The first Saturday in May is a significant one on the world racing calendar – Kentucky Derby day.
Seymour trainer Murray Johnson is fortunate enough to have been a part of the famous race – not once, but twice.
This weekend marks 15 years since the Johnson-trained Perfect Drift finished third in the Kentucky Derby in front of 145,000 people at Churchill Downs.
Eleven years earlier, Johnson also trained Green Alligator who came from last for a fast-finishing fourth.
“It’s a very, very special day in American racing, anyway, and particularly so having experienced the most amazing stage of racing,” Johnson said.
“To experience it twice is just unbelievable. Once was unbelievable and then to follow up and do it again was great and by that time my kids had grown up and they got to experience it. It was a thrill of a lifetime.”
Johnson spent 30 years in the United States, around 20 as a trainer, before returning to Australia.
A descendant of William Samuel Cox, for whom the Cox Plate is named, Johnson began training again at Seymour in Victoria in 2013.
While the stage will not be as big as Churchill Downs, Johnson has a genuine chance to snare a winner on the first Saturday in May at Flemington in Melbourne.
Johnson saddles up $2.60 favourite Pure Pride in Saturday’s $80,000 Comedy King Handicap (1400m).
The mare is dropping back in grade after an unplaced run in the Group One Coolmore Legacy Stakes (1600m) on a wet track in Sydney last start.
“Obviously that didn’t go to plan but everything since has been very good,” Johnson said.
Pure Pride’s only win in 11 starts is a Ballarat maiden but she has produced strong performances in Group races at Flemington including a fast-finishing second in the Blazer Stakes last spring before a fifth in the Group One Myer Classic (1600m).
She returns to Flemington after finishing fourth in the Matron Stakes two starts ago and Johnson said he would be disappointed if she was not in the finish.
“I was maybe looking at going to Adelaide but I did miss a piece of work because of the weather, so she’s fresh and ready to go,” Johnson said.
“She loves Flemington and I was guaranteed a good track there.
“I want to get back and make sure she’s back to herself.
“Obviously Flemington with the longer straight and her style, she can balance up and hit the line.
“The problem is you tend to have horses in front of you and you’ve got to get around them or through them and she hasn’t had much luck.
“Maybe one day she’ll get lucky.”