Elwood “Bud” Johnston, who bred and raced Eclipse Award-winning Acclamation out of his Old English Rancho east of Sanger, has died. He was 77.
Mr. Johnston died in his sleep Tuesday, a day before his 78th birthday, the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association said. He had attended morning workouts at Santa Anita as recently as last month.
Acclamation won 11 of 30 career starts and earned $1,958,048 before retiring in 2012 as Mr. Johnston’s all-time leading money winner. The horse’s best year was 2011, when he won five consecutive graded stakes, including the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar under trainer Don Warren. Acclamation missed the Breeders’ Cup that year because of injury, but won the Eclipse as champion older male.
Mr. Johnston and wife Judy took over management of his father’s Old English Rancho in Ontario, California, in 1957. They sold the property and relocated the thoroughbred farm to the Kings River banks a couple miles south of Avocado Lake in 1997.
The Johnstons had staked their claim to the spot in the late 1960s, running a portion of their operation out of Fresno County before moving full-time. In 1968, Mr. Johnston told The Bee, “There’s something about your area — the horses seem to thrive in it. I don’t know whether it’s the water, the soil, or what. But whatever it is, the horses like it.”
Old English Rancho will stay in the family’s hands: one of the Johnston’s daughters, Mary Hilvers, and her husband Pete are co-owners, and their son Jonny manages the ranch.
“Jonny is doing a great job,” Mr. Johnston said in 2011. “He’s one of the main reasons why I’ve wanted to stay in the business.”
The farm was named California’s leading breeder 13 times. Old English Rancho has bred over 200 stakes winners and been home to such prominent stallions as Acclamation, Unusual Heat, Big Bad Leroybrown and Surf Cat.
Mr. Johnston candidly spoke of the difficulties of being a racehorse breeder in a 1991 interview with The Bee, saying, “Anyone who has made $1 has put $1.25 back in.”
Mr. Johnston was a director of the CTBA for 25 years and once served as president. He was inducted into the CTBA Hall of Fame in 2012.
In 2007, Mr. Johnston received Hollywood Park’s Laffit Pincay Jr. Award. The award, named for the Hall of Fame jockey, was instituted in 2004 and goes annually to someone who has served the sport with integrity, dedication, determination and distinction.
Mr. Johnston’s most recent homebred stakes winner, Acceptance, won last year’s Golden State Juvenile Stakes and King Glorious Stakes. The CTBA named Acceptance champion Cal-bred 2-year-old male of 2014. Mr. Johnston accepted the trophy at the CTBA awards dinner Feb. 9.
Besides his wife of 58 years, Mr. Johnston is survived by two daughters, five grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.