John Henry | Horse Profile

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John Henry

John Henry had a remarkable career for being an undersized, plainly-bred colt. He won 39 of 83 races from 1977 through 1984, including 16 Grade 1 wins and 30 stakes wins overall. He was a two-time Horse of the Year winner and won seven Eclipse awards overall. He beat the best on turf and dirt.

John Henry was foaled on March 9, 1975 at Golden Chance Farm in Paris, Kentucky. He passed through several owners and trainers, and raced mostly in claiming and allowance races as a 3-year-old. Late in 1979 as a 4-year-old, owner Sam Rubin shipped John Henry from the East Coast after the grass season to Santa Anita, where trainer Ron McAnally took over. There John Henry would begin to flourish, and he won six straight stakes races to start his 5-year-old campaign in 1980. He won eight of his 12 races, and was named champion turf horse.

In 1981, John Henry won his first four starts out West, including the Santa Anita Handicap. On August 30, he would win the Arlington Million in one of his most famous finishes. A bronze statue called ‘Against All Odds’ stands on a balcony overlooking the paddock at Arlington Park, commemorating John Henry’s side-by-side finish and nose victory over The Bart. John Henry then won the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park at 1 ½ miles on the dirt. The victory clinched his first Horse of the Year title and he won three Eclipse Awards in 1981.

Injury limited John Henry to six starts as a 7-year-old, though it was still enough time to win the Santa Anita Handicap and Oak Tree Handicap again. He also missed most of the next year, but victory in the Hollywood Turf Cup in December saw him pass $4 million in earnings and earned him Turf Horse of the Year.

Returning as a 9-year-old in 1984, John Henry put the seal on his greatness. After a few minor placings, John Henry dominated his opponents in the second half of the season, winning his last four starts, including another Arlington Million and the Belmont Turf Handicap He rounded his career out with victory in the Ballantine’s Scotch Classic Handicap. He finished with 39 victories from 83 starts, record earnings of more than $6.5 million. He was named Turf Horse of the Year for a fourth time, and Horse of the Year for a second – the oldest ever to win that award.

John Henry was voted Racehorse of the Decade for the 1980s, and he was inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1990.

After spending most of his retirement at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, John Henry died at the age of 32 in 2007. 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.