By Duane Ranger
Promising junior reinsman, Mark Johnson, has returned to his homeland to further his driving career, in Western Australia.
The 21-year-old left New Zealand on Wednesday (March 21) and ‘Cambridge Raceway’ caught up with him while he was holidaying with family in New South Wales.
“I’m here visiting my grandmothers, aunts and uncles, other family members and friends in Sydney before I head to Perth on Saturday,” said Johnson.
“There are better opportunities for me in Perth. It is a big decision, but I’m still young and want to make a real good go of it. I’m also heading to one of Western Australia’s top stables and that played a big part in my decision-making.”
Johnson will start his new job with Andrew De Campo next week at Capel, a town in the South West region of Western Australia, located 212 kilometres south of Perth and midway between Bunbury and Busselton.
"Andrew has a really nice team and works about 20 horses, including The Accumulator, who is a very good pacer. The opportunity was too good to refuse and the timing was right,” Johnson said.
Johnson paid a tribute to Waikato horseman and horsewoman - Philip Butcher and Arna Donnelly.
“Philip was a great mentor for me and taught me a heap about driving. As for Arna where do I start? She was the person who launched my driving career. I have been with Arna since I left school at the end of Year 13.
“All 17 of my career wins (from 204 drives) have come while working for Arna’s stable. It was sad saying goodbye to Arna and the staff because they did so much for me,” Johnson said.
Johnson started driving in the 2014-2015 season, and his first win came via the Donnelly-trained Pure Christian and Cambridge Raceway on June 2, 2015.
His last New Zealand triumph came behind the Brent Weaver-trained One Night Out at Manawatu Raceway on November 23, 2017 - one of two victories Johnson reined home this season.
His best year came in 2016-2017 when he won 11 races but he said he would never forget May 25 last year.
"That's when I drove three winners in a day at Manawatu. That was a huge buzz and my career highlight so far. Now I want to equal that or even better it," Johnson said.
Johnson had no desire to drive standardbreds growing up in Wollongong, New South Wales.
But that all changed in 2007 when his parents Mike and Leanne and his five brothers and sisters relocated from New South Wales to Hamilton in New Zealand as Johnson senior took up a position as a computer programmer.
Then in stepped Peter and Wendy Ferguson from Waikato Kidz Kartz and the excitable 11-year-old Australian kid became hooked on Harness Racing.
“The moment he sat behind a Kidz Kartz pony - that was it, said Mike Johnson. “Peter and Wendy were great. They really fuelled his fire. We had never seen anything like that in Australia.
“We couldn’t believe how much Mark had taken to the horses and then when he started driving Kidz Kartz winners that was it. We saw how passionate he was about driving,” Johnson’s father said.
Johnson worked for David Butcher, Graeme Rogerson & Peter Blanchard and then Todd Mitchell while he was at school before joining forces with Donnelly.
“It is a bit of a sacrifice leaving my family behind, but I’m excited and really want to make a good go of all the opportunities that will be put in front of me in Western Australia. It’s all about getting more drives and driving more winners,” Johnson said.
“I just want to put my name out there,” he added.
Mark Johnson's last win at Cambridge Raceway behind the Arna Donnelly-trained Glenferrie Duster on August 3, 2017.