Written by Presley White
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
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
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
taken in the summer of 2007, just a few months before he passed
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.
Owner: Samuel and Dorothy Rubin (Dotsam Stables)
Breeder: Golden Chance Farms
Race Record: 83:39:15:9
Sire: Old Bob Bowers
Dam: Once Double
Favorite Snack: Chocolate Covered Donots
• 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