Marylander gets her 'Gator' to post Horse, family give Johnson busy week

May 05, 1991|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,The Evening Sun

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- It was the day before the Kentucky Derby, and Kim Johnson spent most of the afternoon in a Louisville hospital with her 4-month-old daughter, Katie.

"She has asthma, and we had to have X-rays taken to make sur she didn't have pneumonia," Johnson said. She didn't.

But this is how Derby week has gone for Johnson. She's bee juggling motherhood while holding the reins of Green Alligator, the horse she gallops, her husband, Murray, trains and her grandfather, Anderson Fowler, owns.

It is their first trip to the Kentucky Derby, and after a couple o family crises and a couple of husband-and-wife spats, the horse finally entered the starting gate at 5:36 p.m.

This has been a family enterprise from beginning to end. Johnson's father, Eddie Houghton from Chestertown, sent a vase with three red roses to her at the barn right before the race.

Kim paraphrased him: "You've got a horse in the Derby. This i the best time in your life. Enjoy it."

Johnson, 29, was trying to hold down her nervousness. She gre up on the Eastern Shore, then spent three years at Garrison Forest School in Reisterstown. After graduation, she was exercising horses in Aiken, S.C., when she fell in love with a young Australian named Murray Johnson. They ended up in vTC California, racing their small string at Hollywood Park. Now their lives, and those of her parents, who own Buckingham Farm in Chestertown, and her grandfather, who has raced horses for more than 50 years, have come together into a sort of family reunion, Derby-style.

Johnson was wearing a white dress with black polka dots tha her grandfather's wife, "Aunt Elaine," bought for her in a Louisville boutique.

"Then she bought us all hats," Johnson said. "My sister Jen, ha one with silver spikes coming out of it. My mom's has a little green alligator on top. Mine is white. I never wear hats, especially one like this," she said as she sized up its wide-brimmed, picture-frame shape.

Green Alligator looked half asleep.

He was doing much better than some of his Derby counterparts.

A few barns away, Fly So Free spent the afternoon weaving. H stood in front of his stall, moving his head hypnotically from side to side.

Another barn away, Hansel was chained to the back of his stall.

Best Pal seemed tired. Nearby residents held a Derby bloc party in the street outside his barn into the wee hours of the morning, and he spent the night racing around his stall and charging his stall webbing.

The barn area was alive with picnic pandemonium. It seeme that any Kentuckian with an owner or trainer's license and his friends were either holding a beer can or snapping a picture of a Derby starter.

A drunk fell in the way of a horse being led over to start in a earlier race.

Welcome to DerbyWorld. Planes flew overhead draggin messages like "Scotty Braesler for Governor" or "Tumbleweed -- Your Original Tex Mex Food." The Goodyear and Seaworld "Shamu the Whale" blimps floated by.

An outrider in a scarlet coat trotted up to the barn. It was time fo the Derby. He instructed the Johnsons to follow Fly So Free over to the paddock with Green Alligator.

"Well, I guess it's time to hat up," Kim, said, putting on the white wide-brimmed hat at a jaunty angle.

The Johnsons followed the grooms, Freddy and David, who le Gator.

The Johnsons held hands. "Maybe we shouldn't," she said, a they walked through screaming throngs of people to the paddock.

"Go, Gator, go," a couple of guys yelled from behind a chain lin fence.

"Have you ever done the Gator?" someone asked Murray. "Yo '' get down and wiggle."

Murray said no, but he's done the Bacon. "You get down an sizzle," he said.

Soon enough, the Johnsons were in the paddock.

It's been done, after a week of scrutiny from press, from family from friends, they've done it, they've gotten here.

Twenty minutes later, the Gator lagged early in the race, the made his expected late charge. He finished fourth, and it was Fly So Free, fifth, following him at the Derby finish.

Afterward, Kim seemed a bit disappointed. "She thought h should have won," Murray said.

"No," she said, "I just want to find A-Pa [her nickname for he grandfather]." Somewhere from the box seats to the ground floor car park in a crush of 10,000 people easily, he became separated from them.

Now, even in this, a moment when their horse ran well enough t show he belonged in the Kentucky Derby, when a start in the Belmont Stakes seemed imminent, there was another family mini-crisis to solve.

"Before we do anything," Kim said, "we've got to find A-Pa."

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