California Breeder Buddy Johnston Dies At 77

by | 05.05.2015 | 7:00pm
Buddy Johnston (right) celebrates with trainer Don Warren after Acclamation's victory in the 2012 Eddie Read. (Benoit Photo)

E.W. “Buddy” Johnston, owner of Old English Rancho in Sanger, Calif., died peacefully in his sleep Tuesday morning, one day shy of his 78th birthday.

Mr. Johnston bred and owned 2011 Eclipse champion older male Acclamation, among other graded stakes-winning horses. He served as director and president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association for over 25 years and was inducted into the CBTA Hall of Fame in 2012.

In 2007, he was given Hollywood Park's Laffit Pincay Jr. Award, an award bestowed upon an individual “who has served the sport with integrity, extraordinary dedication, determination and distinction.”

Mr. Johnston was the son of E.B. “The Pie Man” Johnston, founder of Old English Rancho in the 1940s. The farm has been one of the most prolific Thoroughbred breeding operations in California for decades; it has been named California's leading breeder 13 times and has bred over 200 stakes winners. Mr. Johnston and his wife Judy took over the day-to-day operations of the farm in 1957.

Originally based in Chino and then Ontario before being moved to Sanger, Old English Rancho stood stallions The Pie King, Fleet Nasrullah, Windy Sands and Lucky Mel, among others. Its current roster includes Acclamation, Cyclotron, Surf Cat, Vronsky and Big Bad Leroybrown.

“He was my best friend, my buddy, my partner,” said trainer Bruce Headley, who for over a half century has done business with Mr. Johnston and, before that, his father. “I just saw him two days ago. He was so happy, so full of life. He had new knees put in and he was doing so well. He had just come back from the ranch and told us how many great horses we have up there. He said it was the greatest bunch of horses he's ever raised.”

Headley said the death leaves “a big hole in California racing and breeding,” especially if the Johnston family chooses not to continue to operate the business. “You just don't have soil and water and pastures and people like Old English Rancho,” he said. “You can't believe how many horses he raises for other people. Sometimes you'll have seven or eight horses out of a maiden race that were raised at Old English. That soil, that water and Buddy's knowledge are irreplaceable.

“He was very honest, very knowledgable, and always enthusiastic,” said Headley. “He truly loved horses. He was nice to people and always a gentleman, always smiling.”

Mr. Johnston is survived by Judy, his wife of 58 years; daughters Darlene Johnston Smith and Mary Johnston Hilvers; five grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. One of the grandchildren, Jonny Hilvers, serves as manager of Old English Rancho.

According to Santa Anita media, services for Johnston will be held Tuesday, May 12, 1:30 p.m. at Forest Lawn, 1712 S. Glendale. The viewing will be Monday, May 11, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the viewing room at Forest Lawn. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to Miraglo Foundation founded by Dr. Erminia M. Guarneri, P.O. Box 1270, La Jolla, CA 92038, and/or Scripps Health Foundation “Campaign for Cardiovascular Care,” 10666 N. Torrey Pines Rd., La Jolla, CA 92037.

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