Roundabout Route

The leading Challenge trainer takes three starters to the Championships.

Quarter Racing Journal

Bob and Shilo Johnson, with High Valley Girl. PHOTO: Richard Chamberlain

Bob Johnson lives and travels in circles and circuits a little off the beaten path. Or to be more accurate, way off the beaten path. A longtime leading trainer of American Quarter Horses on the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest, he and wife Shilo live at the far dead end of a gravel road southwest of Lemmon, South Dakota, where they raise commercial black baldy beef cattle and breed, raise and train racing American Quarter Horses on land his grandfather homesteaded in 1894.

“We’re 20 miles from anywhere,” said the 59-year-old horseman who is the 2017 Bank of America Racing Challenge Wrangler Champion Trainer. “If anybody shows up at our place, they’re either coming directly to see us or they’re lost.”

Earning 105 points as this year’s leading trainer in Challenge races, Robert D. “Bob” Johnson receives $5,000 and a custom buckle from Montana Silversmiths.

“The Challenge is a real good program,” Johnson said. “The Bonus Challenge is a great thing for older horses, a good place to start off. The Maiden Challenge is a good place for 3-year-olds to come back, to get up and start for a little more money.”

The Johnsons have three horses in Saturday’s Challenge Championships at Prairie Meadows in the Des Moines suburb of Altoona, Iowa: Okeyfreight will run in the $330,000 Bank of America Challenge Championship (G1), Faster Than Hasta in the $180,000 Adequan Derby Challenge Championship (G3) and High Valley Girl in the $130,000 John Deere Juvenile Challenge Championship (G2).

“They’re all different,” Johnson said. “You know, every horse is different, every horse is an individual and you have to treat them like that. Okeyfreight doesn’t really like a lot of training. He’s just a nice, big, quiet gelding. Faster Than Hasta takes a lot of training. He’s ambitious all the time. And the little filly, High Valley Girl, is just kind of casual most the time. Her attitude is, well, just gallop her, do whatever you want, just pretty nice to be around.”

Okeyfreight is a career earner of $50,677, with three wins from 19 starts. The 4-year-old brown gelding by Freighttrain B out of the stakes-winning Okey Dokey Dale mare Okey Dokey Eyes ($31,462) races for his breeder, Dean Lemburg of Selby, South Dakota. Though he has failed to reach the winner’s circle in six races this season, Okeyfreight has earned $17,684 in 2017. The gelding ran second to The Fiscal Cliff in the July 4 Bank of America Canterbury Championship Challenge and comes into Saturday’s Bank of America Challenge Championship after finishing off the board in the AJs High’s Prairie Meadows Championship Challenge (G2) on September 16.

With a career record of 13-5(3)-3(1)-0 and earnings of $99,718, Faster Than Hasta races for Bob’s father, John Johnson, also of Lemmon. Bred by Wardell Quarter Horses of Wheatland, Wyoming, the 3-year-old bay gelding is one of 12 winners from 25 starters by the stakes-winning Pritzi Dash stallion Hasta Be Fast, who is owned by the Johnsons and also sired Faster Than Hasta’s stakes-winning full brother Hastabealeader ($118,543). Both are out of the stakes-placed Special Leader mare Leadmetoyourladder ($48,835), who has produced three winners and the earners of more than $256,000 from four starters. Faster Than Hasta has won two of five races and earned $27,922 this season. In his last start before Saturday’s Adequan Derby, Faster Than Hasta finished second but was moved to first upon the disqualification for interference in the September 16 Prairie Meadows Derby Challenge.
High Valley Girl was bred by Reliance Ranches LLC of Guthrie, Oklahoma, and races for Butch and Stephanie Webb’s Webb Ranch LLC of Isabel, South Dakota. A sorrel filly by Valiant Hero out of the stakes-winning and Grade 2-placed Feature Mr Jess mare Huckleberry Mojito ($108,749), High Valley Girl has won one of nine races for earnings of $28,949 and comes into the John Deere Juvenile off a second to Vallerro in the September 16 Prairie Meadows Juvenile Challenge.

“There are a lot of horses coming in that I don’t know, so I don’t really know what to expect Saturday night,” Johnson said. “I’ll say this: Okeyfreight will give me everything he’s got, just like all three of them will. They’re honest horses, very honest horses, hard-trying horses, so they’ll all do alright. I can’t say what other people’s horses are going to do, but everybody in those races are in it to win it, to try get all the money they can. That’s just the way it is, but I think we’ll be alright.”

In his career dating back to 1974, Bob has conditioned 1,267 winners and the earners of more than $5.5 million from 7,769 starters. He is a regular at the Iowa track.

“I run here every fall at Prairie Meadows,” he said.” It’s a straight Quarter Horse meet, so I can get my horses in. I can get some races in for my horses that haven’t run a lot throughout the summer, get them in where they fit distance-wise, conditions-wise and price-wise, all at the same time. You can’t do that at a lot of places – you have to settle, give and take to get close to what you want. And the track surface is great. We had four inches of rain the other day, we raced the next day, and the track was really good and safe. I really like it here. They take a lot of pride in their barn area.”

And his wife really enjoys the sport.

“I’d never really been around Quarter Horses,” said Shilo, who 10 years ago left Arizona to marry Bob. “My mom races Thoroughbreds in Phoenix, my grandparents raced horses, my great-grandparents had racehorses, and my great-grandmother made racing silks. But now, Quarter Horses are my favorite, for sure. I still root for my mom’s Thoroughbreds, but Thoroughbred races take too long to watch. I get really excited during a race, and I just can’t scream that long. I do like the Quarter Horses better.”

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