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Murray Johnson Trainer

Thursday October 5, 2006

Murray Johnson, 46, has more than a dozen stakes winners to his credit since launching his training career in 1988. But he has achieved his greatest success and notoriety with his handling of the popular running machine Perfect Drift, the 7-year-old gelding owned by Dr. William Reed.

The earner of more than $4.6 million, Perfect Drift has gained a reputation for always being there, though not always finishing on top, in upper echelon graded stakes. In his latest start, the Dynaformer gelding finished second in the Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II) and may go on to the Breeders’ Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I). If Perfect Drift makes the Classic starting gate, he will tie Sprint winner Kona Gold as the only horses to make five Breeders’ Cup appearances and would become the first to start that many times in the Classic, in which he finished third last year.

Johnson was born in Australia and comes from a rich horse racing background. His grandfather, William Samuel Cox, founded Australia’s Moonee Valley Racing Club and has his name on one of that country’s most prestigious races—the W. S. Cox Plate. After beginning his career in his native country, Johnson relocated to the U.S. in 1982, first galloping horses for Carl Nafzger. He also worked for Charlie Whittingham and Shug McGaughey and became an assistant to John Gosden. Johnson went out on his own after Gosden moved to England in 1988. Johnson’s first stakes success came with Green Alligator, the California Derby winner who finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby. Johnson, who moved his stable to Kentucky in 1991, owns a 55-acre farm near Louisville.

In addition to his successes with Perfect Drift, Johnson has had a tumultuous year personally. Two days before Perfect Drift ran fourth in the Pacific Classic (gr. I), Johnson’s father, who was visiting from Australia, suffered a heart-rhythm disturbance and subsequently suffered a massive stroke. Also, Johnson himself has had replacement surgery on one hip and is scheduled to undergo a similar operation on the other hip.

Despite all that, he is taking time out from his busy schedule to participate in this chat and we are sure that his appearance here will be as popular as his horse.

Florence, SC:
Murray, I hope your dad is doing well. In this time when so many stars are retired early due to injury, what is the secret of keeping a horse performing well for so long?

Johnson:
Thank you for asking about my dad; he made it back to Australia safely. His rehab will be continued with the support of his family and friends.

Perfect Drift is a very special individual. The hard work of my dedicated crew - and, of course, his annual R and R at Stonecrest Farm, Kansas City, each winter - all contribute to him performing at the level he does.

Portland, OR:
The legions of fans of Perfect Drift will be out again for this fall season and, hopefully, another Breeders' Cup. Can you tell us a little bit about this horse's personality and what he's like around the stable and training area? Does he still enjoy racing?

Johnson:
Perfect Drift has a very strong personality. He is very aggressive in and around his stall but, once he knows it is
time to train or race, he is very willing and kind. During training and racing, he wastes no energy other than the task at hand. His joy for training and racing appears to be as vital as ever. Watching him go by the wire the first time in the Kentucky Cup Classic, he appeared very happy - happier than the second time.

Pleasant Prairie, WI:
Perfect Drift has had a long career for a racehorse. I know there is a lot that goes into keeping these horses sound. What do you consider some of the most important factors to maintaining longevity at the highest level?

Johnson:
Lots and lots of GOOD LUCK!

Mt. Gretna, PA:
Congratulations to you, Dr. Reed, and Perfect Drift. Perfect Drift looks like he is all business and very professional. What is his personality like and did he train and learn to race easily?

Johnson:
A very very quick learner and has always enjoyed every aspect of his racing career.

New York, NY:
Until reading the brief bio posted on this site, I was unaware that your grandfather founded Moonee Valley and
has his name affixed to Australia's WFA championship. Doesn't that make you Australian Thoroughbred racing royalty? Honor in War, a horse with whom I'm sure you are familiar, was purchased by Australian interests who intend to enter him in the Cox Plate. It seems like the distance (2040m.) is a little long for him. Perhaps the unusually tight turns of Moonee Valley will aid him. How do you think 'War will fare in such an historic, prestigious, WFA classic? What difficulties will he have when he is shipped Down Under?

Johnson:
Being a member of the Cox family is a great honor, but royalty and I are quite the distance away from each other. The pace of the race will be a lot slower than what he is used to and, yes, the turns are unusual but for the new owners they have very little to lose by giving it a try.

