by Erin Ryder
John Henry, the 32-year-old Thoroughbred who is the richest gelding in history, has had several good days following a tentative period at the end of last week, according to Cathy Roby, who manages the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park.
John gave his caretakers a scare when blood tests showed elevated levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine, indicating potential kidney problems. He was treated with intravenous fluids from Sept. 12-15, but more recent bloodwork has shown an improvement, and his handlers are now taking it a day at a time.
John Henry has had three good days in a row, but Roby is quick to caution that he's not out of the woods.
"You know it's inevitable, but you want to make sure it's not premature," Roby said. "If he gets to the point that he's miserable or suffering, the decision will be made. We've always hoped he'd make the decision for us.”
For now, John is being pampered, is allowed to eat whatever he wants (including doughnut holes, cookies, and chocolate candy), and is enjoying a constant supply of fresh, cold water.
"We're giving him anything he'll eat," Roby said. "At this point, it's not going to hurt him."
A veterinarian is monitoring John's blood tests every other day, and he's receiving a little Banamine—not for any particular pain, Roby said, but because he seems to generally eat and move a little better when on it.
His walks through the Park have been suspended.
According to Kathy Hopkins, Director of Equine Operations at the Horse Park, John was first placed on fluids during a heat wave that hit Kentucky in mid-August.
"He had some problems earlier (this summer) when we had that horrible heat," Hopkins said. "He's a Cushings horse, so sometimes just trying to keep him in balance with his electrolytes and all that, is, of course, more difficult with a Cushings horse, just like an elderly person. So we were doing exactly would you would do for an elderly person if they had a little bit of an electrolyte imbalance—you put them on fluids to straighten them out.”
Roby said many of John's fans came to see him last weekend, responding to media coverage of his IV treatment. One man drove overnight to Lexington from Toledo, Ohio, in order to be at the Park when it opened in the morning.
When the time comes, John will be interred outside the Hall of Champions, his home for the past 22 years. Roby said a commemorative statue and garden honoring the horse have been planned.
John Henry was twice Thoroughbred Horse of the Year (1981 and 1984), won $6.5 million, and is still the richest gelding in Thoroughbred racing history. He can still be seen by the public at the Hall of Champions.