By Peter Wharton
Perth businessman Steve Johnson reached the zenith in standardbred breeding during the second weekend of March 2019.
Major Martini and Manning, a pair of youngsters bred and raised by Johnson, quinellaed the Group 1 $100,000 WA Sales Classic Final for two-year-old colts and geldings at Gloucester Park. Then, two days later, he produced the top priced colt at $87,500 and the leading filly at $70,000 at the Australian Pacing Gold Perth sale.
“It will definitely go down as one of the highlights of my career in trotting,” Steve said.
And, while the exploits of ‘that’ weekend are the benchmark, they are only a sample of a long list of achievements for the Baldivis businessman in an involvement that began in the late 1970’s.
He’s bred a million dollar earner, a Breeders Crown champion, a dual Vicbred Final winner, numerous Horse of the Year award winners and the winners of almost every juvenile classic on the West Australian calendar.
Born at Epping (Victoria), Steve grew up around horses and made his first foray into harness racing as a teenager.
“I attended a dispersal sale of Charlie Dickson’s Red Shadow Stud at Canowindra (NSW) with the intention of buying one horse. But I ended up with two!” Steve recalled.
Tilga Park, a daughter of the Inter Dominion heat winner Double Adios, was Steve’s introduction to breeding. She left four winners including a fine racemare in Cap Sensitive, who began her career in Victoria and, when Steve later relocated to Western Australia, was successful at Gloucester Park and the old Richmond Raceway, Fremantle.
In all, Cap Sensitive totted up 10 wins and took a time trial record of 1:57.8 and at the stud left the James Brennan Cup and Past President’s Cup winner Just Jasper (21 wins and $218,533).
Undoubtedly the best horse ever bred by Johnson was the tough Artesian gelding David Hercules. He won a total of 39 races – including 13 at Group level – and $1,263,159 stakes and was named WA Horse of the Year and 3YO of the Year.
“He won a Breeders Crown Final, two Vicbred Finals, the Fremantle Cup and an Inter Dominion heat,” Steve said.
The list of winners bred by Steve reads like a classics’ date book. They include Soho Jackman 1:50.6 ($309,928), a prolific winner at Gloucester Park and now racing successfully in America, the Westbred 3YO Classic and WA 4YO Championship winner Bettor Reward 1:52.7 ($243,565), the Westbred Classic winner and 2019 WA 2YO of the Year Major Martini
($164,818), the WA Sales Classic 2YO and 3YO winner and 2YO Filly of the Year Red Hot Roxy ($162,550) and the multiple Gloucester Park winner Forty Two Grand ($122,875).
Smart performers bred and raced by Steve have been the WA Pearl winner and 2YO of the Year Isaiah Artois ($117,351), the WA Sales Classic and USA winner Fake Embrace 1:53.4 ($240,249), Manning (WA Pearl), Mandy Joan (Dainty’s Daughter Classic) and the $100,000 earners Harriet Elisabeth (Western Crown), Jasmin Amal, Kasey John, Smooth Caesar and the siblings Kerrin Joseph and Hugh Victor.
The Johnson stock are all bred and reared on his 170 acre property at Serpentine, 55 kilometres south-east of Perth.
“The horses that we retain to race are broken in and educated by John Oldroyd, Peter Tillbrook and more recently, Donald Harper,” Steve said. “They are pre-trained on my 1000 metre sand track and then sent to David Thompson, who trains the majority of our team.”
Steve’s daughter, Charlotte, is actively involved with the horses, particularly the breeding stock.
“She completed the AI breeding course with Jim Vasey at the Goulburn Valley Equine Hospital in Victoria. She loves the young horses,” he said.
“She part-owns a Sweet Lou two-year-old named Otis with me.
“He’s the apple of her eye.”
Sammy McIntyre does all the pre-training of the racing stock and helps with the preparation of the yearlings.
The ‘Class of 2020’ at the APG sale comprises six colts and four fillies and includes a sister in-blood to last year’s top-priced filly, a half-sister to Major Martini, an Always B Miki colt from Harriet Elisabeth, a sister-in-blood to Bettor Reward and a close relative of David Hercules.
Regular soirees with respected horsemen Dr Trevor Lindsay (Larkhill Vets), Mike Howie (Copper Lodge), David Thompson and John Coffey are a source of knowledge and inspiration, according to Johnson.
“We catch up for dinner every Sunday night and discuss the pros and cons of the Industry,” Steve said.
Johnson said he bred 13 mares in the closing season, six of which had left Group 1 winners – Gaetana Nicole, Gabriella Rocks, Chemical Romance, Like A Dame, Stephanie Rose and Endless Journey.
And, despite his success in the breeding and racing sphere, Steve has no illusions of the grandeur of his achievements.
“I’m just happy winning a trial with one of my horses,” he said.