Stanley Cup and an Oaks, Johnson Wants It All

Johnson & Crosscheck Carlos


Erik Johnson could be the co-owner of the filly who will be the favorite in the 2017 GI Kentucky Oaks. But he's hoping he can't make the race. Business before pleasure.

Johnson's business is professional hockey. He's an All-Star defenseman for the Colorado Avalanche and a former member of the U.S. Olympic team and was the first pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft when selected by the St. Louis Blues. His pleasure is horse racing, and get him talking about the subject and it's hard to slow him down. The 28-year-old from Minnesota loves the sport, even more so now that he has a part of a horse that very well could be the best 2-year-old filly in the country. Shane's Girlfriend (Adios Charlie) was extremely impressive winning the GIII Delta Princess Nov. 19 at Delta Downs. Trained by Doug O'Neill and ridden by Flavien Prat, she won by 13 1/4 lengths and covered the mile in 1:37.98. Two races earlier, the $250,000 Delta Mile, a race that consisted of seasoned, classy older males, was won in 1:38.64.

“I'm just excited for the journey going forward,” Johnson said. “You never know what can happen going forward, but so far it has been beyond what I could have imagined after I bought into her. I feel very fortunate and very grateful that I had a chance to get involved with such a great horse.”

Because the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies came up weak this year, it's not a stretch to say that at this early point Shane's Girlfriend looks like a leading candidate for the GI Kentucky Oaks. She's two-for-two and, obviously, very fast. But the only way Johnson can make the race is if the Avalanche make an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs. He doesn't want that to happen.

“Ever since I was a little kid I always dreamed of winning the Stanley Cup,” he said. “Every year, every summer, I work extremely hard to get my body into shape to be ready for the grind of the NHL season. The Stanley Cup is my ultimate goal. As much as I'd like to be there in person to see her run in the Oaks, I'd rather be playing in the playoffs. I'll be cheering out of my mind watching on TV if she's lucky enough to race there. I'd love the daily double of the Stanley Cup and the Oaks.”

Growing up in Minnesota, Johnson watched all the major racing events on TV and made an occasional trip to Canterbury Park. But he said it was a trip to Del Mar on opening day that turned him into a devoted fan.

“I went to opening day at Del Mar when I was 15,” he said. “I was in awe of the spectacle that it is. I went there with one of my buddies and just thought it was greatest thing ever. Filling up Del Mar with thousands of people is just like filling up a stadium for a hockey game. It was kind of cool for me to see horse racing attract that kind of crowd. Last summer, I spent all of July at Del Mar and couldn't get over how much fun it was.”

Johnson, whose NHL salary is $6 million per year, knew he wanted to be an owner but didn't decide to take the plunge until watching a feature on TVG about a horse named Bad Read Sanchez (Warrior's Reward). For reasons he still doesn't quite understand, the name of the horse intrigued him and he found out the gelding was trained by O'Neill. He emailed O'Neill and told him he was interested in becoming an owner and shortly thereafter he went in on a horse bought by O'Neill's brother, Dennis, at the Ocala sales.

He currently co-owns nine horses in training, six of them with O'Neill. Prior to Shane's Girlfriend, the best horse he has been involved with was Crosscheck Carlos (Custom for Carlos), who won the D.S. Shine Young Futurity for Louisiana-breds at Evangeline Downs in July. Johnson knew enough about racing to understand coming up with a good horse is not easy, but still he was growing impatient.

“To be honest, over the past three years, I started to wonder, 'Am I ever going to have a good horse, is it ever going to happen?'” he said.

Had he made different choices in his NHL career he may at least have had a good horse named after him. With Paul Reddam being both a huge hockey fan and another client of O'Neill's, Johnson became fast friends with the businessman. When Johnson was a free agent, Reddam implored him to sign with his beloved Detroit Red Wings.

“Dennis, Paul and I were golfing and Paul said to me, 'You should really sign with the Wings.' I said, 'Paul, there's zero chance I'm signing with your Wings.' He said, 'Ok, I'm going to name a couple of horses after Red Wings players just to bug you.'”

One of those horses became Nyquist (Uncle Mo), the 2015 Eclipse Award winning 2-year-old male and the 2016 GI Kentucky Derby winner. He was named after The Detroit Red Wings player Gustav Nyquist.

But it's better to own a good horse than have one named after you and Johnson has every reason to believe he's now the co-owner of something special, his first special horse. Dennis O'Neill picked out Shane's Girlfriend at the OBS June 2-year-old sale and paid $95,000 for the filly. He had owners Glenn and Landon Sorgenstein and Josh Kaplan of WC Racing already lined up to buy 75% of the filly and asked Johnson if he wanted the remaining 25%.

“I was at my limit for the year so far as how many horses I wanted,” Johnson said. “Dennis said he was going to buy one or two at OBS and thought he could buy an Adios Charlie filly he liked for $75,000 or $80,000. Things got a little stretched out price-wise so he was looking for another partner. He asked me to take 25% and I said, 'If you like her so much, why don't you split the 25% with me? I'll take 12.5%.' I think he's probably the happiest guy on earth that I made that offer to split the quarter with him.”

Shane's Girlfriend broke her maiden by 5 3/4 lengths Oct. 28 at Santa Anita and the connections then picked out the Princess. The field was not overwhelmingly tough, but Shane's Girlfriend had never gone two turns or done anything other than win a maiden race. The expectations were fairly modest.

“We all thought she had a great chance, but I'd be lying if I told you any of us thought she would win by over dozen lengths and post the speed figure and sheet number that she did,” Johnson said.

He watched the race on his phone while on the team bus taking the Avalanche from their hotel to play the Minnesota Wild. By the eighth-pole, it was clear that not only was Shane's Girlfriend going to win but she was going to win in a romp.

“The thrill of seeing your horse in the lead down the stretch like that is kind of like scoring a goal in a hockey game or winning a game in overtime,” he said. “It's an unbelievable rush and I think that's kind of why I'm drawn to the game of horse racing in general…the competitiveness of it and how much fun it is. Fingers crossed that she stays sound and healthy because she's pretty special.”

There's a break in the Avalanche's schedule around the time of the Jan. 8 GII Santa Ynez at Santa Anita, so Johnson is hoping the filly will go in that race so he can see her run in person. He has never so much as laid eyes on her. If not, he might have to wait until the summertime to see her run in the flesh. Not that he minds. Hockey first. Racing second, but a close second.

“Ever since I went to Del Mar I've been hooked.” he said. “It's my passion away from hockey. It's such a fun game and I am super grateful and super appreciative that I have one who will, hopefully, turn out to be a very nice horse.”

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