09/14/2009 12:00AM

Trainer Profile: Don Warren


POMONA, Calif. - Trainer Don Warren is on a roll, which means Old English Rancho owner-operator Bud Johnston also is on a roll.

In seven weeks at Del Mar, Warren and Johnston won seven races and $315,374, nearly as much as their entire 2009 purse total of just $339,944. The difference between 2009 and 2008 is explained by the existing business plan of Johnston and Old English Rancho.

"Buddy was in a selling mode last year," Warren noted. "We were selling a lot of horses after they'd run one or two good races."

It was nothing new. Warren is private trainer for the historic California breeding farm founded by Bud Johnston's father, Ellwood B. Johnston. Old English Rancho has been breeding and selling since the 1950s, generating revenue from sales and purse earnings.

This season, Johnston was determined to make money on the track.

"I've been trying to hang onto them," he said. "Last year we sold a lot, we haven't sold as many this year."

The stable sputtered early this season. Warren, 58, underwent back surgery in May that kept him in the hospital for five days. A month later, complications related to the surgery knocked him back into the hospital for another 11 days. By opening day of Del Mar in late July, Warren was eager to return to work, and the stable was fresh.

Premiere Flyer won two at Del Mar. He goes next in the $75,000 Pomona Derby at Fairplex on Sept. 26. The sprinter Big Bad Leroybrown won two, including a tough Del Mar allowance; he goes in the $50,000 Governor's Cup on Sept. 23. Acclimation finished third in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby and may face older in the $125,000 Ralph Hinds Pomona Invitational Handicap on Sept. 27.

"Everything goes in cycles," Warren said. 'Sometime it's a matter of luck, and you're 'in the zone' for a while. The rest of the year, I might not be in the zone."

The recent hot streak (Warren was 7 for 24 at Del Mar) came at the right time. Warren entered 2009 ranked sixth on the all-time list with 76 career wins at the Los Angeles County Fair, which has always been a favorite spot for Warren and Johnston.

"There's a sentimental attachment I have to this place. We love it here." Johnston said. He presented the trophy Sept. 12 for the $50,000 E.B. Johnston Stakes, named for his father. Warren added, "We've never been afraid to train or run a good horse at Pomona."

Warren has been working for the Johnston family since 1970, and the Old English Rancho influence has gone national into the 2009 fall season. The East Coast's top 2-year-old filly, Hot Dixie Chick, was produced by Above Perfection, a mare bred and originally owned by Old English Rancho.

Warren recalls breezing Above Perfection one morning at Del Mar in August 2000. The 2-year-old filly had not started, but expectations already were high. Johnston estimated her value at $150,000.

"I breezed her one morning, and came back to the barn and told Buddy, 'You are way underpriced on this one.' "

Warren was right. Above Perfection won her first two starts for Old English Rancho before she was sold in a package that included subsequent Grade 2 winner Disturbingthepeace. The deal was estimated to be in seven figures.

Above Perfection went on to win 7 of 10, including a Grade 3, and lost by a neck to Xtra Heat in the Grade 1 Prioress at Belmont Park in 2001. It turns out Above Perfection is a good producer as well. Her filly Hot Dixie Chick has won three straight, including the Grade 1 Spinaway on Sept. 6.

"We've been watching her, we've been keeping an eye on her," Warren said.

Closer to home, Warren and Johnston are looking forward to the second half of the Los Angeles County Fair meet, and the remainder of the fall season.

The promising 3-year-old Norvsky is on the mend after being knocked out of training in spring with a nasty foot abscess, while unraced maidens, including a half-brother to stakes winner She's an Eleven, are inching closer to a start.

The immediate future is bright for Johnston and Warren, even though Warren does not expect to be fully recovered from back surgery until early next year.

"The horses and I are headed the right direction, we're going sound," he said.