Shelby County Indiana
A lot of horse flesh trots past the memory eye of
Fred Johnson as he
reminisces on the days since he trained and raced his first horse back in
1908-when he was 17 years old.
The Shelbyville Republican
Monday November 24, 1947
Page 4 column 4
Born and reared on a farm in Rush county he grew up "horse minded"
since his neighboring county was widely known as a racing center around the turn
of the century. There were 26 tracks in the county during that era and
"more horses than in the state of Kentucky." Besides that, he had a
natural love for man’s "next-to-best" friend (it would be hard to
convince him that horses don’t rate above dogs in that title) and it was after
an army stint in World War I that he came to Shelbyville in 1919 to begin
training and racing horses as his choice occupation.
That first horse he trained was named "Annie N" and was owned by
Inlow, father of Drs. W.D. Fred and Herbert of the Clinic.
her at the Rush county fair and he came in for second place. About this time in
our talk, which was held in the office at his stables at the fairgrounds, I
asked him "how come" some of the fancy names given racing horses.
he said is done by various and sundry methods. He knew one family who chose
names from a dictionary; a banker named one of his steeds from a word he heard
over the radio; a Calumet family always prefaced their names with letters of the
alphabet and so on.
Two of the better horses that came to his mind from his early days are Fet
National, who was owned by the late Jim Graeber, of Arlington, and Billy
J.K., who was owned by his uncle Brack Johnson. The first named was in
the $26,000 winning bracket in 1924 with a trotting record of 2:01 ¾ . Later
horses of which he was pretty proud were Eddie D, who was sired by the famed
Frisco Dale and held a record of two minutes flat, and Betty Grattan, who held a
2:04 record. Eddie D, formerly owned by L.V. Hauk, now is in Canada and
Mr. Hauk still owns Betty Grattan.
In all his years on the track, Fred has been thrown but four times and only
once suffered serious injuries. That was at Lawrenceburg three years ago when
his shoulder was broken. He’s raced in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Ohio
and his biggest racing purse was in the rich Hoosier Futurity at Indianapolis
Mr. Johnson is training five of the 50 horses quartered at the local track
now. Taken on a tour of the stables, where in snug stalls the horses were
contentedly munching on hay in knee deep straw, he brought out his special pride
and joy, Bess Abbey Dale, a 20-month-old shiny black filly owned by John
Hinchman, of Greenfield. Bess Abbey, who will race here next season,
responded to gentle patting on the head with dampish muzzling, but not so her
next-stable neighbor, Pay Mac. His answer to amateur "horse talk" was
a bared mouthful of teeth and laid flat ears.
Mr. Johnson says he has broken colts as early as the age of seven months but
the average age is around 18 to 20 months. His usual procedure is to leave them
in their stalls with harness on for a day or so; then lead them until they’re
accustomed to the feel of harness on the track; then drive them without the
training cart for an approximate two-week period, and next, the final step of
starting them through their paces with the cart attached. These carts weigh in
the range of 35 to 40 pounds but the average racing sulky weighs 27 pounds.
racing technique is mostly with lines. He isn’t much for using a whip. If one
tap of a whip doesn’t bring an extra surge of speed, then he’s pretty sure
the horse is giving its best. And he says that instead of keeping the "eye
on the ball," racing is mostly watching the other fellow and his horse.
A race horse’s died consists of oats and hay, as the main and preferred
"dishes," and bran and corn. They’re fed three times daily
ordinarily but an extra meal is added during racing season. In especially hot
weather they’re frequently treated to ice packs on the head and loins between
heats and the after-race treatment is mighty important. They’re walked until
they’re "cooled out," rubbed down, have their legs bound and given
longed for drinks of water slowly at 20 minute intervals before being stabled.
Getting back to the trainer and driver,
Mr. Johnson married Mae Ogdon 11 years ago and is fortunate in having a wife who also is a horse enthusiast.
They reside at 805 Fair avenue, just a short trot from the race track. Where
else would you find a man like Fred Johnson living?
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming