Michael Blowen, president and founder of Old Friends, announced the Thoroughbred retirement facility would partner with Bill Oster and the Kentucky Horse Park to create a privately funded memorial for John Henry, who was euthanized Oct. 8 due to the infirmities of old age. He was 32.
John Henry (Ole Bob Bowers--Once Double, by Double Jay), famous for his cantankerous disposition, was a two-time Horse of the Year. He retired in 1985 with earnings of more than $6.5 million.
“John Henry was special to the park, he was special to racing, and his story is just a great one, regardless of whether you are into racing or not,” said Oster in a release. Oster has been a park volunteer the past 10 years and was one of John’s primary caretakers. “He was the people’s horse, he was a blue-collar horse, he didn’t have a lot of breeding, and he overcame every obstacle he ever had in his life.”
Oster said the idea of a memorial has been in the works since 2002, when John Henry nearly succumbed to colic and underwent surgery.
"At first I thought we needed to do something very grand," said Oster. "But then, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that any memorial needed to be unpretentious and simple, just like John was himself.”
The memorial, pending approval from the park commission, will consist of a landscaped sitting area outside John’s former paddock at the Horse Park’s Hall of Champions and will include an understated monument to be sculpted by local equine artist Shelley Hunter.
For its role in the project Old Friends, a nonprofit organization that is home to nearly 30 retired Thoroughbred champions, has opened a John Henry Memorial Fund at the Citizen’s Commerce Bank in Kentucky to receive donations for the tribute.
“One of the reasons I first came to Kentucky was to see John Henry,” said Blowen, originally from Boston. “It was his fan following at the Hall of Champions that inspired the formation of Old Friends. We’re so proud to be associated with this memorial and to be instrumental in honoring one of the greatest horses of our time.”
Donations may be made payable to the John Henry Memorial Fund and sent to Old Friends, 1841 Paynes Depot Road, Georgetown, KY 40324. For additional information, contact Michael Blowen at (502) 863-1775 or Bill Oster at 502-316-0980.