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A review of the late Doc Johnson's years in racing

February 08, 2017

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James W. "Doc" Johnson M.D., 82, of Knightstown, Ont., passed away Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016, at Middletown Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. He was born Jan. 16, 1934, in West Williams, Canada, the son of the late John and Catherine Johnson.James was a physician for 38 years and was a Standardbred owner and breeder who loved to attend horse races.

He was a member of the Knights of Columbus 4th degree, American and Ontario Medical Associations, United States Trotting Association and St Rose Catholic Church of Knightstown. James was also a longtime director for the Indiana Standardbred Association.

"Doc" owned horses for 56 years.He bought his first horse shortly after graduating from medical school. A 56-year career in horse ownership needs to be described in eras.


Ontario (1960’s & 1970’s)

Doc’s first horse was trained by neighbor and family friend, Murray Mackey. Doc often commented on Murray’s work ethic as a dairy farmer. He thought very highly of Murray’s horsemanship, and thought Murray would have been a heck of a horseman if he had chosen it as his primary vocation. 

Most of Doc’s horses in the era were handled by another local horseman and friend, Bill Woodburn. Similar to Murray, Bill (and his father Lyle) were very good horsemen and devoted full-time farmers. If the horses needed to leave the local racetracks of London, Clinton, Goderich, or Dresden, they were handled by Fred and Shelley Goudreau on the Windsor/Hazel Park/Detroit Race Course circuit. 

Michigan and Ohio (1970s)

Doc and his good friend Don McIlmurray were inseparable in this era. They really had a lot of laughs together. They had some good luck together as well. Star Blend ($301,825) and Merrimac Hanover ($308,621) were products of this era. Doc was always impressed with Don’s ability, and creativity, in hanging up a trotter. 

Ontario (1980s)

Gerald Aiken, Mike Kostor, and Ray Ramsey handled Doc’s horses during this time period. Gerald Aiken developed J R Bright ($219,357), and Ray Ramsey developed Ellies Rebel ($104,679) and Classic Crystal ($83,526). While Gerald did a lot of driving prior to his health issues, Mike and Ray helped introduce Doc to the era of the catch driver. Special thanks to favorite drivers Terry Kerr and Bill Gale. 

Michigan (1990s)

Ted Taylor handled the raceway horses, and Kelly Goodwin handled the colts during this time period. Kelly developed Harbortown North ($156,548), which was one of Doc’s all-time favorites. 


Some people retire to warmer climates, but Doc retired to Indiana to be with the horses. Outside of family and friends, the horse business was Doc’s passion and he wanted to spend his free time enjoying his passion. Doc had a special way with the horses. They enjoyed him as much as he enjoyed them. Thankfully, Joe Putnam was there to help Doc enjoy his remaining years in the horse business. 

Joe was both friend and partner to Doc. They had a lot of fun and success together. Some of the better known horses campaigned by them on the Indiana circuit included BL Kidswillbekids ($169,082), Jim’s Lucky ($101,611) and California Joe ($117,875). Doc often commented on how Joe has many of the best qualities of the aforementioned trainers and drivers all rolled into one. Good horsemanship, patience, common sense, business sense, and competitive spirit were qualities Doc admired in Joe. Joe was like a son to Doc. 

Doc was able to develop some great friendships in the business, but his time in Indiana was special. He was able to immerse himself in his passion. Special thanks to Dwayne and Imy Rhule, Dianne Branham, Karl Miller, Devon Beachey, Jim Smith, Jacob Smith, Trent Stohler, and the late Dave Stohler, and all the other folks that have been at the farm over the years that called Doc friend. 

While Doc had some very nice horses over his 56 years in the business, he never had the pleasure of owning a truly dominant horse. The closest he came was watching Phil Peavyhouse and Don McIlmurray with the great Duchess Faye and Larry Miller and Joe Putnam with the great ABC Mercedes. Doc said that the horse business was designed for optimists, and was always happy to see his friends succeed in the business. He said that you should get out of the business if you can’t find joy in others’ success, because it’s frequently hard to find your own. 

Survivors include daughter, Anne Long of Morris, Ill.; sons, James A. Johnson of Knightstown and John Michael Johnson of Glen Ellyn, Ill.; granddaughters, Paige McKinley, Nora Johnson; grandson, Henry Johnson, three brothers and two sisters. He was preceded in death by his parents, wife of 55 years Janet Johnson in 2013 and brother Ron Johnson.

A memorial service was held at St. Rose Catholic Church in Knightstown with Rev John Hall officiating. Burial was held at Sacred Heart Church, Parkhill, Ont., Canada.

Memorial donations may be made to St. Rose Catholic Church P.O. Box 209 Knightstown, IN, 46148. Funeral arrangements were entrusted to Condo and Son Funeral Home in Wilkinson.

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