Hightstown, NJ — From the moment Ella Johansson saw him, there was a connection. The colt’s name was Captain Bean and Ella spotted him as soon as she and her parents, harness racing trainer Nancy and driver Marcus, arrived in Harrisburg to look at yearlings the day before the 2017 Standardbred Horse Sale.
Ella, who accompanied her parents only because it seemed a better option to sitting at her brother’s baseball tournament, implored her mother to buy him.
Nancy also liked the colt, but knew acquiring him might be easier said than done. She put together a group of owners interested in buying the horse, set a budget, and on the opening day of the sale waited for Captain Bean to enter the auction ring. Ella, watching the live stream of the sale at home in New Jersey, waited too. Ella knew what the group was prepared to spend and when Captain Bean eventually sold for $85,000 she knew who had the winning bid.
“We got him!” she exclaimed to Marcus in the kitchen.
And a year later, her enthusiasm for the colt, now known as Captain Crunch, is undiminished.
“He was the first horse that I saw,” 13-year-old Ella said, recounting her initial moments with Captain Crunch. “We walked in and he was there. He was big, he was pretty; a very sweet horse. I petted him.
“He’s sweet and he’s nice. He’s just fun to be around.”
Said Nancy, “He’s big, but he’s gentle with her. He lets her pet him and he plays with you. He’s as nice as a 2-year-old colt can be. If you spend a couple minutes with him you can’t help but to like him. He’s got unbelievable charisma.”
Captain Crunch, who was renamed by Ella and Nancy’s mom Christina Takter, has won five of eight races this year. His most recent start came Oct. 27 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono, where he won the $600,000 Breeders Crown championship for 2-year-old male pacers on a cold, rainy night.
Ella greeted him in the winner’s circle with a kiss.
“He stood like a perfect gentleman, like he always does,” Nancy said.
Captain Crunch’s next start is Saturday at the Meadowlands in the sole $20,000 elimination for the Governor’s Cup, which is one of the Fall Final Four stakes for 2-year-olds at the Big M. The top-seven finishers will join bye recipients Blood Money, Semi Tough, and Sugar Factory in the $469,300 final on Nov. 24. The elimination winner will draw from posts one through six for the final.
Scott Zeron will drive Captain Crunch, who starts from post eight in the field of 10.
Prior to each race, Ella offers words of encouragement to Captain Crunch via FaceTime.
“I just tell him good luck,” Ella said. “Win.”
“When they FaceTime he’s paying attention to what she’s saying, like he’s listening,” Marcus added. “It’s kind of funny.”
Captain Crunch is a son of Captaintreacherous out of Sweet Paprika, from the family of Dan Patch Award-winner Sweet Lou and $2.78-million-earner Bettor Sweet. In addition to the Breeders Crown, his wins include divisions of the Nassagaweya and International Stallion Stakes (in a career-best 1:49.1). His only off-the-board finish was in his Metro Pace elimination in September, when he came up sick.
The colt is owned by 3 Brothers Stables, Christina Takter, Rojan Stables, and Caviart Farms.
“He’s a good-looking horse,” Marcus said. “He’s got a great personality. He’s happy all the time. He’s always in a good mood. I like horses like that. If you walk into work and see someone who is miserable, you become miserable even if you were happy. He’s the first horse on the end (of the stable). I park my car there so I can go and see him. It starts out the day good.”
And while one might expect Ella to be a horse-crazy kid given her environment, it is not the case.
“As much of a horse girl that I am, she’s not,” Nancy said, laughing. “She doesn’t care about the horses much at all.”
Captain Crunch is the exception, which has made his season all the more special.
“We live a crazy life, on the road a lot,” Nancy said. “It’s almost like joining the circus. So it’s nice when (our kids) see we’re working hard and it’s paying off and they feel involved in that.”
For the record, Ella’s brother, Marcus Jr., has a favorite horse as well. His is also a 2-year-old colt pacer, Caviart Rockland.
“They each have a horse that they follow,” Marcus said. “It’s ‘their’ horse. It makes it fun for all of us.”
The stakes in addition to the Governor’s Cup that make up the Fall Final Four are the Three Diamonds for 2-year-old female pacers, Valley Victory for 2-year-old male trotters, and Goldsmith Maid for 2-year-old female trotters. Eliminations were unnecessary for the Goldsmith Maid and Three Diamonds. There will be two eliminations Saturday for the Valley Victory.
For Saturday’s complete Meadowlands entries, click here. Racing begins at 7:15 p.m. (EST).