Those who know Colin Johnson well will realise the English-born Canadian is more than just an adept harness racing trainer. He loves his horses and he loves his football (soccer). In fact the 44-year-old has a life-long obsession with his beloved Newcastle soccer team.
A proud ‘Geordie' Johnson never misses a game - ever! Even yesterday (Thursday February 3) when Harnesslink telephoned him Johnson said he was in an important meeting and requested that we telephone back later.
That meeting was the Newcastle versus Fulham football match at Fulham's home ground - Craven Cottage. Newcastle's home ground is St James' Park.
"We lost 1-nil but there was no way I was going to sacrifice that game for your phone call. I trekked two hours in the blinding snow to get to a television to watch it. Newcastle for life!" Johnson exclaimed.
"I've even been at Sales and ducked away just so I can watch my boys play. I hate missing a game and will do everything in my powercan not to," he stressed
Anyone who knows their British football will know that Newcastle and Sunderland are not only closes neighbours in the North East of England but they are also fierce rivals. Their brutal Tyne-Wear Derbies date back to 1898.
This writer has been an equally avid Sunderland fanatic since they last won the FA Cup in 1973. So this interview was always going to be one full of digs, cheek, pride and laughs.
Johnson didn't let me down.
Every time I wanted to talk about his wonderful harness racing team he would throw in a ‘Geordie' dig. But when he was distracted from his beloved black and white striped boys he did tell me he wasn't born into a harness racing family.
"Dad worked on oil tankers and we moved to St John New Brunswick in Canada when I was 15. That was in 1981. I wasn't born into a harness racing family. You can blame Scott Waddell (former Harnesslink columnist) for that.
"He was my first school friend at Simonds High School in St John New Brunswick. He was really into announcing and always read the form. He took me a long to the track and got me hooked. He's still an announcer today and we have a friendship that now dates back almost 30 years," Quebec-based Johnson said.
On leaving school Johnson moved to Montreal and worked as a groom for Marcel Barrieau. He was employed there for several years before starting out on his own with business partner and renowned driver Denis St Pierre.
"Denis and I worked together and he was and still is my stable driver. Like Scott, we are very good friends to this day," Johnson said.
Johnson actually has two stables - one based in Toronto and one in Montreal. Since he got his licence he has trained 2.993 winners, 3,919 place-getters and won almost $25 million in stakes.
He was nominated for the coveted O'Brien Training Award in 2002 - the same year in trained the most winners in a season - 359 - for a North American trainer.
But two years ago Johnson completely changed and restructured his whole training regime.
"I was all raced out and had too many claimers and ‘overnighters' so last year I went to the sale and bought acolt named Some Mach Some Win. He won $140,000 as a 2-year-old and now I'm looking forward to lining him up as a 3-year-old.
"This year I bought another 15 babies at the yearling sales and from now on that's the way I'm going to attack harness racing. I want to produce quality stake horses and now that I've made the switch I wouldn't have it any other way.
"In years gone by it was nothing for me to have 1,400 starters a season. Last year I had 530 and so far this year I've had 57. I have six horses in Toronto and 35 in Montreal. Once upon a time it was double and treble that," Le Gardeur (Montreal) based Johnson said.
Over the years Johnson has had some quality horses step out on to the racetrack, but none better than now 14-year-oldentire, .
"He won 26 races for me and $1.1 million. He won the James Dancer Memorial and his best time of 1:48.3 was the track record at Woodbine for a couple of years. He was my best and now that I've reverted to yearlings hopefully there will be anothernot too far away," Johnson said.
Married to Debbie, Johnson has two children - Corey (21) and Courtney (18). The latter is studying graphic design at University while Corey is a harness racing trainer on the rise.
"He trains out of L'Assumption in Toronto and trained three winners in his first two seasons. This is his third year and he loves the industry. I'm biased but he's a talented horseman with a bright future," Johnson said.
Asked if Johnson had anything else he wanted to say in summary, he just couldn't resist:
"Go the mighty Newcastle! We drew 1-1 with you at Sunderland last month - but did you remember the result when we played you at home back in October?"
He just had to have the last say didn't he? ... Sunderland lost 1-5. I hate it when that happens!
By Duane RANGER (editor)