08/21/2002 12:00AM

To compete is an honor for Johnson

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EDMONTON, Alberta - When the horses line up in the starting gate for Saturday's 73rd running of the Grade 3 Canadian Derby, no one will be more proud than Rae Johnson, the trainer of Alberta-bred Topwynson.

Following in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, both trainers, Johnson is the first person in his family to participate in Alberta's biggest Thoroughbred race, which goes over 1 3/8 miles and has a $150,000 purse.

"I grew up in the horse racing industry and I consider it to be the sport of kings, so I'll be extremely proud to be a part of it all," said Johnson. "I've only been a trainer for six years, but my father was involved in the industry for

54 and never made it this far, so it will definitely be a special day."

Topwynson will be a significant longshot and while Johnson said he doesn't expect to be in the winner's circle after the race, he is also quick to point out that he hasn't entered his horse without the belief that he can be a factor.

"This is a homegrown Alberta horse who has lots of try and lots of promise," said Johnson. "In his last start he was involved in a demolition derby and he came through the traffic looking for more."

Peter Wong was aboard Topwynson for that last race, a 6 1/2-furlong optional claimer, and will ride again Saturday.

- Dark Fuse, who was taken off the Canadian Derby trail after finishing a distant last in the 1 5/16-mile Count Lathum, will face older horses for the first time in Friday's one-mile allowance feature.His opponents include Tyko Tycoon and multiple Alberta champion Timely Ruckus.