Locally-based trainer Mike Johnson grew up as a child in Arkansas knowing the name Shawn Davis, a former three-time world champion saddle bronc rider and inductee in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979. Fast forward nearly 30 years and Johnson is helping Davis oversee his multiple-stakes winning sprinter Chief Cicatriz as he prepares for Saturday’s $75,000-added Kelly’s Landing Overnight Stakes at Churchill Downs.
“All of the guys involved with Chief Cicatriz are so much fun to be around,” Johnson said. “We had a great time with Shawn and Roy Evans, Chief Cicatriz’ owner, a few weeks ago when he won the Aristides (Grade III). Shawn was the real deal on the rodeo circuit. He’s a three-time champion and Roy is a longtime supporter of the NFR (National Finals Rodeo).”
While Johnson isn’t necessarily a household name like Davis on the rodeo circuit, he used to be a bull rider and calf roper prior to working with thoroughbreds as trainer Pete Vestal's assistant.Johnson, 42, is accustomed to being around some of the country’s top horses. He galloped multiple graded stakes winner McCraken as a 2-year-old in 2016 and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah when he was based at Oaklawn Park prior to his triumph in the 2015 Arkansas Derby (GI).
Chief Cicatriz (11-8-0-0—$286,881), a 5-year-old gelding by Munnings launched his career at Zia Park in New Mexico. The homebred has been based with Johnson since April including his romping 6 ¼-legnth win in the $100,000 Aristides on June 2.
“We’ve helped Shawn oversee Chief Cicatriz for a little while now,” Johnson said. “We had him at Oaklawn last year and, after he returned to training from a minor setback, Shawn sent him back to us at Churchill and we helped prepare him for the Churchill Downs Stakes (GII) and Aristides.
“It’s been exciting having (Chief Cicatriz) in our barn but we’re starting to get some really nice horses of our own for some great clients.”
Chief Cicatriz was made 7-5 on the morning line for Saturday’s seven-furlong Kelly’s Landing and will once again be ridden by jockey James Graham.
The Kelly’s Landing, which attracted a field of 10 sprinters, is one of three stakes races on Churchill Downs’ 12-race closing day card. The seven-furlong contest will go as Race 10 at 5:26 p.m. (all times Eastern).
The field for the Kelly’s Landing from the rail out: Awesome Saturday (ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., trained by Bret Calhoun, 121 pounds, 8-1 morning line odds); Lookin for a Kiss (Jon Court, Mike Tomlinson, 121, 20-1); Mr. Crow (Joe Rocco Jr., Ben Colebrook, 121, 7-2); Harmac (Jose Valdivia Jr., Grant Forster, 121, 30-1); Cool Arrow (Adam Beschizza, Joe Sharp, 121, 20-1); Warrior’s Club (Gabriel Saez, D. Wayne Lukas, 123, 3-1); Requite (Julien Leparoux, Ian Wilkes, 121, 20-1); Storm Advisory (Ricardo Santana Jr., Brian Williamson, 121, 20-1); C Z Rocket (Shaun Bridgmohan, Al Stall Jr., 121, 12-1) and Chief Cicatriz (Graham, Davis, 123, 7-5).
General admission to Churchill Downs is $3 on Saturday and admission gates open at 11:30 a.m. Box seats are $10 and reserved dining packages are $39. They can be purchased online at www.ChurchillDowns.com/Tickets. Because it’s closing day, there will be a mandatory payout in Churchill Downs’ 20-cent minimum Single 6 Jackpot.