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Woodbine Mohawk Park is Nancy Johansson’s home away from home

By Chris Lomon / @ChrisLomon
 
She isn’t Canadian, and might not know every word to O Canada, but that doesn’t stop Standardbred trainer Nancy Johansson from singing the praises of the Great White North.
 
It’s somewhat fitting that a conversation with the New Jersey-based Johansson would come on a day when rains and winds ravaged much of southwestern Ontario.
 
Those very same conditions were dominant throughout the Saturday evening Breeders Crown card at Woodbine Mohawk Park on October 26, a night that showcased champion horses and high profile horsepeople at the Milton, ON oval.
 
But nothing, not even a torrential downpour and blustery winds, could rain on Johansson’s Crown parade.
 
After all, she was in her happy place.
 
The daughter of legendary conditioner Jimmy Takter is already making a name for herself. She headed back home with two Breeders Crown titles, including the 2-Year-Old Colt Pace with Tall Dark Stranger.
 
A son of Bettors Delight, the bay finished second by a head to Papi Rob Hanover, but was elevated to first after stewards determined the winner caused interference to Johansson’s young star.
 
Six of Tall Dark Stranger’s wins have come at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
 
“He was born in Kentucky, but he’s Canadian,” Johansson told HRU. “And when we walked out here, he was probably thinking, ‘Usually, I go to the winner’s circle right away’ because he’s been here a few times. He’s just a super special colt and it showed tonight and I think it will continue to show.”
 
Top-tier trotter Manchego provided Johansson with her second Crown victory on the Saturday card. 


Photo of Manchego by John Watkins 

Bred by Brittany Farms, Manchego notched her seventh win in 15 starts this year for owner Black Horse Racing. The daughter eclipsed the $2 million in career purse earnings after taking the Breeders Crown for Open Mares in a head-turning 1:51 mile. It was the fifth straight score for the 1-2 betting choice.
 
“The wins, they mean a lot,” said Johansson. “In order to win a Breeders Crown, at the end of the year, it’s the horses that are still around and racing well that get to win those races. It’s nice for Manchego to put away the best mares in North America, like she did. (Driver) Dexter Dunn never pulled her earplugs or anything. She was well under wraps. My only regret would have been that I should have maybe put her in the Open Trot against Bold Eagle. I think she would have given him a run for his money too.
 
“At the same time, we want to protect her a little bit because we do plan on racing her next year. We want to take baby steps. She’s still only a four-year-old mare. She’s always been so precocious and so great, and ahead of her time. But you still need to protect them and keep their confidence up.”


Photo of Manchego by John Watkins

Impressive victories aside, Johansson had plenty of praise for the two-day racing spectacular, and for the venue itself.
 
“It was just a great event and a great night of racing overall. Obviously, Saturday night, it was a little damper on the parade because nobody loves to race in the rain, but Mohawk did such a wonderful job putting it on – the event was done so well. Everyone had a great time.”
 
And it wasn’t just the $6.6 million handle that drew rave reviews within racing circles.
 
“Woodbine Entertainment’s hospitality is second to none,” praised Johansson. “All the owners and everyone involved in the Breeders Crown were so well received. That says a lot. People want to feel appreciated. A lot of these owners, they spend a lot of money on the racehorses, and when they come for an event like that – it’s quite an accomplishment to have a horse in the Breeders Crown – you want to have a good time and want things to run smoothly. I think they were able to do that. The food and atmosphere is always good at Mohawk… it’s always a good evening.”
 
Johansson would certainly know.
 
Earlier this year, she watched Captain Crunch, a son of Captaintreacherous, and 2018 Dan Patch Award recipient for top two-year-old male pacer, record back-to-back scores in divisions of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes before taking all the spoils in the Pepsi North America Cup.
 
After the bay colt jumped a shadow in the first turn but recovered to finish fifth in his Cup elimination, he stepped up big time in the final, stopping the clock in 1:47.2. The time is the fastest ever by a three-year-old pacer on Canadian soil.
 
Captain Crunch finished third to Dancin Lou in the 2019 Breeders Crown 3-Year-old Colt Pace.
 
You can expect to see more of Johansson and her impressive stable of pacers and trotters at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
 
“I would hope so because Canada has been very good to me this year,” she said with a laugh. “I won four major stakes, a division of the Champlain, and even the overnight racing was good to me.
 
“The overnight program in Canada helped get a horse like Kissin In The Sand back on track. She was getting beat up a little bit in the Open Mares. I called the owners (Marvin Katz and Hatfield Stables) and said I was going to bring her up when I bring the two-year-olds up there because she can race in Open Mares and get her confidence back a little bit. She ran a super race (third, in the Mare Pace) on Breeders Crown night. The opportunity to race different horses in Canada was really beneficial for me.”
 
Perhaps the next time she’s in Ontario, Johansson, who has already set career-best marks across the board this year, will have learned every word to Canada’s national anthem.
 
After all, one of the sport’s top trainers feels right at home at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
 
“I know it (O Canada) pretty good by now.”

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