Challenge: Bob Johnson Repeats As Wrangler Challenge Top Trainer
Bob Johnson with Faster Than Hasta.

© AQHA Racing / Andrea Caudill
Challenge: Bob Johnson Repeats As Wrangler Challenge Top Trainer

By Andrea Caudill

AMERICAN QUARTER HORSE ASSOCIATION—NOVEMBER 17, 2018—The Bank of America Racing Challenge's year-end Wrangler Champion Trainer, for the second time in two years, is Robert "Bob" Johnson of Lemmon, South Dakota.

Johnson is the third trainer to earn consecutive top trainer awards in the program's history, and one of only seven to earn repeat titles. For his accomplishment this year, he will get $5,000 cash courtesy of Wrangler and a custom buckle from Awards Recognition Concepts.

This weekend, he will saddle four horses in the finals. He said they discussed whether or not to make the long trek from their homebase out to Los Alamitos, before coming to a simple realization – "They earned their way here," he said. "They deserve a chance to run."

First is Faster Than Hasta in the $250,000 Bank of America Challenge Championship (G1), who represents Johnson's family. The 4-year-old gelding is owned by Bob's dad, John, and is one of three horses competing in the Challenge Championships this year that is making his third appearance at the event.

Faster Than Hasta was fifth in the 2016 John Deere Juvenile Challenge Championship (G2) at Los Alamitos, then was outnodded for the victory in the 2017 Adequan® Derby Challenge Championship (G3) at Prairie Meadows. Now he returns for the big dance on the card.

"Faster Than Hasta is a Challenge horse," Johnson said. "He's made a lot of money in the Challenge races. He is a closer, and he runs hard – he lost the Derby Challenge last year by an inch. He's a good horse. He's a hard-trying horse, and gives it everything every time."

Faster Than Hasta was bred by Wardell Quarter Horses of Wheatland, Wyoming, and is by Hasta Be Fast and out of the Special Leader mare Leadmetoyourladder.

Hasta Be Fast was bred in partnership by Johnson and Dr. Steve Burns, and was a stakes winner in his racing career before making a niche for himself as a sire in South Dakota. The 13-year-old Pritzi Dash stallion has average progeny earnings of more than $14,400 per starter, and includes Faster Than Hasta's older brother, Hastabealeader ($118,543). Both of them are out of Leadmetoyourladder, a two-time stakes-placed runner.

Faster Than Hasta has won four stakes races and earned $166,023 to date in his 20-race career.

He will send out the Tres Seis mare Gold Diggin Queen in the $100,000 AQHA Distaff Challenge Championship (G1) for owners Butch and Stephanie Webb of Isabel, South Dakota.

The Vessels Stallion Farm LLC-bred mare is out of the First Down Dash mare Its Good To Be Queen, and the Webbs bought her as a yearling. They have raced her to 11 wins or placings in 21 career starts and earnings of $46,086.

She has only been worse than second in one of her four most recent starts, which includes a fighting second-place finish in the Canterbury Park Distaff Challenge. She will break from the inside in the Distaff Championship.

"She's a hard-trying, nice mare," Johnson said. "She's a really nice, really good mare. I like where she drew, the one hole."

Johnson has two in the $150,000 Adequan® Derby Challenge Championship (G3), including High Valley Girl and Vallero.

George Seward's homebred Vallero (Valiant Hero-Perrys Queen Bug by Mr Jess Perry) was under the care of John Hammes this summer, and has lit the board in four of seven starts this year in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Iowa.

High Valley Girl is another Valiant Hero progeny, she out of the Feature Mr Jess mare Huckleberry Mojito.

Bred by Reliance Ranches LLC, High Valley Girl's dam is a six-figure-earning stakes winner who is herself a daughter of seven-time stakes winner and two-time track record setter Eye Opening Special.

Butch and Stephanie Webb also own High Valley Girl, who has won or placed in 10 of 18 career starts and earned $59,286. This year, she was second in the Adequan® Prairie Meadows Derby Challenge and in her most recent start fourth in the $123,191 Altoona Derby.

"She's been a real consistent mare," Johnson said. "She's always been right there, but usually a bridesmaid in all those stakes."

Last year, she contested the John Deere Juvenile Challenge Championship (G2).

Johnson is a lifetime horseman; his family ranches near Lemmon, running cattle and raising running horse. His brother, Gary, is the head cattleman. Their father, John, was recently recognized as an AQHA Legacy Breeder, for 50 consecutive years of breeding American Quarter Horses.

Johnson trains about 50 head, and said the Challenge title was not something he chased, but he was pleased with the win.

"The Challenge has been a good program," he said. "As a rule, my owners pay most of their horses in. We don't chase the Challenge, but it's a heckuva bonus."

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