"I had tears in my eyes, rolling down my face. It's exciting to win something like that. It takes so much work, and competition's so tough. When you finally do win something, it's unbelievable. That day I was so nervous, I knew I had a good horse. I won the qualifying class, and I was so nervous I was having chest pains. That's terrible, but my stomach was rolling," said Johnson.
As they narrowed down the final winners, sitting on their horses in the middle of the arena, he recalled their good sportsmanship and his anticipation.
"There were two of us left and one of us won it … and both of us were telling each other, 'Congratulations, you won.' We knew we both had pretty good horses, and when they called out his number … I sat there for a second to wait for them to call my number, and I threw my hat in the air. My daughter got tickled and said, 'You almost fell off your horse, Dad.' "
On a Foxtrotter mare called Flick of Sunrise, owned by Harold Johnson of Green Forest, Ark., he rode away with the two-horse Featherlite trailer, a cash prize of $5,700, a garland, trophy cup and blue ribbon.
The owner of Johnson's Stables, on Highway A south of Marshfield, Jamie Johnson has been in each Breeder's Cup competition since its beginning in 1997. He has consistently qualified and placed with horses which came from stallions whose Breeder's Cup fee had been paid up and who were nominated by the mare's owner. But, he has never won first.
This year, he not only won first with this mare, but he also came back with a third place in the four-year-old division with her half-brother, Major Sunrise, owned by Don and Connie Stockton, also of Marshfield. "The two-year-old division is your biggest division. They really concentrate on two-year-olds. That's where you win your most money and stuff like that," he said.
"We've had a good year this year. This is not normal. … We've won quite a lot this year, and it's just unbelievable. … There're not that many good show horses. You'll go through years where you'll have two or three good ones, and other years you'll have one good one, and some years you won't have any good ones," he added.
Johnson did not expect this outcome when he first started training Flick of Sunrise.
"When I got this mare, I wasn't that thrilled about her," he said. "She didn't show me much for a couple or three weeks. Then one day, she just kind of clicked and everything went together. She just started working with me, and every day went better and better and better."
Sixty days into her training, she won the mare division of the Mid-America show in Springfield, followed a month later by her win in Lebanon.
"Horses are like people," he explained. "Some people are athletes and some ain't. It's just few and far between. This mare's an exception. You might get one in a thousand that are as good as her. I've rode a lot of horses, and we've had good horses. … But, she's a two-year-old mare with 90 days training. She's just an exceptional mare with good breeding."
With any horse, including those such as Flick of Sunrise, Johnson said he tries several different strategies in their training.
"I work on gaits and head set, stuff like that. Not all things work for me. … Don't try to push one thing on the same horse. … We'll go through a night where we're trying something different all the time. Tighten the curve up; loosen the curve. Try a different bit. Pull it up to his mouth; let it out of his mouth. It's just amazing how much one little old thing will change a horse," he said.
At Johnson's Stables, this is not just Jamie Johnson's passion. His entire family - his wife, Elisa, daughter, Nicole, 11, step-daughter, Shianne Campbell, 10, and step-son, Josh Cross, 17 - all show horses. And Josh - who began showing when he was 5 - plans to follow Johnson into the business of horse training.
Elisa told of the moral support between her son - who had also entered the show - and her husband following the Breeder's Cup and her own excitement.
"They were walking out, and Jamie put his arm around my son and said, 'I'm sorry you got left out.' And he said, 'Oh no, I'm just happy that you won it.' It was a night to remember. Here, I'm on the sidelines coaching, and the crowd just went (wild)," she said. "It was just a moment that you'd never forget for the rest of your life."