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Johnson's competition in match race could be tougher than he looks

From Pro Football Weekly

Johnson's competition in match race could be tougher than he looks

By Mike Wilkening
June 7, 2007

Bengals WR Chad Johnson is racing against a horse on Saturday. We know all about Johnson, and we are not surprised.

But what do we know about the horse?

His name is Restore the Roar, and he was named after a Bengals cheer bearing the same moniker. He has yet to win a race, but he has one second-place finish and one third-place finish in five career starts. The 4-year-old gelding has raced from distances from three-quarters of a mile to a mile and 70 yards, and always on dirt. Saturday’s race, at Cincinnati’s River Downs racetrack, will be his first try on grass.

Johnson, a turf sprinter if there ever was one, will have a head start. He'll break from the outside rail of the turf course at the sixteenth pole and run to the finish line, 110 yards in all. Restore the Roar, with retired jockey Patricia Cooksey in the saddle, will be breaking from a starting gate set up an eighth of a mile, or 220 yards, from the wire.

Restore the Roar is used to having to make up a lot of ground. He has never officially held the lead at any point in any of his five starts, and he has been at least 4½ lengths behind the leader entering the stretch in all of his races.

However, should Johnson make any Calvin Borel-like peeks over his shoulder, he could be alarmed at what he sees. The horse will be quickly covering ground, likely more than 20 feet per stride.

“That adds up pretty fast,” said River Downs publicity director John Englehardt.

The idea is to produce a photo finish, which is exactly what happened the last time a Bengals receiver raced a horse. The year was 1993, the Bengal was Cris Collinsworth and the horse was a first-time starter who defeated the talkative wideout by a nose. Cooksey had the mount that day. Now the deputy executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, Cooksey joked that she was coming back to ride Restore the Roar because she was “undefeated against the Bengals and I plan on keeping it that way.”

This latest match race was the idea of Cincinnati radio host Andy Furman. Johnson, wanting to raise money for the charity Feed the Children, was game. Now they just needed four-legged competition.

That’s where Restore the Roar, son of Musical Dreamer and out-of-the-stakes-winning mare Princess Hawkins, comes in. The name made him a natural, as did his temperament. “You could probably blow a firecracker under his belly and he probably wouldn’t turn his head,” Englehardt said.

Englehardt approached the horse’s owner, Patricia Genn, who agreed to the race. She and her husband, Wilhelm, keep 15-20 show-jumping horses at Rheinland Farm in Lebanon, Ohio. They have only three of the racing variety, and Patricia Genn doesn’t rule out the possibility that Restore the Roar could change careers if he doesn’t take to racing. However, she believes the horse is simply going through a long, slow maturation process.

“He’s just figuring his job out,” she said.

Restore the Roar is coming off what may have been his worst race of his career, a six-furlong sprint vs. fellow Ohio-bred horses at River Downs on May 29. Restore the Roar was not quick enough to keep pace with the leaders, and he could not muster a closing kick in the stretch. He finished sixth in the field of 12, beaten by 14½ lengths.

Sprints, Genn admits, are not Restore the Roar’s game. “He can run all day,” she said. “Short distances, I don’t know.”

Advantage, Johnson.

Or is it?

If Restore the Roar takes to the grass, what a race Johnson could be in for, and what a race this could be. “His father’s biggest win was on the turf at River Downs,” Englehardt pointed out, referring to Musical Dreamer’s triumph in the Green Carpet Stakes 10 years ago.

The humans involved in this match race are primarily concerned with its charitable goals. River Downs is holding a silent auction of items autographed by Johnson, and the track will book “wagers” on the race, drawing winners for cash and prizes and donating some of the proceeds to Feed the Children. Also, Genn has pledged to donate a share of Restore the Roar’s future earnings to the charity.

To date, he’s made $4,354 for his owner. On dirt, he’s a one-paced plodder. On turf? No one knows, except maybe his daddy, and he isn’t talking. And that’s why Chad Johnson, who can cover 110 yards perhaps as fast as any human in the Cincinnati area, better not underestimate his competition, no matter what the racing form says.
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Ok So Chad's gonna race a horse. thats great, he just better not wind up looking like the horses rear!

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