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John Henry

2005-10-313-JohnHenry-BillMochon small.jpg

John Henry (Bill Mochon photo)
John Henry
Induction Year: 
Golden Chance Farm
Dotsam Stable
Phil Marino; Victor J. Nickerson; Robert A. Donato; Ronald L. McAnally
Ole Bob Bowers
Once Double
Double Jay
Career Years: 

Tab Wrapper


John Henry was an undersized gelding that lacked ideal conformation and the product of an undistinguished sire out of an obscure mare. Sold for $1,100 at Keeneland in January of 1976, John Henry outran his pedigree in an astonishing career that resulted in him becoming one of the most accomplished and popular racehorses of the 20th century with career earnings of $6,951,860, which set an all-time record.


Bred by Golden Chance Farm in Kentucky, John Henry was a son of Ole Bob Bowers out of the Double Jay mare Once Double. John Henry had a series of trainers until finding his greatest success with Ron McAnally. He made his living early in his career with workmanlike efforts in minor stakes, allowance races and mid-level claiming races.


In 1978, New York City businessman Sam Rubin paid $25,000 for John Henry and campaigned him in the name of Dotsam Stable. In the care of trainer Robert Donato, John Henry compiled a record of 6-2-3 from 19 starts with earnings of $120,319 as a 3-year-old that year. The following year, John Henry was trained by Lefty Nickerson. In 11 starts as a 4-year-old, John Henry posted a record of 4-5-0 and earned $129,864.


When the grass season was over in New York, Rubin decided to send the horse to California. Nickerson suggested his good friend McAnally as trainer. Under McAnally, John Henry won six stakes races in a row in 1980, including Grade 1 wins in the San Luis Rey, San Juan Capistrano and Hollywood Invitational. John Henry won the first of four Eclipse Awards for Champion Turf Horse in 1980 (he also won the award in 1981, 1983 and 1984) when he finished 8-3-1 from 12 starts and earned $925,217.


John Henry was even better in 1981, winning Horse of the Year honors. For the second year, he won the San Luis Rey, Hollywood Invitational and Oak Tree Invitational along with victories in the Santa Anita Handicap, Sword Dancer, the inaugural Arlington Million and Jockey Club Gold Cup. John Henry concluded his 6-year-old season with a record of 8-0-0 from 10 starts and earnings of $1,798,030. Along with being named Horse of the Year and Champion Turf Horse, John Henry was also named Champion Older Male.


In 1982, John Henry repeated in the Santa Anita Handicap (via disqualification) and won the Oak Tree Invitational for the third consecutive year. The following year, he became the first horse to surpass $4 million in earnings with his victory in the Hollywood Turf Cup.


John Henry was as good as ever as a 9-year-old in 1984 when he was named Horse of the Year for the second time. He won his second Arlington Million, as well as the Golden Gate Handicap, Sunset Handicap and Ballantine Handicap. With more than $2.3 million in earnings in 1984, John Henry had the highest career total in history with $6,951,860. An injury forced him to miss the inaugural Breeders’ Cup and led to his eventual retirement with a career record of 39-15-9 from 83 starts. He won a total of seven Eclipse Awards and had victories at 13 different racetracks.


Following his racing career, John Henry lived at the Kentucky Horse Park until he died at the age of 32 in 2007.