer has a horse in a designated race he gives the horse an extra something to make him run better that day and gets an advantage over the other contestants who dont have the ability to give their pick anything.
rishooti . More than 1 year ago
Agree with you Peter. Horse still has to run around the track with the jock on his back. Plus you may not be the only one in the race with the "good thing". Way too much is read into this given the earlier days of the sport when it was much much easier to pull off.
Lenny Mamola More than 1 year ago
Depends on the track...If your playing a "A" type track I don't feel there is any inside info..except for a trainer knowing he has a standout that happens along the way..These people have made the BIG TIME and really don't want to forsake what they have accomplished to get there..
Ron Solberg More than 1 year ago
i seen trainers that have to ask players what they think would be best.just like anything else some are good other stink.theres lots of people out there connect with the horses that you dont know who they are. myself i dont care. i would say everything balances out.
Bruce Epstein More than 1 year ago
Ray, do not worry about Gary having links to jocks at contest tracks. The jocks at Thistledowns are not there to hone their skills and move on, most are there as a last stop.