John Henry, the 32-year-old legendary gelding who has been at the Kentucky Horse Park since 1985, was euthanized at 7 p.m. Oct. 8.
“The mighty heart of the great John Henry has, at long last, yielded to time," expressed John Nicholson, executive director of the Horse Park. "The racing industry has lost a legend, but more significantly, many people have lost a personal hero. John Henry’s true legacy was written in people’s hearts far more indelibly than his superlative racing career could ever reflect.
“John Henry was a testament to the fact a horse’s value is far greater than the sum of his pedigree, conformation, sales price, and race record," Nicholson said.
The sad, but unanimous, decision was reached by a team of people who knew him best.
The park’s equine director, Kathy Hopkins stated, “After continued successful efforts to maintain the quality of John Henry's life, in the past 48 hours he did not respond to our medical intervention. Due to the loss of kidney function and muscle mass, his veterinarian, Dr. Mike Beyer, found it impossible to keep him properly hydrated and comfortable.
"Over the years, our goal has always been to maintain the highest quality of care and life for him, and it became evident over the weekend that this was no longer possible. Our hearts go out to all of those who so deeply cared for John during his long and charismatic life.”
John Henry went peacefully to sleep surrounded by a small circle of friends who were closest to him, including Cathy Roby, who has been his friend and caretaker for 16 years and his breeder, Verna Lehmann.
John Henry overcame numerous well-known obstacles throughout his career, and colic surgery in 2002. His talent, determination, tenacity and toughness inspired thousands of people who didn’t even see him race, but became aware of him many years after his retirement.
On the track, John Henry was a two-time Horse of the Year as racing's "Blue Collar Hero" and won 39 of 83 races and $6,591,860. Sixteen of those wins came in grade I races.
He won the inaugural Arlington Million in 1981 in a thrilling finish over The Bart and won it again as a 9-year-old in 1984.
Bred in Kentucky by Golden Chance Farm, John Henry was foaled March 9 1975, and was a son of Ole Bob Bowers—Once Double, by Double Jay. For most of racing career, he was owned by Sam and Dorothy Rubin's Dotsam Stable and was trained by Ron McAnally.
McAnally, who brought out the best in the horse with “carrots, apples and love,” visited John Henry many times during the horse’s retirement and had just seen him again as recently as September, and brought John’s favorite cookies and carrots to his aging protégé. Lewis Cenicola, John Henry’s exercise rider for six years, also visited the horse in September.
In all, John Henry earned seven Eclipse Awards, two for Horse of the Year (1981 and 1984), four as turf male (1980, 1981, 1983, 1984) and one as top older male (1981). He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.
He won the last four races of his career in the summer and fall of 1984, taking the Sunset Handicap (gr. IT), Budweiser Arlington Million (gr. IT), Turf Classic (gr. IT), and $900,000 Ballantine Handicap at the Meadowlands.
Chris McCarron rode John Henry in 14 of his last races and has spent many hours with the horse during his 22 years at the park. Regarding the great horse’s passing, he observed, “What can I say about the legendary John Henry that has not already been said? John meant the world to my family and me. Everywhere he raced, his presence doubled the size of a normal race track crowd. He did so much for racing, even after he retired, that he will be impossible to replace. He will be sorely missed but forever in our hearts.”
A public memorial service will be held and will be announced by the park upon completion of the arrangements. Plans will be posted on the park’s website, www.kyhorsepark.com under News & Media and the Calendar of Events. John Henry will be buried near his paddock at the Hall of Champions.
Share your John Henry memories with other bloodhorse.com readers here.