02/29/2008 1:00AM

Williams looks forward to journeyman status


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Dylan Williams will lose his five-pound apprentice allowance following Sunday's races at Oaklawn Park. The 17-year-old is making the transition to journeyman following a successful first year of riding in which he won the fall title at Turfway Park. Williams had won 148 career races through Thursday and ranks fifth in the standings at Oaklawn.

Williams thinks he will benefit from being a journeyman because without his apprentice allowance he will be able to put on a little weight.

"I think the advantage of me being a journeyman is, you know, I'll get the five pounds, so I'll ride even stronger," said Williams, who launched his career on Feb. 9, 2007.

Williams has formed a powerful team this meet with leading trainer Stanley Roberts. He has been aboard 11 of the barn's 12 winners, and he will get the outfit's continued support in this next phase of his riding career, Roberts said.

"He's been good for me," said Roberts. "He acts like an older rider. If a horse needs to be on the lead, he'll put him on the lead. If a horse breaks a little late or something, he won't get excited and rush up. He'll just sit and be patient.

"That's all he's ever wanted to do, ride. He's from a good family. He's from a horse family and he understands the game."

Williams is the son of Rob Williams, who has ridden more than 4,200 winners and is currently a steward at Fonner Park. The apprentice's mother, Michelle, is the daughter of trainer Larry Donlin, and her sister, Pam, is married to trainer Kelly Von Hemel. Williams won the third race for Von Hemel on Thursday, with Miss McFleet.

For his final card as an apprentice, Williams has mounts in the fourth, seventh, and eighth races. Williams said later this year he will be riding at Prairie Meadows.

Johnson scores when stakes are high

Jockey Joe Johnson has been quite effective in high-end races all meet at Oaklawn. He has won two stakes from three stakes mounts, taking the $50,000 Mountain Valley with the promising 3-year-old Ferragamo last Saturday and the $100,000 Essex Handicap with Spotsgone on Feb. 9.

Johnson also has won five allowance races from 16 such starters this meet, among them Stone Bird, who is under consideration for the Grade 2, $300,000 Rebel Stakes here March 15. (Johnson has won the Rebel twice before, with Crafty Shaw in 2001 and Judge T C in 1994.) Overall this meet, the rider is tied for eighth in the standings with nine wins through Thursday.

"I'm riding the caliber of horses you want to ride," said Johnson, a 40-year-old native of Owensboro, Ky. "It's been a very good season. Hopefully, we keep on going."

Johnson is coming off a strong 2007, during which his mounts earned $1.2 million. Among them was High Heels, who captured last year's Grade 2, $250,000 Fantasy at Oaklawn and went on to finish third in the Kentucky Oaks and second in the Grade 2 Falls City.

Now retired, she is on one of the best horses Johnson has ridden for trainer Gary Hartlage, whom he has been affiliated with since 1987. Johnson rode Judge T C, a winner of $826,826 for Hartlage. The Johnson and Hartlage team was in the winner's circle here Thursday with Superfly Girl ($25.20).

"If he's got the horse, he'll get him there," Hartlage said. "I don't have to worry about anything with him. We're just like a team. He's been with me now 21 years."

Johnson's first job on the racetrack was as a hotwalker for Hartlage. The rider, whose older brother is jockey Pat Johnson, launched his own career in 1989. It came after he spent time learning racing's ropes under Hartlage.

"I hot-walked, groomed, put bandages on, mucked stalls," Johnson said. "I did it all.

"I like the game, and I like being around horses. It would be hard to give it up."

It appears Johnson has a lot to look forward to for the balance of the Oaklawn meet. Spotsgone is set to run back Saturday in the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback Breeders' Cup, while French Kiss, a 3-year-old half-sister to High Heels, is nearing her season debut, Hartlage said.

* Liberty Bull, the winner of the $50,000 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn who finished in a dead heat for third in the Southwest, is being strongly considered for the Rebel, trainer Tom Amoss said.