Although only a 3-year-old gelding, J.R. Johnson is a horse who has been around.
Trainer Mel Stute claimed J.R. Johnson from Wayne Lukas, and Hal King claimed the Texas-bred from Stute for $50,000 in March. After winning three times for King at Hollywood Park and adding an allowance victory at Del Mar in August, J.R. Johnson helped the Los Angeles County Fair open its 18-day season Thursday by taking the $33,600 Foothill Stakes by five lengths before a crowd of 11,770 at Fairplex Park in Pomona.
J.R. Johnson, running 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16 4/5 under jockey Martin Pedroza, went off the favorite and paid $5.40, $3.40 and $2.60. El Corazon, who can win in Illinois but not in California, paid $3.60 and $3 for finishing second, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Lightning Touch, who paid $2.80 to show.
J.R. Johnson, who is owned by international banker Paul Bouffier, earned $20,100, which along with his other purses should mean that Bouffier is “out,” having recovered his investment in the horse.
King isn’t so sure. “You’re never out on a horse until you sell him,” the trainer said.
It was Bouffier who suggested that J.R. Johnson be claimed the March day he showed early speed and finished fifth at Santa Anita. “Paul picked him out, and I agreed,” King said.
There was a rough start to the Foothill, J.R. Johnson getting bumped in part of a chain reaction when Rambling Monti, breaking from the next-to-outside stall in an eight-horse field, came over slightly.
Paco Mena, riding Lightning Touch, claimed foul against El Corazon and jockey Fernando Toro, but the objection was disallowed by the stewards.
J.R. Johnson has won 10 of 23 starts and earned $132,000.
Longshots won several of the other opening-day races.
The Empress Stakes for quarter horses was run in two divisions, and the winners were Sizzlin Sauce ($15.60) and Truly a Neighbor ($19).
When Stembold paid $89.20 to win the fourth race and Kamakhaylyn was a $20.60 winner in the fifth, the daily double paid $1,201.80, which was almost $300 more than the Pomona record, which was set in 1983.
The announced attendance, based on the number of programs sold because there are no turnstiles for the racing part of the fair, was about 2,300 below last year’s opener, and betting--$2.1 million--was down about $277,000.
“I don’t know what the reasons are for the decrease, but I hope they don’t stay with us,” said Jim Priddy, the fair’s racing secretary for thoroughbreds.
“Maybe it’s the competition of Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos both running at the same time, and there’s always the lottery.
“Also, last year we had an opening promotion of Bill Shoemaker riding for trainer Johnny Longden, and that might have helped the crowd.”
This year, the fair is honoring a Shoemaker--not Bill, but Amanda, the jockey’s 6-year-old daughter. One of the closing-day features on Sept. 28 is the Amanda S. Stakes.
Horse Racing Notes
Seven horses have been entered for Saturday’s $500,000 Marlboro Cup Handicap at Belmont Park, a race that will be part of the betting program at Fairplex Park. The definite starters in the Marlboro are Precisionist, the 6-5 favorite; Turkoman, second choice at 8-5; Roo Art, and Ends Well. Two others are iffy--Ogygian and Mogambo also having been entered to run tonight in the $300,000 Pegasus Handicap at the Meadowlands--and trainer Wayne Lukas said at Del Mar Wednesday that Lady’s Secret, another Marlboro entrant and one of the top candidates for Horse of the Year, would run against fillies and mares in the Ruffian Handicap at Belmont. Lady’s Secret beat males on an off track in the Whitney Handicap, however, and there is a forecast for rain tonight and early Saturday in New York.
Jorge Velasquez, the Panamanian who began riding in the United States in 1965 for Fred Hooper, will probably end his American career riding the Hooper-owned Precisionist Saturday. Velasquez, who is 40, will leave Monday for France, where he hopes to ride permanently. Turkoman has a new rider, Gary Stevens having replaced the injured Chris McCarron, and trainer Gary Jones says: “I’m scared to death, because Chris was an important part of this horse getting good, but when he got hurt, we went out and got the best available. With Turkoman, the rider doesn’t have much of a choice. He just does what the horse wants to do.” . . . Stevens, who rode at the Los Angeles County Fair Thursday, said he would take a five-day vacation in Hawaii after riding at Belmont Saturday.
Belmont is also running two other major stakes Saturday, the Futurity and the Flower Bowl Handicap. In the Futurity, trainer Laz Barrera will try to beat the undefeated Gulch with Persevered. . . . Santiago Soto may regain the mount on Flying Pidgeon for the Sept. 20 running of the $600,000 Turf Classic at Belmont. Soto rode Flying Pidgeon to victory in the Hollywood Invitational in May, then lost the mount, Jose Santos riding the horse to a sixth-place finish in the Budweiser-Arlington Million. Santos, however, is scheduled to ride Manila, who may be the best grass horse in the East, in the Turf Classic. . . . The Los Angeles County Fair’s stake-a-day schedule continues today, with 3-year-old fillies running in the $30,000 Las Ninas. Fashionality heads the field. On Saturday, the fair feature is the $50,000 Phil D. Shepherd Stakes. The 12-horse field includes Exclusive Capade, who won on the grass for a $75,000 claiming price at Del Mar in his last start Sept. 3. . . . Some Power Play, a quarter horse owned by Wayne Lukas, Gene Klein and Melvin Hatley who ran ninth in the $2-million All-American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs, N.M., on Labor Day, died a couple of days after the race. Lukas said the cause of death was a perforated ulcer.