John Henry – King of the Turf

On the 8th of October 2007, the horse racing industry bid farewell to one of their racing greats and a living legend, John Henry. He did not start out as a racing favorite and many did not think that he had the right qualities to become a successful racehorse. His fiery personality and uncontrollable stable manners made him more of a nuisance then an asset, but all John Henry needed was someone to see past his outbursts, to love him and encourage him.

On the 8th of October 2007, the horse racing industry bid farewell to one of their racing greats and a living legend, John Henry. He did not start out as a racing favorite and many did not think that he had the right qualities to become a successful racehorse. His fiery personality and uncontrollable stable manners made him more of a nuisance then an asset, but all John Henry needed was someone to see past his outbursts, to love him and encourage him.

John Henry was born on 9 March 1975, at Golden Chance Farms. His breeding was not of the greatest as his sire, Old Bob Bowers, was a $900 stallion known for his awkward disposition and his dam, Once Double, was worth more as a broodmare than on the race track. He was sold for a mere $1 100. Having a foul temper and the nasty habit of destroying steel feeding buckets and water buckets, he was named after the steel driving folklore legend, John Henry. His first owner, Harold Snowden Jr., made the decision to geld John Henry in the hopes that it would make him calmer and easier to manage off the track, but that was not to be. Snowden sold John Henry to three new horse owners, but before long, he was back in Snowden’s stable yard. And this is where John Henry’s luck was about to change.

Snowden employed an agent to sell John Henry on his behalf. Sam Rubin and his wife, Dorothy, bought him over the phone for $25 000, not even having laid eyes on him. Horse trainer Bob Donato first trained John Henry, and it was during this time that his horse racing potential was discovered. Small and lacking all the physical qualities of a prime racehorse, John Henry started winning races. Under the care of his second trainer, Lefty Nickerson, he won four races, and at the end of the grass season Ron McAnally was brought in as trainer. And from here, as they say, the rest is history.

In his racing career, until the age of ten, John Henry raked in eighty-three starts, won thirty-nine races and had a total earnings of over $6 million. He retired as the highest earning racehorse in the history of thoroughbred racing and won the coveted title of Horse of the Year twice! The Eclipse Award was won by John Henry seven times and secured his place in horse racing history. After his retirement, John Henry spent his last twenty-two years in the care of the Kentucky Horse Park, where thousands of fans visited him and still adored him for the champion he was. At the age of thirty-two, old injuries and bad health finally got the better of the fighter and the decision was made to euthanize him.

John Henry not only left behind a legacy of being a horse racing champion, but left us with a moral lesson that we all can learn from. He proved that it is not breeding, class or physical strength and beauty that determine a champion, but heart, spirit, determination and belief in yourself. John Henry was the king of the turf. He won races and won respect, but in true John Henry style he lived and won on his own terms.