BLOOD is thicker than water! Had it not been for brother-in-law, former jockey Terry Wicks’ persistence, Bruce Johnson may never have taken up training again. But he did – and what a return he has made. At Scone on Christmas Eve, Johnson won with his very first starter in nearly 13 years.
His two-year-old Callmetrouble turned in an encouraging performance to land the 2YO Handicap (1000m) on debut, clinching a wonderful family result at no better time of the year. Johnson’s son-in-law Grant Buckley rode the gelding, and his daughter, Sky Racing personality Chantelle (married to Buckley) was the strapper.
Wicks’ daughter Sasha bred Callmetrouble, and has leased him to a syndicate which includes herself and her father and mother along with Johnson and his wife Sharon. “A couple of my former owners, Jim Bergin and David Gouge, who supported me strongly when I was at Rosehill, are also in the syndicate, which is great,” Johnson said. “It was a terrific thrill to win with my first runner back. I was a bit emotional. “Terry kept asking me to take out a licence again and train this horse. “I kept putting him off, but eventually relented. “At the same time, another of my former good owners asked me to train a filly for him.”
Johnson’s last runner was Larceny, who finished sixth at Randwick on April 24, 2004. His last city winner was Jazz Bullet at Canterbury on February 14, 2002 and his last winner was Can You Dance at Broadmeadow on November 16, 2003. Johnson and wife Sharon have a five-acre property at Agnes Banks near global giant Godolphin’s pre-training facility, and decided to renew his licence earlier this year and prepare a few horses at Hawkesbury. Johnson, born and bred in country musical capital territory at Tamworth in NSW, trained at Rosehill for 15 years before relinquishing his licence.
“I got very despondent; we were struggling financially,” Johnson explained. “We had two kids going through school, and I was sick of battling. “Looking back, it was the best thing at the time to give training away. We got back on our feet.” Johnson’s best horse was High Hunter, who finished third to Brian Mayfield-Smith’s Hidden Rhythm in the 1989 Group 1 Queensland Derby at Eagle Farm after finishing fourth to the same gelding in the traditional lead-up, the Grand Prix Stakes. “I also won a number of races with horses such as Trust In Dreams, Cash On Schedule, Stolen River and Hey Charger,” Johnson said. Though he quit training in 2004, Johnson never got too far away from racing. “I went to Brisbane when Tim Martin (fellow Rosehill trainer) decided to set up a stable there,” he explained. “When Tim decided to close the Queensland stable, I came back and managed Shipton Lodge at Cobbitty, and then worked for former trainer Tony Karakatsanis for a few years.”
Nowadays, Johnson is based at Denn’s Park, a 42-acre pre-training and agistment property at North Richmond. “It’s a magnificent property, and has the best water walker set-up I’ve seen,” he said.
Johnson is especially grateful to fellow Hawkesbury trainer Noel Mayfield-Smith for his help in getting him started again. “Noel has let me rent a few of his stables, and I’m very appreciative of his assistance,” he said. “I’ve got three horses in work, and I’m really enjoying it.
“But I’ve got no desire to get back into training with a bigger team of horses. I’m a hobby trainer these days and that suits me fine.”
Johnson called on his all his old training skills to get Callmetrouble ready for a first-up tilt at Scone. “I trialled him at Randwick earlier in the month and the plan was to take him to Scone for his first start, and I was confident he would run well,” he said. “The horse has pulled up in terrific order and, all going well, will have his next start in town at Warwick Farm on January 7 (in a 1200m 2YO Handicap).” No betting son-in-law Buckley will be in the saddle again. Blood is definitely thicker than water.