Lincoln, NE:
One of the neat things about Perfect Drift is his owner, Dr. Reed. Turning his horses out in the winter to let them be horses, then bringing them back as good as ever. What is it like to have an owner like Dr. Reed?

Johnson:
Being Dr. Reed's first trainer and to be still working for him nearly 15 years later is very unusual. We have been through the very best and the very worst together, and he has always shown great loyalty and class.

Westfield, NJ:
Perfect Drift comes to the track with a green blanket promoting some sort of equine massage company. What is the company/product?

Johnson:
Niagara Equissage is the product. I found the equipment in Australia several years ago; it is used on all my horses and has helped keep Perfect Drift at his best all these years. Not all good things have to come through a needle. You can find out more at www.equineproductsllc.com.

Omaha, NE:
Go to the Classic! It's his year.

Johnson:
With good luck, we will be there again - and I hope you are correct.

Lexington, KY:
I read a few months back that you gave John Henry (another of my favorites) "massages" and wondered what you actually do, if you still work on John Henry, and how you got the chance to help a living legend?

Johnson:
I stop by the Kentucky Horse Park with my Niagara Equissage and put it on John Henry when I have time. Cathy and her helpers at the KHP take great care of all the horse there. It was their idea to try it on John, and they see the difference it makes. Just to touch John Henry is an honour and a thrill.

Portland, OR:
What are some of your favorite horses you helped train while working in the stable of some of the other great
trainers you worked with? Any that you would label the most difficult or the sweetest and why?

Johnson:
While I worked for John Gosden in California I was lucky to be around a lot of great horses. Also during the 80's, I saw the likes of John Henry, Sunday Silence, Best Pal, Precisionist, Winning Colors, Alysheba, Ferdinand. The toughest horse I knew was Ruhlmann, trained by Charlie Whittingham.

Lexington, KY:
Have you and/or Dr. Reed decided definitely that Perfect Drift will go the Classic? If not, when will that decision be made?

Johnson:
As of now, that’s the direction we’re pointing. As always it’s a day to day thing with any horse. On the day of the race, if he is perfect health, we should be in there.

Georgetown, KY:
How many horses do you have in your stable right now? Would you want more? How hard is it for a trainer such as yourself to co-exist and be competitive in this era of mega-stables?

Johnson:
I have 12 stalls at Trackside Training Center. I would love to have more horses, with more good owners like Dr. Reed. In this day and age, it’s very difficult to go against the big trainers who seem to capture all the attention of owners. When I started out I naively I thought if you produce a good horse and do well with a good horse, then people would come to you. I had good fortune of getting a good horse early on with Green Alligator, who finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby. I thought the attention would help owners come my way, and a few local owners did. Then I realized maybe had been too complacent. So when I got Perfect Drift, I thought I would be more aggressive and called the top 20 owners in the country or their connections and expressed interest in training for them. I never got a horse from any of them. I don’t know the answer. I think it all comes back to loyalty in integrity. Dr. Reed and I have been through a lot of ups and downs, but he is very loyal. He is very demanding, but he is also understanding that people are human and mistakes can be made.

Conshohocken, PA:
What kind of pace scenario do you envision for Classic this year, assuming all the likely contenders show up and what sort of Beyer Speed Figure do you think it will take to win it?

Johnson
 It looks like the pace scenario should be reasonable, not excessive. You never know until the gate opens. That is something we just don’t know. The main thing is we get there the best we can and hope for luck. As for the Beyer Speed Figure, you will have to ask Andy Beyer. But they don’t pay the purse money out based on the Beyer Figure.

LaGrange, KY:
If you decide to go onto the Breeders' Cup with Perfect Drift, will Julien Leparoux keep the mount based on the ride he gave him in the Kentucky Cup? Good luck to you, Murray.

Johnson:
That should be decided within the next few days. He has to see what his other commitments are, and we just want to see how this weekend’s races unfold to see where everybody stands.

Belfry, KY:
I was wondering if you ever visit Perfect Drift at Stonecrest while he's on hiatus from his racing career.

Johnson
I normally take him out to Stonecrest—not every year—and drop him, and the farm manager brings him back to me at the beginning of February.

