Kirkwood Keeps Gallop-Only Program at Gulfstream Sale

Anne M. Eberhardt

Four previous sale horses asked only to gallop have become black-type performers.

Kip Elser’s Kirkwood Stables will continue to only gallop its entrants during the under tack show for The Gulfstream Sale as the stable has done for the past two years, rather than push the juveniles through a timed workout.

Elser launched this experiment in 2018 at Fasig-Tipton’s select 2-year-olds in training sale at Gulfstream Park following a conversation during the Saratoga Race Course meet with a friend who proposed pinhooking yearlings at the 2-year-olds in training sale without pushing the young horses during the under tack show.

Previous “gallop-only” prospects, offered only at The Gulfstream Sale, had been cataloged as part of the Kirkwood Stables consignment but also under the names Midway Gallop or Gulfstream Gallop so buyers knew what to expect. This year the Gulfstream entrants have been cataloged only under Kirkwood Stables, so Elser wants to be sure buyers know the gallop-only program is still in place.

“We have had very positive results at the sales and on the racetrack,” Elser said. “Maybe we leave a little money on the table, but we are selling every horse and reducing the injury rate.”

During the first two years of the program, Kirkwood offered 14 juveniles, of which eight were sold in the ring for an average of $121,250. The others that did not meet their reserve prices all found new homes through private sales.

Out of these 14 horses, 11 went on to start in a race, and six became winners. Four of the horses became black-type performers, led by winner Splashy Kisses, a daughter of Blame  who was second in the Pocahontas Stakes (G2) and third in the Sweet Life Stakes (G3), and Defense Wins, a son of Flatter  who was third in last year’s Runhappy Del Mar Futurity (G1). Both of these graded stakes horses are trained by Doug O’Neill. Kirkwood also sold stakes-placed winners Irish Hustle, a daughter of Data Link, and Wicked Slider, a gelding by Wicked Strong .

“The better our results on the racetrack, the better our sales results will continue to be,” Elser said.

At the upcoming April 1 auction at Gulfstream, Kirkwood will offer the following horses as part of its gallop-only program:

NYRA Manager of Racing Operations Bruce Johnstone Dies

We here at Kirkwood will miss him,
Bruce Johnstone
Bruce Johnstone

Coglianese Photos

California native moved from training career to work for New York Racing Association.

At NYRA, Johnstone served as the bridge between management, horsemen, and riders, working with everyone from the stewards to jockeys, the gate crew, outriders, and anyone else connected to racing. Imposing at 6’4″ and with a deep, baritone voice, Johnstone stood out for his commanding presence at the track—and for his knowledge, wise counsel, experience, and diplomacy in times of stress.

“Bruce was a true horseman who used the lessons of a lifetime to make all of us better in so many big and small ways,” said NYRA CEO and president Dave O’Rourke. “He was a man of impeccable integrity who was a beloved member of the Thoroughbred racing community here in New York and around the country. Bruce was universally admired for all the right reasons and we will miss him every day.”

NYRA created Johnstone’s position when he joined the organization in 2007. “If I’m talking to a trainer, I know what they’re saying,” he said of his duties in a 2018 interview. “I’ll know how to address a concern or an issue. I have an office, but that’s not where I live.”

Instead, Johnstone could often be found in the paddock, on the edge of the track, the backstretch or the barn area, navigating between groups and attending to any and all issues. Those issues could range from something as basic as a sauna without hot water to pop-up decisions on whether to postpone or cancel racing in poor weather conditions and ensuring the horses were adequately hydrated and sponged down in hot weather.

In 1974, Johnstone went to work at the Phipps Stable with accomplished trainer John Russell and Hall of Famer Angel Penna. Johnstone took out his own training license in 1980. Among his career highlights were wins with Secrettame in the 1983 Shirley Jones Stakes at Gulfstream Park and Buck Aly in the 1986 Bay Shore Stakes (G2). Secrettame, a daughter of Triple Crown winner Secretariat, was owned by Venezuelan owner Jose “Pepe” Sahagun and his Villa Blanca Farms.

While at NYRA, Johnstone also served from 2018-19 as chairman of the famed Aiken Training Center in Aiken, S.C.

Born and raised in Santa Barbara, Calif., Johnstone attended the University of California at Berkeley on an athletic scholarship as a swimmer and a water polo player, and also played rugby. After earning a degree in International Relations and Diplomacy, Johnstone was recruited by the U.S. Coast Guard for the Special Coastal Forces Program, an elite group of college graduates who had been Division 1 athletes.

Johnstone then ran a successful steakhouse, Chuck’s of Hawaii, in his native Santa Barbara, a job in which he worked his way into an ownership stake. The restaurant celebrated 50 years in business in 2017 and remains open.

It was through time spent with his biological father, Charles “Sandy” Johnstone, a New York-based veterinarian, that he turned to horse racing. Visiting his father in both New York and Kentucky, Johnstone, in his mid-20s, became smitten with Thoroughbreds to the point where he made it his career change.

“I got the bug with horses,” Johnstone said in the 2018 interview. “It must have been the pedigree. So I packed up my orange VW van and my two dogs and headed to Kentucky.”

In 1972, he joined trainer Victor J. “Lefty” Nickerson at Elmendorf Stable, where he was a part of one of racing’s biggest upsets, Big Spruce’s victory over Forego in the 1974 Marlboro Cup at Belmont Park.

“I live racing seven days a week,” Johnstone said in 2018. “And when I go to the neighborhood bar to get away from it, I find that people want to talk about what I do—not their jobs, but mine. That’s always fun—and it makes me realize how much I enjoy this life.”

Johnstone is survived by his daughter, Kelly Johnstone.

Details on a memorial service will be announced when available.