05/04/2006 11:00PM

Johnston takes shot at running own stable

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Rob Johnston makes his debut as a full-fledged trainer at Fort Erie this weekend.

The son of C.R. Johnston, who was twice the leading trainer at Fort Erie, in 1997 and 1998, Rob Johnston has been away from these parts for seven years. For six of those years, he was the farm manager and trainer at Bruno Schickedanz's huge horse spread in Ocala.

The horse population, including breeding stock, in the initial year there was 99.

"When I left it was 450," said Johnston, who spent 2005 as a farm trainer for Martin Stable South, a Florida outfit.

Johnston conditioned such runners as Canada's 2002 Horse of the Year, Wake at Noon, during their winter farm retreats down south.

"I'm giving up a steady check, but in my heart I've always wanted to be a trainer [at the track]," said Johnston. "I have to give it a shot."

Johnston has seven runners in his barn, with three of them coming from Alpine Stable at Woodbine. Flotilla and Only Fools Rush In will run for Alpine this weekend.

Johnston is also an owner and breeder. He has two homebred fillies, the 2-year-old That's So Romantic and the 3-year-old Samalex, who is by One Way Love. Samalex's name was derived from Johnston's daughters, Samantha and Alexis.

"I really like Samalex," said Johnston. "She'll be ready to run later in the summer. She's quick out of the gate and has been doing everything right. Hopefully she's the one to get the stable noticed."

At 15, Johnston left high school to work for his father. He later had stints with trainers Mike DePaulo, John Cardella, Mike Newell, Mike Wright Jr., and Layne Giliforte. Johnston has hired his sister Marilyn to be his assistant. She is a licensed trainer also.

Wilson returns to the Fort

Jack Wilson is back at Fort Erie from his Florida farm and appears as strong as ever.

With 16 wins last year, Wilson, who turns 86 next month, finished 10th in the trainer standings, two places higher than the previous year, when he had 14 wins. After having 15 runners last year, Wilson will have 17 this year.

"I have eight 2-year-olds and nine older horses," said Wilson, a Toronto native. "We brought 13 here by April 1, and the rest a week later."

Two years ago, Wilson sold the training center he owned, which faced the Fort Erie racetrack, and bought a 60-acre horse spread near Ocala, Fla. Scouring farms in the area, he purchased his eight 2-year-olds privately.

"The most promising baby is probably Goethe Forest," said Wilson. "I named him after the property that backs onto my farm."

Wilson's stable star is 4-year-old Sweet Lil Spunky, who won four times last year.

* Beginning this weekend Fort Erie is offering a superfecta wager at 20 cents. The minimum superfecta wager is $1.