By: Annise Montplaisir
When it comes to horse racing, unpredictability is a given. Preparation, ability and chance play equal roles in the careers of racehorses, and are also aspects taken into consideration when betting. Johnny Love, handicapper for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is no stranger to unpredictability. The skilled former athlete with a passion for horse racing has encountered his share of it, undergoing an unforeseen career transition from professional wrestler to racehorse handicapper.
Love became interested in wrestling at a young age, watching the sport on television as a kid. After playing multiple sports throughout high school, Love went on to play four years of football and two years of baseball for Concordia College in St. Paul, Minn. Graduating in 1985, Love’s interest in wrestling was realized once again when he audited an Eddie Sharkey wrestling camp his friend was participating in. Barely a year after graduation, Love was wrestling in his first match at the Minneapolis armory where he made a “whopping” $50. Just six months after his first match, Love was headed to Europe.
Wrestling is an active sport, so skill and athleticism play vital roles in the success of a wrestler. However, as Love explained, wrestling is just as much about being a good entertainer as a good wrestler. Each wrestling match tells a story, and competitors in the ring play a role.
While horse racing uses the words longshot and favorite to describe horses in a race, wrestling uses baby face and heel to describe the wrestlers in a match. A baby face is essentially portrayed as the “good guy” in a wrestling match- the individual who the audience is rooting for. The heel is the exact opposite- the “bad guy.” Love explained that your role in a match as the baby face or heel is determined by your looks, personality, and the match promoters.
While wrestling in the United States, Love was depicted as a baby face, but wrestled as a heel when he made the move to Europe. Love’s eight years in professional wrestling were passed competing in the United States, Europe, and Calgary, Alberta. The divisions he wrestled in spanned from the American Wrestling Association (AWA), the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), and exhibiting at independent shows.
But as with many high level athletes, temptations can interfere and cause one to lose focus. Drugs and alcohol prompted Love to opt for a career change. But when one door closes another opens, and for Love that came in the form of a gym called Los Campeones. Love moved back to Minneapolis from Calgary in 1989 and purchased Los Campeones. He ran the Minneapolis gym and continued wrestling until 1993 when he retired from the sport for good to focus on the gym.
Love continued with Los Campeones for 16 years. Amidst running the gym he adopted two children from Korea with his wife Shawn, and launched a restaurant beer line cleaning business called All Systems Clean. In 2006, Love sold Los Campeones to an employee in order to spend more time with family. He became a stay-at-home dad of sorts while working as a personal trainer to a handful of his former gym clients.
So how does a wrestler/businessman/stay-at-home dad get into horse racing? For Love the attraction to the sport grew gradually, and began way back in the 1970s.
“I remember watching Secretariat in the 70s,” said Love. “And I came here [to Canterbury Park] as a college student in 1985 when it was called Canterbury Downs.”
Living at Los Campeones gym for a period of time after purchasing it, Love began watching races and reading the Daily Racing Form. Learning to handicap racehorses can take years, but studying paid off for Love- literally when he nailed a $36,000 pick six at Hollywood Park in 2008. Thus, his handicapping career began. “I knew I was halfway decent at handicapping,” said Love. “And the more I studied I knew I was getting better at it.”
In 2011 Love was hired as the handicapper for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and has been picking winners for Canterbury Park racing fans ever since. Love says that Canterbury is his favorite track in the country with its unique family-friendly environment. “[Canterbury Park] is really family oriented,” says Love. “The racing has gotten better each year, and everyone is very friendly. Atmosphere is big.”
As with many sports, horse racing has its ups and downs- especially when it comes to handicapping. “If you lose you lose- don’t take it too seriously,” explained Love. “And if you win just don’t get too high about it. Try not to at least.” Love explained that consistency is the key to success when handicapping racehorses.
Innovation is a vital component when it comes to the success of any sport, and horse racing is a prime example of that. “The horse racing industry is getting younger people involved, and that is a big plus,” says Love. The experience of horse racing is in large part what makes it stand out from other sports. The rush of watching a race and the electricity of the crowd lasts even longer than a winning bet. “Take the Kentucky Derby for example,” says Love. “It’s the most exciting two minutes in sports. The experience lasts a lot longer than cashing a ticket”
Love has made a point of broadening his own experience in the horse racing industry beyond handicapping. He now owns a share of a racehorse- a 3-year-old filly named Lil Zila who will be racing at Saratoga racetrack in New York on Monday.
Johnny Love has changed professions numerous times throughout his life. Where does he see himself in the future? “I can see myself being 80 and still writing for the Star [Tribune],” says Love. “I see myself moving forward doing more stuff with Canterbury, and I would definitely like to handicap other tracks too.”
From the wrestling ring to the racetrack, Johnny Love has seen a thing or two in his lifetime. But no matter your profession, you get out of it what you put in. “It’s all about having a passion,” says Love. “You just have to love what you do.”