Viva Le Don had won more than $300,000 running in straight races, but trainer Tammy Johnson had a gut feeling that he might just like going around the hook at 870 yards. She was right.

Viva Le Don won the Grade 2, $38,148 AQHA Remington Park Distance Challenge at 870 yards Sunday night and beat the 2020 AQHA Distance Champion, the best hook horse in the country, Madewell, in the process.

“He had a great career down the lane,” said Johnson. “And now he’s learning to run 870 with the top class hook horses. That’s hard to do. I knew he could. I thought, ‘We’ll give him a couple of trips and he’ll figure it out.’ He did because he is so smart. I trained a lot of the same horses from his family and they all loved 870s.”

Jockey Josh Romero broke second from the gate behind front-running Higher Flyin Eagle, the 3-2 betting favorite, and stalked him into the stretch. As they approached the finish line, Higher Flyin Eagle faded to third and Viva Le Don pounced. The 5-year-old gelded son of Rock Solid Jess, out of the PYC Paint Your Wagon mare Viva Arriba, won by daylight, beating the runner-up, Illtakeyouforaride (5-2) by 2-1/2 lengths. The second place horse wound up 3-3/4 lengths ahead of Higher Flyin Eagle. Viva Le Don was sent off at 4-1 odds and paid $10.80 to win, $4.40 to place and $2.40 to show. Madewell (5-2), last year’s top horse at this distance, was coming off four wins in a row at the Downs at Albuquerque last fall to gain his AQHA championship. His record is not as impressive at Remington Park, now 2-for-14 around the hook.

Viva Le Don’s campaign last year included three straight stakes wins at Retama Park in San Antonio, two at 550 yards and one at 440 yards.

“Tammy and I talked before the race and we agreed that we would let him do whatever he wanted,” said Romero. “That’s what we did and it worked out well. Finishing fourth in his only other 870 race had nothing to do with the mud, really. He had a wide post position in the 7-hole and it was just a matter of keeping him under control to make the turn. Tonight, he broke well and was perfect around the turn. The rest was all him, not me.”
Johnson begged to differ.
“Josh was the key,” she said. “He is excellent going around the hook. He’s very patient.”
Running time for the winner was :45.611 on a fast track for a speed index of 91. He earned $18,311 for his owner, Rocking J Running Horses and improved his record to 25 starts, seven wins, three seconds and seven thirds for lifetime earnings of $359,382. He was bred in Texas by Jack Manning and Johnson.
The victory in the Remington Park Distance Challenge is the second in the race for Johnson, who also saddled CJs Rocksolid to victory 2017. Owner, Rocking J Running Horses also owned CJs Rocksolid. Romero won his third race in the series, as he won last year on Higher Flyin Eagle and was aboard CJs Rocksolid in 2017.

Live racing continues next week with a Thursday-Sunday, April 29-May 2, schedule with first post time of 6 p.m. nightly, except for Saturday. Next Saturday, May 1, is Kentucky Derby Day and Remington Park will have a special Noon post time for live racing that day.

Tracked by more than 165,000 fans on Facebook and 10,400 Twitter followers, Remington Park has provided more than $260 Million to the State of Oklahoma general education fund since the opening of the casino in 2005. Located at the junction of Interstates 35 & 44, in the heart of the Oklahoma City Adventure District, Remington Park is home to the $1 million Heritage Place Futurity on May 29. Visit for more information.