12/08/2004 1:00AM

Johnson steady despite setbacks

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Year in and year out, Red Johnson has been one of the top percentage trainers on the grounds.

Johnson, 57, started that trend when he began his training career almost 30 years ago at Winnipeg's Assiniboia Downs, and he hasn't faltered since moving east to Woodbine in 1991.

Heading into the final days of the 2004 meeting, Johnson has started 82 horses. He has saddled 22 winners, a strike rate of almost 26 percent, and 51 in-the-money finishers, a 60 percent rate.

But Johnson, who hopes to send out his final three starters of the meet on Sunday, is not entirely happy with his campaign.

"It looks awful good on paper, but it's not quite as good as it looks," said Johnson. "The horses ran well, the ones that did run. But I was disappointed how many of my horses went bad this spring, particularly on the training track. We lost an unusually high number of horses to surgery. That put a damper on the year."

Johnson said his season was also plagued by races for which he entered horses but did not fill.

"Approximately a third of the races I entered in did not go," said Johnson. "At one point, I had seven straight entries that didn't go.

"You have no idea what it costs you to miss a race."

While most of Johnson's stock this year was composed of claiming horses, there were notable exceptions.

The most recent was Outstand, an Ontario-sired 2-year-old filly owned and bred by Ken Sawatzky. The filly was a game winner of a difficult maiden special weight race here last Saturday.

"She was a difficult horse to deal with," said Johnson. "I had to send her back to Paul Buttigieg's farm, to get re-broke.

"But she's a pretty sound filly, and she's a runner. She'd outworked everything I put her with, and she did it easy."

Honorary Doctor, a 3-year-old half-brother to Outstand, won his maiden in his first start of the season but was sidelined following his third outing, on June 12.

"He's a nice horse, but he's not sound," said Johnson. "He's one of the 'surgery' horses."

Wild Executive, owned and bred by Elliot Feder, showed plenty of potential, winning 2 of her 4 starts before being sidelined in August. Her Beyer Speed Figure of 100, earned in a 10-length allowance romp here July 15, was the highest for a 3-year-old filly in Canada this year.

"She's a lovely filly," said Johnson. "She's the real deal. She's as fast as they get, but she had some problems."

Wild Executive is expected to return next year, but not to Johnson, as he and Feder are going their separate ways.

Gelding claimer has foot trouble

Dawn Watcher, a 6-year-old gelding owned by Feder in partnership with Gus and Nick Andreadis, is one of the Johnson horses slated to run Sunday.

Johnson claimed Dawn Watcher this summer for $23,500 from trainer Dave Dwyer and sent him out to win for $35,000 in his first start for owner Jim Ogilvie.

Dwyer reclaimed Dawn Watcher that day and wheeled him back for $45,000, when he was taken again by Johnson for his current owners.

The party stalled, however, as Dawn Watcher did not make it back to the races for more than three months and has been unplaced in his last two starts.

"He's always had problems with his feet," said Johnson.

Man on a String, a 2-year-old colt owned by Helen Stollery, is also slated to see action for Johnson on Sunday. Man on a String was claimed for $40,000 from his winning debut here Nov. 26.

"He's a nice horse," said Johnson. "You'll hear from him some time. If not this year, then next."

Another Johnson success story this season was Tower of Honor, who was claimed for $20,000 early this summer and won her last three starts for Sawatzky, including a first-level allowance, before being sidelined.

"She might come back next year," said Johnson. "But he might breed her, too."

Johnson will be wintering his horses at nearby Silver Duck Stable and will be back at the track when the backstretch opens March 1.

"The meet's so long now," said Johnson, "and going away to race just doesn't make financial sense."

Clouds of Gold works for Turfway

Clouds of Gold breezed three furlongs in 37.60 seconds on the sloppy training track here Wednesday and was slated to ship out Thursday for the $50,000 My Charmer at Turfway Park.

Jockey Bill Patin has the call on Clouds of Gold for the My Charmer, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares.

Ken Parsley, who trains Clouds of Gold and is a co-owner along with The Valiant Stable, has entered her in the January sale at Keeneland but said she could be solid privately in the interim.

A 5-year-old Kentucky-bred, Clouds of Gold is a stakes-placed winner of 4 of 21 races and $331,267.

Feature field a varied crew

Friday's feature, a 6 1/2-furlong second-level allowance/optional $62,500 claiming race, has attracted an eclectic field of 11, including stakes winners Judiths Wild Rush, Mulligan the Great, Open Concert, and Pants N Kisses, all of whom run under the claiming provision.

Pants N Kisses is stepping up rather sharply after romping over $40,000 non-winners of three in his first start for trainer Jody Hammett, who had claimed him for $20,000.

A 4-year-old gelding, Pants N Kisses earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 96 there and can double up from just off the pace.

Judiths Wild Rush, Canada's champion 2-year-old male last year, has been a major disappointment since winning the 1 1/16-mile Marine here in May and finished fourth when he ran for $80,000 last time out.

Mulligan the Great, away since July 1, would romp on his best but is suspect here in his first start for a claiming price.