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Does Anyone Remember John Henry?

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  • Does Anyone Remember John Henry?

    Here's what I know about John Henry: He was a plain brown TB of unremarkable breeding. Nobody expected him to do much on the track, but he won a lot--including the Santa Anita Handicap, one of only three horses at the time to have won that particular race twice. When he retired in 1985 he was very popular as a horse for "the little guy" in America, kind of a hard-scrabble "people's horse." I'd appreciate any other recollections or information about this "rags to riches" guy...especially if any of you may have seen him up close.

  • #2
    Saw him at the horse park, i don't even know what year it was. He was such a classy little guy...and he scanned the crowd and looked all the horse people right in the eye, as if to say, you'll do.
    "You can't really debate with someone who has a prescient invisible friend"
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    • #3
      Go to Bloodhorse and search John Henry. You will find some good articles on John. He was special.

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      • #4
        Oh how I loved John Henry! I can still here tha race announcer "and here comes John Henry!". He was great. One of those horses that always brought excitement to a race.

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        • #5
          A true "come from behind" horse.

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          • #6
            I think I read that he was very nasty so they gelded him. It didn't help so they gave up on him but someone saw his talent and drew it out. I don't think he was ever a "nice" personality but was appreciative of those he loved.

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            • #7
              He was twice Horse of the Year in non-consecutive years (1981, '84), which puts him in very limited company along with Native Dancer (1952, '54) and California Chrome (2014, '16).

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Henry_(horse)
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              • #8
                Saw him win his second Arlington Million, and then many times at the horse park (we always visit the Hall of Champions during Rolex). He was a unique boy, that's for sure! As I recall, he got pretty tubby during retirement, as most of them seem to.
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                • #9
                  Basque's sire, Bounding Basque, raced against him way back. Bounding Basque was also one of those war horse types who raised for four-five years.

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                  • #10
                    I saw him at Kentucky Horse Park. He was a bit nasty, saw him try to bite the groom who went in to bring him out.

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                    • #11
                      Do a quick Google search and you'll find a lot about him. I saw him once at the Kentucky Horse Park, little plain bay, nicely balanced but not a horse that would catch your eye standing still.

                      Here's a short version IIRC, and my memory isn't perfect - he sold at Keeneland January as a short yearling for $1,100, resold at Keeneland the following January for $2,200. That buyer was a Kentucky outfit that started horses for the track and sold them, they broke him, got him ready to run or close to it, sold him for @$25k and he won a couple of races for the new owner, who then asked to return him because he kept ripping feed tubs and water buckets off the wall and destroying them. The Kentucky folks took him back (I think traded the owner for another horse) and then sold him to Sam Rubin for @$25k, probably thinking they had finally found a sucker.

                      Sam Rubin sent him to Lefty Nickerson in New York, who really turned him around. The Rubins liked to winter in California and asked Nickerson about sending him to a trainer out there part of the year. Nickerson recommended Ron McAnally, and John Henry alternated between the two trainers for a year or two, with increasing success, until he finally stayed in McAnally's barn year-round.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by mroades View Post
                        Saw him at the horse park, i don't even know what year it was. He was such a classy little guy...and he scanned the crowd and looked all the horse people right in the eye, as if to say, you'll do.
                        I saw him there too. Great description!

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                        • #13
                          I too saw him at the Kentucky Horse Park. Seemed to love crowd. His handler, not so much.....still full of the devil.
                          Groom to trainer: "Where's the glamour? You promised me glamour!"

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                          • #14
                            I met John at the Kentucky Horse Park in 1987. My mother was with me that day, and she took a picture of me with him. I was impressed; John wasn't. Plain bay, but when you looked at the expression and the eyes, he knew who he was. My non horsey mother was impressed with him, too. She said, "I never knew before that a horse could look sardonic."

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                            • #15
                              He sure could run. That made up for his bad personality and a conformation that looked like it was randomly assembled by a small child. His conformation was as bad as his personality, but he could run. His winnings are still up there among the highest won even though he raced decades ago.
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                              • #16
                                Saw a number of his races. Such a cool horse with a perfect name. It was the first horse his owner Sam Rubin ever owned! Talk about luck. Mr.Rubin got a lot of stick for not buying others with the over $6 million JH won. Pretty hard act to follow. Rubin did finally buy another horse a few years ago.

                                John Henry died at 32 in 2007 at the Horse Park. His sire Ole Bob Bowers was the leading sire in the early 80s thanks to JH and the Arlington Million. It didn't help get Ole Bob a bigger book of mares, lol.

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                                • #17
                                  We decided to leave Houston in the mid 1980s, and visited a number of cities around the country. Driving down I-64, we saw a sign for the Kentucky Horse Park, and went in. It was a lovely late afternoon, right before closing, and no one was around. We saw the sign for the Hall of Champions, walked in, and there was JOHN HENRY! He was just as nasty and oddly put together as I had always heard, and we were enchanted. John Henry and the Horse Park tipped the scales in favor of relocating to Louisville, and we have never regretted it.

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                                  • #18
                                    Ahhh, John Henry! What a racehorse. His nickname was 'The Squirrel' which I think pretty much summed up one of his personality quirks....

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                                    • #19
                                      I saw John Henry at the Kentucky Horse Park some years ago. Even had my picture taken with him.
                                      He didn't stay in the ring long because he was a bit grumpy so the handler took him back to his stall before he got really grumpy.

                                      As a side note, have any TB specialists figured out what contributed to his success in spite of having odd conformation and unremarkable breeding the way some people describe him? Did he have a huge heart like Secretariat, i.e. an engine that was bigger than everyone else's? Or do people think something else was going on?


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                                      • #20
                                        I saw him at the Horse Park just a few days after he arrived there. It was a quiet day, and I spent some time talking with his groom, who was trying to figure out how to get him to use his paddock....at first, he would just stand in the open stall door and not venture out, and if led out he'd go right back in as soon as he was loose. And he seemed to be every bit as grumpy as I'd heard. I'm guessing he finally relaxed enough to venture outside on his own.
                                        "Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them."
                                        -Richard S. Bach

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