02/13/2014 12:11PM

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


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.

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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.