Louisville, KY:
Perfect Drift is so appealing to so many people, particularly women. What do you think it is about Perfect Drift that makes people care about him?

Johnson:
The fact that he has been around for long time and that he consistently gives  a great effort—win, lose, or draw. He has something about him that sets him apart form other horses. He has a tendency to grab certain people’s attention.  He is not a part of sale or syndicate trying to make money. He was moderately bred and races for people who just want to run a good horse. He proves that anybody can be in this game and get to the highest level.

Lexington, KY:
I think new jockey Julien Leparoux is a good match for Perfect Drift. He was brave enough to send the horse through a tiny opening last weekend in the Turfway Park Classic which allowed them to race up for second. Will you continue to employ Leparoux as the primary jockey for Drift?

Johnson:
Julien did very good job with Drift in the Kentucky Cup Classic. Depending on his commitments to other trainers, we will use him in the future.

Louisville, KY:
Can you talk about what your years together mean to you and what you most want this fantastic horse to be remembered for in the future?

Johnson:
Perfect Drift means everything, and it is hard to imagine my last few years without him. I most want Perfect Drift to be remembered for winning the 2006 Breeders' Cup Classic - let's hope!!!!!

Fort Worth, TX:
From a pedigree standpoint, what factors in Perfect Drift's breeding have given him his grit and determination on the race track. Also, is he charming or mean in his stall?

Johnson:
Dynaformer produces a lot of tough racehorses, and Perfect Drift gets his aggressiveness in the stall. Nice Gal, Drift's dam, was a hard knocking stakes mare in the mid-west and passed on her toughness.

West Grove, PA:
What do you feel - if there are any - are the main difference in training racehorses here in the U.S. versus in Australia?

Johnson:
Training in Australia is totally different to training in the USA. Australia is all turf racing, and the races are run in a way that the horses are running fastest at the end of the race not at the beginning, like in the USA.

Grass Valley, CA:
I love Drifty, and I think he ran a great race last time out. What are your thoughts on his last race?

Johnson:
We were very happy with his race. It would have been good to win, but we feel he had something left in the tank and that is good way to go in to the Classic.

Hermosa Beach, CA:
How likely are we to see Perfect Drift next year? If he returns, will he stick to the same stakes schedule?

Johnson:
With good luck Perfect Drift, will be around for many more races.

Surrey, BC:
How are any of Drift's brothers doing?

Johnson:
The 2-year-old, named Uganik Bay after a fishing spot in Alaska where the Reeds have fished, is working well, and if he stays healthy should be ready to run at the Churchill meet. The 3-year-old has been plagued with problems and will be turned out for the winter.

Battle Creek, MI:
While there are some awfully good horses who may be in the starting gate for this year's Breeder's Cup Classic, Perfect Drift has always been a favorite of mine. If he runs in the Classic, how big do you think will be "home field advantage"?

Johnson:
He has run very well there. It never hurts, In most spots it is a benefit and hopefully it will be for him.

Minneapolis, MN:
Why was the decision made to geld Perfect Drift? It seems with his ability to stay healthy and always get the job done he would have been a great addition as a stallion. P.S. I think I'm his number one fan! Thanks!

Johnson:
He didn’t and doesn’t have a stallion pedigree. He has made the pedigree. But he probably never would have been the racehorse he is if he had not been gelded. He was by a $10,000 stallion at the time and out of a $8,000 mare. With the full brother, it is a different matter because of what Perfect Drift has done.

Kingsport, TN:
Hello and thank you so much for Perfect Drift. I cannot express how happy it makes me to see him still competitive. Do you have anymore up and coming PD's in the barn?

Johnson:
Hopefully, his 2-year-old brother, Uganik Bay.

Hermosa Beach, CA:
How likely are we to see Perfect Drift next year? If he returns, will he stick to the same stakes schedule?

Johnson:
With good luck Perfect Drift, will be around for many more races.

Delray Beach, FL:
What is the background is of the name Perfect Drift. Who or what is the grand old guy named after?

Johnson:
Perfect Drift is A fishing term. the Reeds are fly fishermen.

Hudsonville, MI:
Please accept my prayers and best wishes for you and your family. I am a fan of Australian racing, too. Can you tell me who your favorite all-time Aussie racer is/was? (I am a Phar Lap and Sunline fan!)

