Tomorrow evening at Kawartha Downs will be an emotional one for the Johnson family. Not only are they honouring patriarch Ivan with a Memorial race, but they are also starting a three-year-old trotter who was never expected to live let alone race.

In race five Goldie Rocket will start from post four. Ivan’s daughter Denise Ball owns the sophomore trained by her brother Mark. Her niece Samara will drive. Goldie Rocket is named for local veterinarian, and Kawartha Downs’ vet, Kyle Goldie, whom Denise gives a great deal of credit for saving the horse’s life when he arrived into the world on May 1, 2014.

“When he was born his legs were all tucked up in, completely contracted, he couldn’t stand. He was so small that we put a dog coat on him. We tried to help him as much as we could, we had to put his bum in our lap so he could balance himself enough to nurse,” remembered Denise.

“It only lasted about an hour before he was too tired and needed to lay down again. Then things got worse. He was impacted and was extremely colicky. He would roll around on the ground trying to find any comfort. All of this happened in the first 12 hours of his life.”

The Balls, Denise and her husband Mike, had bought the mare, Zorgwijk Locket, in foal to Windsong Espoir so the stud fee was paid when the foal was born.

“Mike said to at least give him a chance. So we called Kyle Goldie. When he first saw him he shook his head and said it wasn’t good. Kyle pumped plenty of fluids into him; a couple of jugs of electrolytes and antibiotics. The foal started to come around again, but on the Friday night he took a complete turn again, going backwards.

“We called Kyle at four or four thirty a.m. and he answered and told us to bring the foal up to his clinic right away,” she added.

For a full week the colt did not stand. He had to be assisted to nurse and his backside was becoming raw from his mother licking him to encourage him to stand up. He had also injured his hock while attempting to stand on his own.

“It took three months and the hock was still not healing properly. I had read or heard somewhere that if you cover the cut with Polysporin and cover it with duct tape it will  heal. So that’s what we did and it healed. To this day, there is still no hair on that hock. 

“We told Kyle we wanted to name the horse after him because of all the work and support he gave him. When Kyle comes into our barn, Goldie is the first horse he goes to see.”

Given his rough beginning the family certainly didn’t expect the colt to make it to the races but he has defied the odds and has been racing regularly at his home track of Kawartha Downs this year. So far he’s had 10 starts and only once missed a cheque.

“He is such a pet now. He’s 16 hands tall and if he keeps growing, he might one day be as big as his mom. He is Mark and my baby. You can’t be anything but happy with him. Most people who are breeding horses would just say this one isn’t going to make it. It was a struggle, but we got through it. Kyle didn’t have to do everything he has and we are thankful. 

“Who, at 4:30 in the morning, rolls out of bed and gives you what you need in an emergency? He was there the day he was born within 15 minutes of us calling him. I think most vets understand with emergencies time is critical and he must have been in the area, but we are thankful he was close enough to help him quickly. Kyle always gives him the thumbs up when he trots by him,” noted Denise who is a chartered accountant.

The love for horses comes naturally for the family as Ivan was a passionate horseman for many years after winning his first Standardbred in a card game in 1973. Ivan, who passed away in February of 2013, is among those being remembered and celebrated on Kawartha’s Memorial Night card.

“I think my dad would be very proud of what we did for Goldie. Mom always says that he would be so proud. Samara is driving all three of our horses Saturday (including Jetset Charmer in Ivan’s Memorial race). We just thought it would be a great way to recognize the Memorial Night and our family. We have been having a great time at KD this year. Mom, who is 83, gets to come out each week and see them race which is great.”

Kawartha’s post time is 7 p.m. tomorrow night. In addition to Ivan, also being honoured on the Memorial card are: Roger Hie, Tom Millison, Charles Ibey, Brenna Seeley, Ruby Brown, Nellie & Leona Wright, Wayne Dowson and Doreen & Eric Brock.


Goldie Rocket as a baby. Courtesy Ball family.