“A Great Ride” as Belmont Stakes Starter Mindframe Could Cap 40 Years of Breeding

The following was written by Frank Vespe and appeared in “The Racing Biz” June 6th. Larry Johnson is a Virginia thoroughbred horse breeder and owner whose Legacy Farm is based in in Bluefield, VA. His Future Is Now, a 4-year-old Great Notion filly, broke his maiden at Colonial Downs last August and will compete in the Grade 2 Intercontinental Stakes at Saratoga June 7th. Johnson also bred Mindframe, 7-2 second favorite in Saturday’s $2 million Belmont Stakes! Frank Vespe’s article follows:

“It ain’t a science,” Larry Johnson laughed about breeding racehorses. 

Maybe not. But he said that a few days before Saturday’s Grade 1 Belmont Stakes – to be run at Saratoga this year and next – in which Mindframe, a horse he bred, is the 7-2 second choice on the morning line. The Belmont will be one day after Johnson’s homebred Future Is Now tries to live up to her name in the Grade 2 Intercontinental as the third choice.

Future Is Now returns to the Colonial Downs winners circle after an August 5, 2023 win.

Which comes two weeks after Future Is Now won Pimlico’s The Very One, in which another Johnson homebred, Hollywood Walk – who is a half to Mindframe – finished third. Also that weekend, yet another Johnson homebred, Call Another Play, finished third, just missing second, in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan. All are Maryland-breds.

Maybe it’s not a science, in other words, but it sure is a business where it pays to be in the right place at the right time.

“It’s a great ride,” Johnson said. “I don’t do this to necessarily make money. I try not to lose money. But it’s weeks like this: if this doesn’t get you going, you really ought to just go into hibernation someplace.”

Johnson sold Mindframe as a yearling, and he fetched a top bid of $600,000 from Repole Stable and St. Elias Stables. They sent him to trainer Todd Pletcher, and while Mindframe remained unraced – and even unnamed – until the first quarter of his three-year-old season, he’s made up for some lost time with two wins by a combined 20-plus lengths.

Jockey Victor Carrasco gives Future Is Now a sponge bath after a maiden special weight win at Colonial Downs.

Remarkably enough, the Constitution colt, who’s raced only twice and whose top victory came in a first-level allowance, is 7-2 on the morning line for Saturday’s Belmont. That’s lower than either the Kentucky Derby winner, Mystik Dan (5-1), or the Preakness winner Seize the Grey (8-1). Sierra Leone is the 9-5 favorite.

“My gut tells me it’s not just [trainer Todd] Pletcher [that accounts for his short odds]. It’s the brilliance that he shows,” Johnson surmised. “The way in which Mindframe ran his two races, if your project out a little bit, is brilliant. So I think there is a lot of projection going on with him.”

Mindframe is out of the Street Sense mare Walk of Stars, who won five times in her career and earned over $150,000. Among those wins were a victory in Charles Town’s Pink Ribbon Stakes and a maiden score by 30 ¼ lengths – that’s not a typo – at Timonium.

Walk of Stars has had four offspring to race, including Mindframe and the stakes-placed Hollywood Walk, who may very well become a stakes winner before the end of the turf season. By Animal Kingdom, the five-year-old mare’s third-place finish in The Very One was her best performance to date. Her value is teetering on the brink of a major increase.

For Johnson, a forensic accountant by trade, the breeding of Mindframe may not have been scientific, but it is the result – and may become the pinnacle of – a family he’s been building literally for decades. All the way back in 1986, he and James Kehoe bred Ran’s Chick to Parfaitement – Deputed Testamony’s entrymate in the 1983 Preakness – to produce Special Kell.

Special Kell won a stake for Johnson, and later he bred her to Star de Naskra, a combination that produced the four-time winner Star Kell. Bred to Street Sense, she produced Walk of Stars, the dam of Mindframe.

Mindframe won at first asking. Photo by Lauren King.

An overnight success nearly 40 years in the making, you might say.

Speaking of which: the last Maryland-bred Triple Crown race winner was Caveat, who won the 1983 Belmont, three weeks after Deputed Testamony won the Preakness while coupled to Parfaitement. That’s a streak Mindframe will try to snap Saturday.

“Whether it’s sisters or nieces or mother, it all goes back Ran’s Chick and the foal she had, Special Kell,” Johnson said. “Special Kell has just been phenomenal. She’s the great-granddam of Future Is Now, and the granddam of Mindframe. If he would achieve Grade 1 success, the influence it would have on the pedigrees of so many of my horses… it’s just overwhelming “

Walk of Stars is a half-sister to the multiple graded-placed Strike the Moon, whose wins included the 2011 Charles Town Oaks, in which she defeated the great distaff sprinter Groupie Doll. That pedigree, plus her own racing success – and Johnson’s ownership of a share of Constitution – made breeding Walk of Stars to Constitution, a multiple Grade 1 winner by Tapit, a logical decision.

Early returns, of course, are promising, so Johnson sent the mare back to Constitution for a late cover this spring. He expects to learn in the next couple of weeks whether she’s pregnant.

The story’s similar with Future Is Now. She’s by Great Notion, out of the Bernardini mare Past as Prelude. The winless Past as Prelude was out of the unraced Meadowlake mare Magical Meadow, who in turn was out of… wait for it… Special Kell.

Future is Now won The Very One. Photo by Allison Janezic.

Future Is Now showed early promise, scuffled a bit, and then really began to come around this winter at Gulfstream Park, winning an allowance race impressively before running a good second in the Captiva Island behind 7-10 favorite Stone Silent. Shipped back north to Laurel, she finished fifth against the boys in the King T. Leatherbury before winning The Very One.

Future Is Now is 8-1 on the morning line in the Intercontinental, which makes her the third choice. Pennsylvania-bred Roses for Debra, undefeated when sprinting on the turf against distaffers, is the 6-5 morning line choice.

All in all, it could make for quite a weekend, though Johnson will not be in Saratoga to witness it. “Too complicated and congested,” he said, so instead he’ll have a watch party at his Northern Virginia farm.

And though a win by Future Is Now would be no mean feat, Johnson’s eyes are pointed towards Saturday.

Future Is Now in the Colonial Downs winners circle.

“Right now I’m trying to do a little work, but all I can think about is the race call on Saturday,” he laughed, imagining Mindframe drawing away to victory. “Who knows? But Saturday at 6:45 can’t get here quick enough.”