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John Henry

Written by Presley White

The story of the legendry gelding named John Henry will be forever in the minds and hearts of all horse lovers. He is the only two time winner of the prestigious Arlington Million. He also won the great Santa Anita Handicap. He was one of the oldest graded stakes racers. It is a story full of defeat and triumph.

John Henry was foaled on March 9, 1975 at Golden Chance Farm in Paris, Kentucky. His sire, Ole Bob Bowers, had won only one stakes race, the Tanforan Handicap, and his dam, Once Double, was an unplaced daughter of 1946 co-Juvenile Champion Double Jay. He also had a far from beautiful conformation, with calf knees. He would be branded an outcast, a horse no one wanted.

When he was a young horse he would pull his metal water and feed troughs off of his stall as stomp them into the ground, smashing them flat. The folktale of the metal driver John Henry was the inspiration for his name.

The colt also had a horrible temperament inherited from his sire. He was vicious to everyone who messed with him. He was consigned along with some other “undesirables” to a cheap sale at Keenland. Before he went into the ring he had a fit, and busted open his head. He was covered in blood and sold for a mere 1,100 dollars to a man named John Calloway.

As he matured his bad knees as well as his horrid temperament worsened. Grooms and trainers refused to work with him for fear of their lives. John Henry was never saddled in the time that Calloway owned him.

Mr. Calloway decided that he could do nothing more with the colt. So, John Henry was sent back down to Keenland and even though he was not a bloody mess he still only brought a $2,200 bid to Harold Snowden Jr.

Snowden made the decision to have the colt gelded because of his bad manners. Snowden hoped that castration may calm him down and make him manageable. The only time that he was happy was when he was allowed to run. Gelding him did not help much and Snowden sold the gelding for 10,000 dollars to three Louisiana men.

The men would put John Henry in the care of trainer Phil Marino. In his first start John Henry broke his maiden at the now non-operational Jefferson Downs. John Henry decided that it would be a good idea to walk out of the starting gates that day and he was still able to catch the other horses in time to win. Marino liked the performance enough to enter John Henry in the Lafayette Futurity. It was a muddy track that was under a hurricane warning but the horse just kept running winning his first stakes race. Just as the gelding looked like he might actually be a racer he lost nine straight races, prompting his owners to trade him back to Snowden. Snowden also had no luck with him so he too sold John Henry, this time to Sam Rubin.

Rubin had John Henry sent to trainer Bob Donato. Donato put the gelding on the turf shortly after receiving him. John Henry shocked everyone when went on to win 6 of his next 19 races, and after starting with Donato as a low-level claimer, John Henry wrapped the season up as a stakes winner who'd earned about $120,000 that year.

With the new racing season came yet another new trainer, Lefty Nickerson. When the New York turf season ended Rubin decided to move John Henry to another track so that he could continue running him on the turf.

Nickerson recommended his good friend for the job, Ron McAnally, who trained on the west coast; John switched trainers again and was shipped out to California. John Henry went on to win six stakes races in a row under his new trainer. The relationship between the soft-spoken McAnally and John Henry was a solid one; their success that first year wasn't just luck. McAnally seemed to understand the gelding, and John Henry showed his happiness in his performances. Because of McAnally, John would finish the season that followed with eight wins in twelve starts, and John Henry would hit the board in every single start of the year

Over the next four years John Henry would become one of the most loved racehorses in the world. He won the Santa Anita Handicap two times, the Arlington Million twice (finishing second in another running). He won stakes races on both the dirt and turf. John Henry also one an amazing and well deserving seven Eclipse Awards including two Horse of the Year Titles.

In 1984, after seven years of racing and at the ripe old age of nine, fate stepped in to remind The Steel Driving Man to pay his dues. After four straight stakes wins, John Henry was aiming for the inaugural Breeders' Cup Turf for his final start before retiring, but he suffered an injury that forced his retirement a month earlier than planned. A brief attempt was made in 1985 towards a comeback, but John Henry was re-injured and his retirement was made permanent.

John Enjoying retirement at the Kentucky Horse Park. These pictures were
taken in the summer of 2007, just a few months before he passed away.

Upon retirement, he was sent to the Hall Of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park where he resided until his death on October 8, 2007, at the ripe old age of thirty-two. He was euthanized due to complications of Cushings Disease, dehydration, and old age.

John Henry Facts:
Owner: Samuel and Dorothy Rubin (Dotsam Stables)
Breeder: Golden Chance Farms
Race Record: 83:39:15:9
Earnings: $6,591,860
Sire: Old Bob Bowers
Dam: Once Double
Favorite Snack: Chocolate Covered Donots
Career Highlights:
• Won Seven Eclipse Awards:
o 1980 Turf Male
o 1981 Horse of the Year
o 1981 Handicap Horse
o 1981 Turf Male
o 1983 Turf Male
o 1984 Horse of the Year
o 1984 Turf Male
• Won the Santa Anita Handicap twice
• Won the Arlington Million twice and placed second once