Day At The Track
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The Prairie State lost one of its most popular Illinois bred horses of this century with the passing last week of King Johnny, the Illinois bred pacer who played a major role in the early development of "Hall of Fame" harness racing driver Tim Tetrick. King Johnny was the only horse to win the same Super Night championship three consecutive years at Balmoral Park, capturing the Dan Patch (later renamed later the Tony Maurello) Final in 2005, 2006 and 2007 with Tetrick “I found King Johnny down in our field,” said is co-owner and trainer Clark Fairley. “It appears he died of natural causes. There were no signs of a struggle or anything like that.” King Johnny was 17. King Johnny, a son of Kingston out of the Artsplace broodmare Swift Sister, was purchased privately by Fairley and his mother Marlene soon after the horse’s freshman season when he went unplaced in two starts at fair tracks. You would think his consecutive ICF championships would have come in the gelding’s prime years as a 4, 5 and 6-year-old. Amazingly, they came in his last three seasons of racing as a 7, 8 and 9-year-old. King Johnny was purchased privately by Fairley and his mother Marlene soon after the horse’s freshman season when he went unplaced in two starts at fair tracks. You would think his consecutive ICF championships would have come in the gelding’s prime years as a 4-, 5- and 6-year-old. Amazingly, they came in his last three seasons of racing as a 7-, 8- and 9-year-old. King Johnny had health issues that limited his career starts to 93 and he never went postward more than 18 times in a single season. “He only raced five times as a 4-year-old,” said Fairley. “He pulled a ligament in a knee that required a lot of time off. Later on in his career he had a problem with an ankle that needed a lot of attention. King Johnny wasn’t a horse you could race week to week. But when he did go out to race he always gave you his best. “King Johnny was a pussy-cat to be around. All of my daughters at one time or another jogged him. I always knew they would be just fine with King Johnny. He was such a pleasure to have around.” Nevertheless, when it came to competing on a race track, King Johnny was all business and very often in his later years business was very good for the Fairley family. That’s why he’ll always be remembered in Illinois as the Super Night “Kingpin.” In his first three seasons the horse earned less than $37,000, but King Johnny turned into a solid pacer in 2005 as a 5-year-old when Clark turned in his lines to the up and coming then 22-year-old Tetrick. That combination put both horse and driver on the road to stardom. “King Johnny was one of the first big horses I got to drive and was one of my all-time favorites. No doubt about that,” said Tetrick. “He always put out 110 percent and he could find a way to win. He was a talented horse and the fact he belonged to such a very nice family and Clark being one of my very good friends, made King Johnny very special to me. He’ll always have a spot in my heart.” In 2004, as a 6-year-old, King Johnny lowered his lifetime mark by almost three full seconds to 1:50.3 with Tetrick. The next year at 7 he would step into the spotlight on Super Night at Balmoral Park and go on to become a huge fan favorite. King Johnny won the 2005 Dan Patch with Tetrick at odds of 6-1 over the public’s choice Fox Valley Gallant in a 1:51 mile. As an 8-year-old in 2006 the Fairley trainee pulled away to defend his older pacing crown by 6-1/2 lengths in 1:50.1 after he took a new mark of 1:49.2 a week earlier in his elimination. In 2007 Tetrick was in his second year of driving almost exclusively outside of Illinois, nevertheless the Flora, Ill., native got off his scheduled drives in Canada to come back home to drive King Johnny on Super Night and his beloved horse didn’t disappoint him. As a 9-year-old King Johnny made Super Night history when he became a “three peat” victor of the Dan Patch in 1:50, finishing almost two lengths ahead of such ICF stars as My Boy David and Thisbigdogwilfight. After the race, Tetrick told that Super Night crowd, “It’s amazing that every year he gets better and better. This horse has got so much heart. You don’t find horses like him. He’s got physical problems and is not the best gaited to go fast like he does. He’s a freak, that’s what he is.” Earlier in the summer of 2007 at Springfield Tetrick steered the 9-year-old to a lifetime best mile of 1:48.4, the horse’s last year of competition. King Johnny was then retired by Fairley and went on to enjoy the rest of his days frolicking in the fields of the Lema, Ill., conditioner’s farm until the horse’s untimely death. Mike Paradise

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