Johnson:
Vain is my favourite. As an 8 and 9 year old, I got to visit Vain at his training stables most weekends. It was during those visits that I became addicted to the smells and sounds of a racing stable. My grandfather, Walter Johnson, bred and raced Vain - Champion 2yo 1968, Champion 3yo 1969 - one of Australia's greatest sprinters.

Elmont, NY:
Welcome, Murray, We think you do a great job with Drift. You should be congratulated for that. As for the strong opinions you expressed about the track and Lava Man after the Pacific Classic, I think you have the right to say what you feel - being an experienced and devoted horseman to this sport - and it hurt having to hear you apologize afterwards. We know there are shady things that happen in this sport that just get swept under the carpet that shouldn't. Thank you for speaking your mind.

Johnson:
There is place and a time for these things, and after a race is not the time.

San Diego, CA:
Mr. Johnson, thanks for taking the time to answer questions. Do you regret the unfounded and inappropriate remarks you made about Lava Man following Perfect Drift's loss in the Pacific Classic? Good luck in the future.

Johnson:
Thank you. You are right about the remarks. I will say as you can see from the previous question there are a lot people, both in California and elsewhere, not comfortable with integrity of the California Racing Board. Do you think if Drift got his lasix late he would be allowed to run? It was very interesting that the chairman was able to announce that the Bi-carb levels were all clear but will not tell the public who has many many tests just below the allowable levels (which means they are cheating but beating the testing). Racing deserves better.

New York, NY:
Hello, Johnson. Congrats on the Turf Classic this past weekend. Drift looked like his old self again. Besides Bernardini, who do you think deserves attention in the Classic and is not getting the respect?

Johnson:
The thing about the Breeders' Cup is that every horse in every race has a chance, and you have to worry about every one.

Bensonhurst, NY:
Thanks for stopping by, Murray; big fan of yours! If you enter Perfect Drift in the Classic, what European horses would you most be worried about? Also, being an astute horseman, which horses are overrated in this year's Classic?

Johnson:
It is very tough for European horses to run on the dirt but, when they are able to handle it, they are very tough.

New York, NY:
Hello, Johnson. Congrats on the Turf Classic this past weekend. Drift looked like his old self again. Besides Bernardini, who do you think deserves attention in the Classic and is not getting the respect?

Johnson:
The thing about the Breeders' Cup is that every horse in every race has a chance, and you have to worry about every one.

Bensonhurst, NY:
Thanks for stopping by, Murray; big fan of yours! If you enter Perfect Drift in the Classic, what European horses would you most be worried about? Also, being an astute horseman, which horses are overrated in this year's Classic?

Johnson:
It is very tough for European horses to run on the dirt but, when they are able to handle it, they are very tough.

Lexington, KY:
Do you or Dr. Reed ever get discouraged with Perfect Drift's 'seconditis'?

Johnson:
No, it is a lot better than having 'thirditis'.

Cincinnati, OH:
I love Perfect Drift. My question: Does he ever sulk if he's come in second instead of first?

Johnson:
No, he really doesn't sulk. He is always happy.

Kansas City, MO:
Perfect Drift gets a vacation every winter where he can relax and enjoy being in a field with other horses back home at Stonecrest Farms. Given his long-term success, do you see him as a trend-setter, encouraging others to give their race horses an annual vacation?

Johnson:
No, not really, it works for him because he is a gelding.

Washougal, WA:
I believe the groom is the most important person in a racehorse's life. I galloped for 15 years and if I was brought in to ride a "nut case" I would ask the groom how to ride him. In today's racing, grooms are often reduced to mucking out and tacking up. How much responsibility do you delegate to a groom?

Johnson:
Perfect Drift's groom is Richy Anderson, and he knows Drift better than anybody. But if you have seen Richy, you will know the only thing he rides is his bike; so I wouldn't ask him. Drift's riders - Mike Bowlds and Joe Deegan - are two of the best.

Auckland, New Zealand:
G-day, mate. Being an Aussie, how have you handled being in America? Do you miss your homeland?

Johnson:
G-day, mate. I miss "A dog's eye and a dead horse" - If you are Australian, you will know what that means!!!

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