Ray Johnson may well have lost count of the number of racing and breeding stock that have passed through his hands over the years, but on Saturday the Bay of Plenty real estate agent celebrated one to top them all.
The Johnson-bred Mr Brightside staked his place amongst Australia’s best when he led home a Kiwi-bred trifecta in last Saturday’s Gr. 1 Doncaster Mile on the opening day of The Championships at Randwick. Completing something of a rags to riches story, the four-year-old son of Bullbars was at one stage in his brief life virtually unwanted, only to now be the winner of seven of his 13 starts and stakes in excess of $2.5 million.
His defeat of fellow NZ-breds I’m Thunderstruck (Shocking) and Icebath (Sacred Falls) provided Ben and JD Hayes, third-generation members of one of Australian racing’s iconic training families, with their first Group One victory in partnership. But far from the excitement of the Randwick carnival in the Eastern Bay of Plenty coastal town of Whakatane, the gelding’s breeder was still coming to terms with the big win when RaceForm caught up with him on Monday.
“The Hayes boys had predicted back in the spring that he was a Group One horse, but to see him actually do it was something else,” Ray Johnson said. “After seeing him run so well in races like the Cantala Stakes and All-Star Mile but not quite getting there, and this time round having to race three-wide, watching it I really didn’t think he could to it.
“But he did and obviously I’m very chuffed. I can’t believe the number of calls and messages I’ve had, even from people I hardly know!”
The Mr Brightside story began for Johnson when he bought a Cambridge Stud-bred weanling filly from Tavistock’s second crop at Karaka in 2013. A member of the Sovereign Red/Gurner’s Lane family and named Lilahjay, she never made it to the races and in fact went to stud as a two-year-old, producing a colt by Power that was sold for $80,000 at Karaka in 2017.
As Will Power, he has won eight races in Hong Kong, but his achievements have been trumped by his two-year younger sibling Mr Brightside. Both were bred by Johnson and his late wife Martha, who at the time were living in Taupo where they kept most of their horses on their own property.
“We originally planned to sell him at the January yearling sales but eventually he went through Karaka in May and was sold for $22,000 to Phill Cataldo, who In understand was acting on behalf of Laurie Laxon,” Johnson recalled. “Later in the year he went through the Ready to Run Sale but he didn’t make his reserve, then a while later he appeared on the Gavelhouse website.
“Apparently he had some tricks, but after talking to Ralph Manning I joined forces with him and his mate Shaun Dromgool to buy him back. He didn’t cost us a lot ($7,750) and Ralph got him going well enough to head to the trials.”
By that stage the horse named after Las Vegas rock group The Killers’ hit Mr Brightside was a three-year-old and after two unplaced trial runs in late 2020, he got his act together for an impressive win at Matamata in January. A month later he returned to that venue for his race debut but had to settle for an unlucky fifth with a flashing red light that caught the attention of various talent scouts.
He was thus sold at a tidy profit to the Hayes stable through Australian agent Wayne Ormond and after a first-up second he put together a six-win sequence capped by the Listed Seymour Cup at Ballarat last October. His fourth placing in the Gr. 1 Cantala Stakes at the Melbourne Cup carnival convinced connections he was a genuine major race contendor, as vindicated by his Doncaster performance.
The Kiwi-bred trifecta added to an illustrious Doncaster record by New Zealand horses in the race considered Australia’s premier 1600m event. Mr Brightside became the ninth NZ-bred winner in the past 14 years, while he is the first Group One winner sired by Bullbars, whose biggest win when racing for Godolphin in Australia was coincidentally the Gr. 3 CS Hayes Stakes, named after the Hayes brothers’ legendary grandfather.
Johnson no longer owns Mr Brightside’s dam Lilahjay, the first Tavistock mare to produce a Group One winner, but he hasn’t lost the enthusiasm for playing his chances with a handful of broodmares and potential racing stock.
“Sometimes I ask myself ‘What are you doing Ray?’ but I’ve still got five mares, four of them in foal again and three foals at foot, two yearlings and shares in horses in work.
“It’s results like this that you keep you going back for more.”
- Dennis Ryan, Raceform