08/18/2004 11:00PM

A place to call home for Johnson stable

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Trainer Jennifer Johnson didn't make much of a mark here when she left her Vancouver base and competed at Fort Erie last year.

Johnson brought a handful of runners from the training center on her British Columbia family farm and then went winless in 16 starts at the meet. Nevertheless, while back home she hankered to return for the 2004 meet.

Johnson's scorecard wasn't as bad as it appeared. Her runners finished second five times and third three times. She found the Eastern track enjoyable; it was the place to be, she decided.

"It's more relaxing for the horses here," said Johnson, who is no fan of bullring tracks. "It's concrete at Hastings in Vancouver; you don't see a blade of grass. And the barns are so close together."

With a stable of 10, Johnson goes into the final three weeks of the season having posted nine wins from 59 starts. The top performer in the outfit has been Alittlebitgrumpy, a 4-year-old filly who finished second in the $60,000 Rose City Stakes here June 20.

After winning the July 12 prep for the $58,000 Golden Horseshoe, Alittlebitgrumpy was sidelined when a problem in a knee appeared.

Johnson is the daughter of Bob Hall, who co-owned George Royal, the 1965 Canadian Horse of the Year. Except for an American campaign that year, when Californian Donny Richardson handled the horse, Hall was also the trainer of George Royal.

George Royal was inducted into the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame in 1976. Johnny Longden was aboard George Royal for the famed jockey's final ride.

Nixon in contention for title

Justin Nixon, the trainer of the Stronach Stable runners at Fort Erie, says he feels good about his results at the meet.

"We've won our share of races," said Nixon. "Hopefully, we can win the owners title for the Stronach Stable. It's not out of reach. We'll be aggressive in the final three weeks. We have about 10 to run, all with a good shot. Just a little bit of luck and we'll be right there."

Nixon has won 15 races at the meet and 12 were for Stronach Stable, which has had 32 starters. Going into Saturday's card, Mike Barkowski is the track's leading owner with 16 scores.

On Saturday, Nixon is firing the first of his remaining bullets for the meet in Wire Whip.

"He's as consistent as they come," said Nixon. "He won his last start and he always gives 100 percent. I think he can repeat."

Diablo's Peak training again

Diablo's Peak, honored as the top female sprinter of the 2003 meet here, is back in training. She hasn't raced this year.

"She won't make it to this meet," said trainer Myckie Neubauer, who intends to race at Woodbine after the Fort closes Sept. 6. "She's had problems. She will start at Woodbine. If she goes well, we will carry on with her and take her to Calder."

Major Zee heads to Garden City

Trainer Mark Fournier has nominated Parnitha Stakes winner Major Zee to the $40,000 Garden City here Aug. 29.

"I did it because there has been no grass races for him here," said Fournier. "But I'm not running if Krz Ruckus comes. Maybe I'll go to Woodbine, where there's a race for $40,000 [claimers]."

Krz Ruckus, who became a millionaire at Woodbine on Saturday when he captured the $133,000 Shepperton Stakes, is among the 10 nominees for the Garden City.