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Shelby County is known for the showy Saddlebreds that will compete this week at the Shelbyville Horse Show, but that doesn’t mean the state’s more dominant breed, the Thoroughbred, doesn’t have a legacy here, too.
That legacy, in fact, is growing a bit, thanks to a 2-year-old bred and born in Shelby who recent blazed his way not only to a victory in England but to a course record as well.
No Nay Never and his jockey, Joel Rosario, set a record of 58.8 seconds for the 5-furlong Norfolk Stakes, which is part of a series of races known as the Royal Ascot in London.
No Nay Never upset the 9-4 favorite Coach House and posted the fastest time for a juvenile, wiping out 59.7 seconds.
Shelby County residents David Sparrow and Jayne Johnson, who along with her husband, Mike Johnson, operate Johnson and Johnson Farms, bred the colt in 2011 and sold him privately as a weanling.
No Nay Never then was offered for sale in the 2011 November Breeding Stock sale at Keeneland and now is owned by Linda Shanahan, the wife of Coolmore Stud associate Paul Shanahan, and Ice Wine Stable in New York.
No Nay Never’s father, Scat Daddy, is owned by Ashford Stud in Versailles, the American arm of Ireland-based Thoroughbred breeding operation Coolmore Stud. His dam is Cat’s Eye Witness by Elusive Quality.
“He turned out to be an exceptional baby,” Jayne Johnson said.
The horse, taking its name from the famous Irish drinking song “The Wild Rover,” couldn’t have picked a bigger stage to emerge victorious on. The Royal Ascot is one of England’s largest and most prestigious horse races and is associated closely with Britain’s royal family, and family members including Queen Elizabeth the II regularly attend. More than 500,000 people attend races at Ascot every year.
Johnson said she takes a lot of pride in breeding one of only three American-bred horses in history to win at the Royal Ascot.
“Oh, I take a huge amount of pride; it’s a big deal, a huge deal as a breeder,” Johnson said.
She attended No Nay Never’s maiden victory at a race on April 26 at Keeneland and said she’s followed the horse’s success closely. Sadly, she couldn’t make it to England for the race or watch it on television because she was traveling. She did, however, have the race told to her over the phone as it happened by a friend.
“That was pretty exciting,” Johnson said.
Making history as it turns out also helps pay the bills. Johnson said as a result of the victory her business will see a boost.
“That makes his dam more valuable…and there are breeder awards through the Kentucky Breeders Association that we get for races won and stuff like that, so economically, it has a very big impact,” Johnson said.
No Nay Never, who is trained by Wesley A. Ward, returned to America shortly after the race and is continuing his training. And he will make the long journey across the Atlantic again soon. On Aug. 18 he is expected to race in the Prix Morny in Deauville, France.