Washington, PA — Kevin Johnson collected career training win 1,000 Thursday (Dec. 9) at The Meadows when Officerincommand won the sixth race. Dave Palone piloted the winner for Betcha Win Stable.
A native of Adrian, Mich., Johnson said he never dreamed he would collect 1,000 wins and nearly $8 million in purses, even though he could see the Lenawee County Fairgrounds, which offered harness racing, from his home.
“I was 11 or 12, and I had a newspaper route,” Johnson recalls. “My cousin went to the fairgrounds and got a job paying $20 a week. I was making $10 a week delivering papers, so I thought I’d try it.”
Johnson caught on with legendary trainer Frank O’Mara and learned the basics from him. He drove in his first matinee at 13 and thought his future might be in driving. But as he grew to 180 pounds, he realized that might not be the way to go.
“I remember once losing a three-way photo at the wire,” he says. “The winning driver told me, ‘If you weighed 30 pounds less, you’d have won that race.’”
So Johnson retired from driving with a total of five career wins and set his sights on training. But that would have to wait, as he joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed primarily in Jacksonville, serving as a recruiter among other duties. Along the way, he earned a degree in management from the University of Michigan.
Mustering out after 12 years, Johnson opened a public stable in 1991 and worked in Chicago and at The Meadowlands before settling at The Meadows, where he has a farm near the track.
He’s trained a number of good ones, including the mare Elusive Prey, a $30,000 yearling acquisition who banked more than $800,000 and finished second in the 2007 James Lynch Memorial and third in that year’s Breeders Crown final — at 50-1 odds — for Johnson and partner Winbak Farm.
Johnson attributes his success to the help and support of his team, particularly his wife, Rebecca Williams.
“She’s my partner, and she runs the farm,” Johnson says. “Her parents were horsemen, and she has more horse sense than I ever had. If I say load ‘em up, we’re moving to Chicago, she’s already slinging harnesses.”
Johnson also cites caretaker Jeff Lazek: “He’s one of the last of the greats. He’s the first one here in the morning and the last one to leave.” — and his principal owner, Richard Briskey, who operates Briskey Concrete Inc. near Delaware, Ohio.
“Rick’s approach as an owner is great. He tells me, ‘Your job is to make money. My job is to make sure you have money to make money.’”
Johnson indicates he plans no major changes for the future.
“I’ve accomplished about everything I want to accomplish in racing,” he says. “If I go 10 more years, I’m good with it. If I go 10 more days, I’m good with it.”