Nancy Johansson is hoping she and the "Gator” can do something she never accomplished while working for her father, trainer Jimmy Takter. Win a Breeders Crown.
Johansson took care of a number of top horses while working for her dad, including 2010 Hambletonian winner Muscle Massive and world champion Tom Ridge, but never one that won a Crown. It seems difficult to believe because Takter has the leading stable in Breeders Crown history, with $6.42 million in purses and 15 trophies.
Now a trainer on her own, the 32-year-old Johansson sends Western Vintage into Saturday's eliminations for the $600,000 Breeders Crown for 2-year-old male pacers at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs. Western Vintage, aka Gator, competes in the second of three $25,000 elims and is the 2-1 morning line favorite in his division.
The top three finishers from each division advance to the final on Oct. 19 at Pocono Downs.
"It's exciting to have my first Breeders Crown as a trainer,” said Johansson, who works with her husband, driver Marcus Johansson, and is based in central New Jersey. "Hopefully I can follow in my dad's footsteps a little bit there. If I can do as well as he's done, that would be great. It's exciting. Like they say, it all comes down to the Breeders Crown, so we're happy to be a part of it.
"It's one of the few races I haven't won as a groom, so hopefully I can get it done as a trainer. We'll see.”
Western Vintage has won five of seven races this year, including the $150,000 New Jersey Sire Stakes championship and a $76,750 division of the Bluegrass Stakes, and finished second in the $648,850 Metro Pace. He has won $316,838 for the Johanssons, owner Perry Soderberg and driver Yannick Gingras.
"We trained him down and I remember Marcus always telling me ‘We have the best colt in the country' and I would always tell him he was crazy because we only have two pacers and (what were the chances) one of them would be the best one,” a laughing Johansson said. "But he is one of the best ones now. Marcus knows what he's talking about, I guess.”
Western Vintage is a son of stallion Western Ideal out of the mare Major Harmony. He was purchased for $7,000 under the name Unity at the 2012 Lexington Selected Sale. His family includes Silk Stockings (the first filly to be named Pacer of the Year) and 1952 Little Brown Jug winner Meadow Rice. Fourth dam Napa Valley produced Art's Vintage, the mom of former Takter star Vintage Master.
"He's just been awesome and he's matured,” Johansson said about Western Vintage. "He loves his work and he loves to race more than anything. I'm just thrilled with him. He's never tired, ever. I've tried to wear him out many times and I've never managed to wear him out. I think that's a really good quality to have in a racehorse. He's a sound horse and very smart. He takes good care of himself.”
And he is almost always a pleasure to be around.
"He's a little bit of a biter,” Johansson said, laughing. "That's why he gets his nickname Gator. He's never really bitten anybody, though, but he threatens to bite. I think he's just playful; he wants somebody to play with him. He's like any 2-year-old boy.”
Western Vintage's Breeders Crown elimination includes Ontario Sire Stakes championship runner-up Crafty Master and Takter-trained Bakersfield.
The first division is led by International Stallion Stakes winners Somestarsomewhere (5-2 morning line choice) and So Surreal (3-1) while the third elim features Battle of Waterloo champ Three Of Clubs (3-1) and Bluegrass division winner Smack Talk (7-2).
"I think the 2-year-old pacing colts are kind of even,” said Johansson, who has 14 horses in training. "It's not going to be easy; it never is. That's for sure.
"Western Vintage is heading into his elimination very strong,” she added. "He's healthy and he raced well in Lexington (in the Bluegrass) so I'm thinking he's going to have a really good shot.” (HRC)