Challenge: Rockin' and Rollin'

This year's Challenge Championships have several Rock Solid contenders.

Q-Racing Journal

Tammy Johnson with Rockin Disco. PHOTO: Q-Racing Journal/Andrea Caudill

Rockin J Running Horses is having a rock-solid year. It is thanks to a cohesive team and, to be sure, several rock-solid Challenge horses. This year Rockin J owners Tammy Johnson and Mike Wakefield are preparing Bank of America Challenge Championship (G1) contender Rockin Disco and Merial Distaff Challenge Championship (G1) contender Rock Princess, as well as $150,000 Zoetis Distance Challenge Championship (G1) contender CJs Rocksolid.

All three horses are owned in partnership with Jack Manning, and all three are sired by Manning’s Rock Solid Jess, who stands at the Rockin J Running Horses farm near Gatesville, Texas.

“Without the team, it will not work. The whole team is just amazing,” said Rockin J owner Tammy Johnson. “It’s been a great ride this year, and we hope it continues. We are so grateful, and we are enjoying it. You better be grateful when you have those years, because there are a lot of years where you never even get to touch a horse as good as what we’ve got right now.”

Among the members of the team are Johnson and her husband, Mike Wakefield; jockey Ricardo Aguirre; and Jorge Ruiz, who has groomed all three horses ever since the horses were babies.

“The Rock Solid Jesses, we just have a nick with them,” said Johnson. “We can get along with them. We treat them like they’re special, they are special, and they give it to us back.”

Rock Solid Jess is a 10-year-old son of Mr Jess Perry who under their training won the Dash For Cash Futurity (G1) and earned $253,210 during his racing career. From only four crops to race, he has impressive average earnings per starter of $21,550.

“He was such a trying horse,” Johnson said. “He has such a mind to him, always has had, and his babies show that, too. You give to them, and they’re willing to give you everything.”

Rockin Disco was bred by VWP Jr. Inc., and his owners bought him as a yearling. The gelding, now 5, was a stakes horse from the start. He has had a fabulous year so far, winning three consecutive starts at Remington, including the $108,360 Bank of America Remington Championship Challenge (G2) over eventual All American Gold Cup (G1) winner Rock You.

He started in the Remington Park Invitational Championship (G1), but bled and wasn’t able to show his true form. Johnson took him home for some well-earned rest.

“I gave him three months off, took him home and turned him out where he could get sunshine and nature and heal up a little bit,” Johnson said. “We put him back in training at the very end of the Ruidoso meet. I started galloping him and getting him ready for here. I gave him an out in the Refrigerator (Handicap, G1), and he broke good, but he just really didn’t go anywhere. He hung, then he came flying at the end. I don’t know if he was testing to see if he was gonna bleed, but he came back good, strong from that race.”

Rockin Disco has started 32 times, winning or placing in 20 of those, with earnings of $198,944.

Ruiz grooms Rockin Disco, Rock Princess and CJs Rocksolid, and his pride in his horses is evident. He has cared for them from the start of their careers, and knows them well.

“(Rockin Disco) is really a gentle giant a good majority of the time,” Ruiz said. “But when he’s going up to the paddock, he’s all business and ready to go. I pony him as well during the race, and when you’re going to the gates, he will stop one time, like the last circle. He will just stop and look down the racetrack. It’s the oddest thing I’ve ever seen. But it’s like he knows, and he wants to eyeball it one last time before he goes in the gates.

“But seeing him run this year at Remington, it was quite an experience,” he added. “Him and Rock Princess, and CJs Rocksolid, grooming all of them since they were foals. It’s been really fun, really a blessing. I don’t know that a lot of people get to handle such nice horses.”

Rock Princess is a 4-year-old homebred for Manning and Johnson, and is out of the Chicks Beduino mare A Classic Serenade, making her a half sister to the stakes winner Hurri Cartel (by Teller Cartel, $155,417).

“Rock Princess, she is such a personality of her own,” Johnson says with a laugh. “She’s good to mess with, good to handle. But she is just get out of my way! We raised her from a baby, and I knew it when I weaned her from her mama. . . . She has that determination. And she is such a fabulous horse to have.” 

She won her first stakes race last year, taking the Rainbow Derby Invitational over a solid field. This year she was a game second to Echoes Of Love in the $50,580 Merial Remington Distaff Challenge (G3), but got the berth into the Championship when the winner declined it.

All told, she has earned $79,448 already in her career.

CJs Rocksolid, 5, made it into the Zoetis Distance Challenge Championship (G1) after running a valiant second to Painted Josy in the Remington regional race. He would go on to win the Remington Park Distance Championship (G3) and Brigand Stakes, as well as finishing second in the Bill Reed Memorial Stakes.

The gelding out of Sultry Miss, a daughter of The Signature, has lit the board in 24 of 38 career starts and earned $163,813.

“They’re such a pleasure to work around because you know every time you go up, you have something that can compete, that can be there,” Johnson said. “Anytime you have a horse that you can lead up there and think, ‘They’re gonna have to outrun us’, that’s a good feeling. We’re really blessed.”

 The Bank of America Challenge Championships are November 7 at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas. Stay tuned to complete coverage from the Q-Racing Journal at

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