March 30, 2023 Michael Court
SPEAK to someone like Corey Johnson and you cannot help but feel harness racing in South Australia is in pretty safe hands.
The 20-year-old reinsman chalked one off the bucket list this week when he produced a 10 out of 10 drive to land the Gawler Cup with six-year-old gelding Clarenden Envoy.
In an open betting race over the 2550m standing start journey, Clarenden Envoy was sent out a $10 shot and the Claire Goble-trained pacer did the rest, rating 2:01.5 for his last mile to beat $5.50 equal favourite Culture King (Greg Rogers) by 3.5m, with Hesashark (Dale Afford) almost a metre further back in third place.
Johnson admits he loves his work – but it’s also fair to say there’s plenty of it.
When not driving in races, Corey helps his father Lane work a team of about 18 horses.
He also does some maintenance work on the track for Globe Derby and Gawler (It’s only just up the road from home, he says).
And thanks to some guidance from his father Lane and others, Corey has also learnt the fine art of shoeing horses and besides doing his and Lane’s stables, also helps out with a few other clients as well.
And thanks to the support with drives for the Goble stable, he also heads there three times a week to help her out working her team as well.
“I love the work – all of it,” he grins.
“I wouldn’t be doing those things if I didn’t enjoy it.
“Being from the area, you aim to tick off a win like this.
“The Gawler Cup, not far from where we are, is one of those races you aim to win . . . whether you have one in it or drive in it and it’s nice to tick it off the list.
“This horse always puts in and is never off the mark.
“He begins well from the stand and doesn’t wear anything special. His numerical form isn’t always that good but he’s never far off them or is running on from the back.
“He’s never thrown in a bad race really.
“Claire looks after me with a couple of drives and he’s the type of horse you just hope you can get a drive on.
“He puts your name out there.
“His best attribute is his speed. He showed a bit of it at Gawler with his 28s quarter down the back and he reeled off a 27s quarter around Globe Derby the other day as well and has pretty good high speed, I think.”
Johnson says he always takes harness racing as it comes and if he can improve, well, that’s just great.
“Sure, it’s good to drive a winner and I’m happy just being out there,” he said.
“As silly as it sounds, if I get it [a win] I get it.
“We’d all like to win the big ones; we dream about winning races like Inter Dominions etc.
“If I had to pin one I’d love to win an SA Cup or even an SA Trotters Cup.
“I love the trotters and Dad breeds a lot of trotters, so I spend a lot of time around them.
“My first winner for our stable was actually a trotter – and I just love them.”
Corey’s association with Claire Goble came about when she was looking for someone to work for her.
“It just grew from that and I was just working a few at the run-around and then working a few from fast days.
“She was also bringing horses to Dad to break-in and we went from there . . . and she’s been pretty good to me.
“A lot of people say they don’t want to work to live but if you do something you like, well, you never work a day in your life, I guess.
“When you do things you like – that’s the way it goes.”
Corey’s sister Emma works as the starter at Globe Derby and works in the office as well.
“Mum and Dad are pretty involved too – everyone does their share.
“Of the 18 horses we probably have 5-6 square-gaiters plus a couple of others in the paddock spelling.
“We have a lot jogging up and getting ready to go to the races.
“It‘s not the biggest team racing but there’s always something going on with the babies and our aim to turn over a lot of the babies.
“They come and go and Dad and Grandma breed a lot.
“We might go to the sales and buy one or two and there is always an owner or myself or Dad that decide they might like this one or that one and the numbers seem to add up.
“We always welcome new horses – you need horses to have the stable turning.”
Back to the Gawler Cup and Clarenden Envoy stepped well, settled well and sprinted them up the last half.
“Hesashark was on our back and he was the only horse I thought was full of running,” said Johnson.
“We kept him boxed up on the inside of Culture King, as he was the one horse I thought could do some damage.”
Johnson singled out Heza Ladies Man, Sky Breeze and, of course, Clarenden Envoy as among the better horses he has driven.
And like every young driver he’d love to go to Menangle one day: “You have to find the stock first – and then find someone to give you a drive,” he laughed.