Johannesburg Conquered the World in Championship Campaign

By Lenny Shulman
Johannesburg proved to be a citizen of the world in 2001. The bay colt raced twice in England, once in France, three times in Ireland, and once in the United States. One other thing--he won all seven times. Perfect on the racetrack, Johannesburg easily outdistanced his rivals and was named the 2-year-old male Eclipse Award winner.

His domination was so complete that no competitor got closer than 1 1/4 lengths of him at the finish of any of his races. Nor did it matter whether Johannesburg set out over turf or dirt. His main track debut came in no less than the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), where he bested 11 foes with a stunning late kick down the Belmont Park stretch. Thus, North America found out what European fans and horsemen already knew--this son of Hennessy is one serious runner.

Johannesburg was bred in Kentucky by W.G. Lyster III and Jayeff B Stables. He was bought by Demi O'Byrne for Michael Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier out of the 2000 Keeneland September yearling sale for $200,000, and has already proven to be a fantastic bargain. By the time the dust settled on Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships Day, Johannesburg had topped $1 million in earnings from his seven trips postward.

Racking up the frequent flier miles, Johannesburg began his career in Ireland in late May, breaking his maiden. From there, he shipped to England to annex the Norfolk Stakes (Eng-III) in June. July found him back in Ireland for a pair of scores in the Anglesey Stakes (Ire-III) and the Independent Waterford Wedgwood Phoenix Stakes (Ire-I). For variety's sake, Johannesburg visited France in August to capture the Prix Morny Casinos Barriere (Fr-I) before returning to England early in October for a three-length triumph in the Middle Park Stakes (Eng-I).

Six in a row, and it was on to the New World and the Breeders' Cup for the Aidan O'Brien trainee. No European horse since Arazi had made an impact on the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and Johannesburg was dismissed at better than 7-1 entering the gate. Not only had he never raced on dirt, but his longest journey to date had been only six furlongs. Cheered on by a large European contingent, and ridden beautifully by Mick Kinane, Johannesburg stalked the honest pace and was clearly the best when making his move in the final eighth of the 1 1/16-mile event. He beat Repent by 1 1/4 lengths, setting off a robust celebration by his backers.

"He's been a champion every step of the way all year," Kinane said. "We always thought he was made for the dirt."

"You're never really sure how far they'll go, but he proved today he is a serious colt," said O'Brien. "He's a natural in everything he does. He has speed, and the way he travels is something beautiful. No doubt the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) will be given serious consideration."

Hennessy, the sire of Johannesburg, finished second in the 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He won the Hopeful (gr. I), the Sapling Stakes (gr. II), and the Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. II) that same year, the only one in which he raced.

Johannesburg is the second foal out of Myth, an Ogygian mare who won once from 16 lifetime starts. A full brother died in 1998, and Myth has a 2001 filly by Storm Cat. Myth's dam, Yarn, has produced Minardi, high-weighted colt at two on the English and Irish Free Handicap, and a multiple group I winner in Europe. In addition, Yarn is the dam of Tale of the Cat, by Storm Cat, who won the 1997 King's Bishop Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga.