Johnson Homebred Vies for Hometown Glory

Call Another Play won Laurel's Weber City Miss S. Apr. 20 | Jim McCue


While all eyes turn to Maryland this weekend for Saturday's 149th running of the GI Preakness S. at Pimlico Race Course, Virginia-based owner/breeder Larry Johnson has his sights set strictly on the GII George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan S., Friday's featured race, where his filly Call Another Play (Audible) is the lone Maryland-bred entered in the eight-horse field.

The 3-year-old filly is a fourth-generation homebred for Johnson, who owns Legacy Farm in Bluemont, Va., but is a decades-long supporter of the Maryland breeding program.

“I've gone to Preakness weekend for years and frankly, I never really imagined I'd be running in one of the feature races. So, in that respect, it's the culmination of some remarkable success I've had with this family,” said Johnson.

That family began when Johnson purchased Ran's Chick (The Big Boss) for $2,400 at Timonium in 1978. Though at the time it might have been considered a poor investment, Johnson now looks back in awe at the supremely successful family his matriarch mare has established since.

“I started with a mare that no one should have bred. I bought her unraced and she bowed, I didn't know what I was doing. But I bred her, and I think there are over 40 stakes horses that have come out of that family,” he said.

Call Another Play is the latest stakes winner to join the ranks following her performance in the Apr. 20 Weber City Miss S. at Laurel Park, going 1 1/16 miles, where the chestnut filly made a sweeping move around the final turn before taking over down the stretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths. The fifth foal out of Past as Prelude (Bernardini), she extended her win streak to three while earning an automatic berth to the $300,000 Black-Eyed Susan.

Her latest winning performance stands as a testament to the progress the filly has made since her debut season as a 2-year-old last year, where she went 1-for-5, and clearly shows her affinity for two turns.

“She started off good at the beginning of her career and we were real happy with her, and then things kind of slowed down a bit. She just wasn't putting it together when the competition got a little better,” said Mike Trombetta, the filly's trainer. “She's done much better since we started making her go two turns. I think in the sprint races, as the horses got a little faster, she was just kind of being chased off her feet and she couldn't keep pace. But the two turn races have been helpful.”

Among her four starts this year, the filly has yet to finish worse than third, with a natural progression in talent and success evident as she's risen from the claiming ranks to the allowance optional claiming level and, most recently, a listed stakes victory.

Though Call Another Play will be taking quite the leap forward in her career when she enters the starting gate for the Black-Eyed Susan Friday, her connections remain optimistic.

“Truthfully, it's a big step and we know that, but we're willing to give it a try. There aren't a ton of other options right at the moment, so if we're ever going to do it, I guess this is as good of a time as any,” said Trombetta.

Larry Johnson | Courtesy Virginia Thoroughbred Association

Call Another Play's affinity for going the longer distance also marks a new chapter in the family Johnson has developed, which traditionally has been a rich source of sprinters.

“If you look at the track record of my breeding, they tend to be sprinters. For a long time, I probably bred that way because I'm a big believer in speed. But then I started taking a longer approach and going to horses like Constitution and Audible with a goal of perhaps putting a little more distance in the family,” said Johnson. “Most of what I breed still, they're speed-oriented kinds of horses. But [Call Another Play] seems to relish the distance.”

Johnson purchased a share in Audible, the sire of Call Another Play, when the Grade I winner first went to stud. He also continues to support many of the stallions that stand at WinStar Farm, whose team he's had a longstanding relationship with.

“Every day in the TDN, I'm looking at the second-crop sires and stakes winners so far this year and Audible is high up on all of those lists. I think he's showing what he's capable of getting and I hope Call Another Play is just one more example of that,” he said.

The filly is the latest success story for Johnson and Trombetta, who have built quite a steadfast partnership as owner/breeder and trainer over the years. Trombetta has trained much of the Ran's Chick family, including GIII winner and sire Street Magician (Street Cry {Ire}).

“I've been with Mike since he was training in the morning and working construction in the afternoon with his brother. There are several horses I own in partnership with Mike's family. I speak to him, he would probably say too much, but I think we're generally on the same page. You know, there's occasions where I probably say, 'Yeah, we'll be 10-1, but let's give it a try.' But he's always appreciative of what I'm trying to do, which is to breed higher quality and kick some black-type along the way,” said Johnson.

Trombetta echoes the sentiment.

“Nobody deserves it any more than Larry does. He puts in a lot of time and patience into this and it's nice to see him come up with a couple of good ones now and again.”

And to top it all off, Call Another Play's stakes-placed siblings Continentalcongres (Constitution) and Future Is Now (Great Notion), both homebreds trained by Trombetta, will take to the turf on Friday in the seventh race, an allowance optional claimer, and the The Very One S., the 11th race on the card, respectively.

“I'm on my fourth or fifth generation. [Ran's Chick] has been the gift that keeps on giving,” said Johnson.

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