A life-sized bronze statue of the legendary John Henry will be unveiled by his Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally at Santa Anita Park’s picturesque paddock gardens Dec. 26, opening day of the track's 75th anniversary meet.
Santa Anita Park announced the unveiling plan Dec. 4. John Henry's statue will join that of Seabiscuit in the paddock gardens area.
Sculpted by Nina Kaiser, the statue stands at John Henry’s height, 15.2 hands, and weighs 1,000 pounds, roughly the same as the Hall of Fame gelding did during his racing career. Commissioned by Santa Anita and Oak Tree Racing Association, Kaiser worked on the project for more than two years.
A dark bay foal born March 9, 1975, John Henry was a Kentucky-bred son of the lightly regarded Ole Bob Bowers, out of the Double Jay mare Once Double. An irascible youngster devoid of fashionable pedigree, his owners decided to geld him as a yearling.
Purchased as a 3-year-old for a paltry $25,000 by Dorothy and Sam Rubin, he was soon transferred to the Southern California-based McAnally, where John Henry would go on to become a superstar of the American turf, winning the inaugural Arlington Million in 1981 and becoming the first two-time winner of the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) in 1981 and ’82.
When he was retired in 1985, John Henry was Thoroughbred racing’s all-time leading money-earner with $6,591,860.
“Without a doubt, John Henry was one of the most popular horses to ever compete here at Santa Anita and he probably meant more to our sport and to our business than any other horse you can think of in the 1980s,” said Santa Anita President Ron Charles. “He was immensely popular with our fans because I think people related to him on so many levels.
“He came from the wrong side of the tracks, he was hard-working, and he was just so incredibly game; he could be ornery and he didn’t like to be pampered," Charles added. "He was an over-achiever who consistently beat the best-bred horses in the world and people loved him for that. Additionally, he was able to perform at the highest level for so long. He was truly iconic and on top of that, Ron McAnally did a great job with him and with the media as well. John Henry keynoted a tremendous run of success here at Santa Anita and like Seabiscuit, we are proud to be able to present his likeness for our fans to enjoy for generations to come.”
In addition to his victories in the Big ’Cap, John Henry’s other Santa Anita stakes wins included the 1980 San Gabriel Handicap, the Oak Tree Turf Championship in 1980, ’81 and ’82, and the San Luis Rey Handicap in 1980 and ’81.
Inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1990, John Henry was voted the Eclipse as Horse of the Year in 1981, and in 1984, when he was 9. In addition, he was the Eclipse Champion Older Horse in 1981 and Eclipse Champion Turf Horse in 1980, ’81, ’83, and ’84.
He was ranked number 23 on BloodHorse Magazine’s Top 100 U.S. racehorses of the 20th century.
John Henry resided continuously at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., from August of 1986 until his death at the age of 32, on Oct. 8, 2007.
The John Henry statue unveiling will take place in the paddock gardens following the third race on opening day. First post time is set for 11:30 a.m.