09/12/2016 2:34PM

Johnson's huge year continues


Joe Johnson, a 59-year-old gastroenterologist from San Antonio, Tex., had another big weekend on DRF Tournaments. Johnson won Saturday’s NHCQ event outright. Matthew Thomas and Matt Strutzel, the second- and third-place finishers in the event, will receive seats to the 2017 National Handicapping Championship.

Johnson, already double-qualified, won’t receive an NHC seat, but he does get valuable Tour points. The projected points from Saturday should put his score for the year to 17,700, enough to put him into first place over longtime leader Kevin Engelhard.

The NHC Tour is a yearlong interconnected series of contests. The winner receives $75,000, plus a chance at a $2 million bonus should that player go on to win the NHC itself. Players receive Tour points for finishing in the top 10 percent of NHC qualifying events.

Tour rules use a player’s best six scores – at least one of those must come at a live venue (i.e., not online). The number of Tour points awarded varies depending on the number of participants. Outright winners also receive a 25 percent points bonus.

In addition to the success Johnson has had on the Tour, he has only won two seats to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge in BCQualify events. He’s had all this success despite battling cancer throughout the year. On Sunday, he had his last treatment at MD Anderson in Houston where he’s been going back and forth from San Antonio every other weekend for the past several months.

“Some of my best handicapping has been during chemo!” he quipped. “This weekend felt good with the NHC contest win because the points should move me up. It is getting harder to do that with all the stiff competition and the need to beat my previous scores.”

Johnson is in a great position because his live point total is 1,908, and that could be improved with a top 10 percent finish at the BCBC. His lowest online score is 1,527 and that could reasonably be expected to improve as well. He could blow well past the 20,000-point barrier with two more good scores. It’s far from over, however. The rest of the top five -- Engelhard, Joe Pettit, Rick Broth, and Cheryl McIntyre -- are all capable of breaking 20,000 as well, and most of the top 25 could also get close to 19,000 with two more good scores and, of course, a third improved score could also vault them past 20,000. An updated leaderboard for the Tour will be released later this week and will be viewable at www.ntra.com.

Johnson is considering changing up the way he plays from here on out. “It is tempting to get aggressive in the NHC contests with long-odds horses to get the high position,” he said, “but I’m still trying to stick with winners without overreaching and that worked this week with a win made up of mostly shorter-odds winners.”

He had six collections in the 12-race event for a total of $85.20, $5.50 clear of Thomas. His longest price was Lots o’ Lex, winner of the One Dreamer at Kentucky Downs, who returned $38.20 win-place combined. That was the first of four in a row to close out the card, culminating with a couple of shorties in Da Big Hoss ($5.40) and Veronica Bay ($7.80).

Johnson exudes a quiet confidence as we approach the final quarter of the Tour season. “I'm looking forward to the remaining play on this year’s tour and trying to stay as high as possible on the leaderboard,” he said.

On Sunday, 19 players earned seats to the second round BCQualify event taking place later this month on September 25. The overall winner was Michael Tomatz, and familiar names among the qualifiers include the recently profiled Daniel DePonte, NHC Players’ Committee chair Chris Larmey, and Anthony “Wormy” Acierno, who managed to get two entries to advance to Round 2.

Also this weekend, on Saturday George Duarte won a berth to next weekend’s NHC qualifier at Los Alamitos. On Sunday, Dennis Deauwer finished best and won his $500 Los Al buy-in. Decauwer, one of the players interviewed in "The Winning Contest Player," has an impressive resume. He and his playing partner, Don Beardsworth, finished second at the NHC two years running, one of the most impressive feats in the history of that event.

Tournament action will resume on DRFT on Wednesday, with feeders and credit builders where you can start small to win big. Next weekend’s featured events will include a NHC one-day qualifier on Saturday and a Gulfstream Conquer the Crown qualifier as well. On Sunday, there is another Round 1 BCQ contest and a qualifier for the rapidly approaching Santa Anita Autumn Championship.