TWO VIRGINIA-OWNED HORSES HEADED TO DUBAI
What are the odds that two Virginia-based horse owners could see their charges square off against each other — in Dubai? The longshot proposition will indeed happen when Larry Johnson’s True Valour and David Ross’s Extravagant Kid compete in Saturday’s (March 27) $1 million Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan Raceourse in Dubai. The six-furlong straight turf race will be contested at 9:30 AM (EDT), several hours before the featured $12 million Dubai World Cup takes center stage.
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Johnson’s True Valour is a 7-year-old Irish-bred horse he purchased last July for $225,000 at the Fasig Tipton Sale for Horses of Racing Age in Lexington, Kentucky. At the time, he had won a Group 3 stakes in Europe and both a Grade 2 and 3 in the U.S.
“He was by a well-regarded stallion named Kodiac, so I was interested in his current and long-term racing potential, and stud value as well,” said Johnson. “Graham (Motion) took over training after the purchase and based on his prior form, which was long on the turf, we were disappointed with his initial performance in a Grade 2 at Pimlico on Preakness Day. He didn’t seem to be performing as well as he had trained.”
Based on pedigree, the decision was made to switch to a shorter distance and the move paid immediate dividends. True Valour won a 6 1/2-furlong wide open turf allowance at Woodbine then went on to record a solid third in Aqueduct’s Turf Sprint Stakes November 28. Most recently, he was runner-up in the Grade 2 Joe Hernandez Stakes at Santa Anita on New Years Day.
“We started thinking about Dubai after he got beat by less than a length at Santa Anita,” said Johnson. “We gave him a month off to do basically nothing because he traveled quite a bit over his last five starts. He started back training and did well, so we decided to nominate him to the Al Quoz. We ended up getting invited and accepted,” he added. “Joel Rosario, who in my opinion is the best turf rider in the country will be up. True Valour is a pretty professional horse and can handle just about anything.”
“He arrived there last Wednesday,” Johnson said earlier this week, “And breezed Monday morning to stretch his legs. He has trained well. He shipped well. With every day that passes, the realization that this is actually going to happen gets even more exciting.”
Johnson said all owners receive first class airfare and hotel but with the current pandemic, he will watch remotely instead. “I wish I was going to be there but with current Covid restrictions and masking, I decided to take a pass. I’ll be watching from home though of course.”
Johnson owns Legacy Farm in Bluemont which he purchased 20 years ago. At the time, it encompassed 175 acres but Johnson has since further developed it and added more fields, run-in sheds and most significantly, a 3/4-mile synthetic racetrack.
“It’s been a terrific benefit for us and a big help in getting young horses ready,” noted Johnson. “We’re able to get them to where they’re ready to go to the track, ready to be breezed, and adjusted and acclimated to the starting gate.”
Johnson hired former steeplechase rider Jonathan Smart to manage the farm a year and a half ago. Smart rode for a dozen years on the NSA circuit and won a number of big races.
“Through a relationship Graham Motion had with him, I was able to hire Jonathan and he’s done a great job getting horses ready after the winter layoff and with rehab horses too,” Johnson said.
As an owner, Johnson has accumulated 375 wins from 2,584 starts. He also has 361 seconds and 345 third place finishes. His horses combined have earned $12,387,854.
“This has been a labor of love for the last 20 years,” he said. “I enjoy living in Virginia and now with the Certified Residency program, it’s economically viable now to raise horses here.”
Asked what gives him the most satisfaction from all the horse-related aspects he participates in, Johnson declared it a tie between breeding and raising a horse that goes on to compete successfully, particularly a stakes caliber one, and to be able to breed and raise a commercial sales yearling that attracts a substantial price in the marketplace.
“It’s a different outcome and a different process,” Johnson said of each. “There’s equal excitement between running in a race and watching your horse come into a ring. Both only last a few minutes and you’re either really disappointed or elated. But when you’re elated, it’s very rewarding.”
Also expected to face the starter is Extravagant Kid, an eight-year-old Kiss the Kid gelding owned by David Ross’s DARRS Inc. Kiss the Kid has finished second in all three of his 2021 starts and five of his last six. The lone exception came in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, when he closed after a wide journey to be fourth, beaten just a length.
“With the unfortunate draw that we got (the 14-hole), the jockey and the horse did phenomenal,” Ross said February 20 on Off to the Races Radio. “He closed on a very speed-favoring track and almost got into the money.”
Extravagant Kid inched past the million-dollar mark in career earnings with his runner-up effort in the Colonel Power Stakes, the first millionaire that Ross has owned.
Our trainer, Brendan Walsh, has just done a phenomenal job with him,” Ross said. “He has really figured him out.”
Extravagant Kid has won 14 times from 49 career starts while racing up and down the East Coast. And if Ross is right, there’s still more in the tank.
“Being eight years old and still competing at this level is pretty remarkable,” the owner said.