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Oct 12, 2007

John Henry - Thoroughbred

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I remember watching John Henry run in the 1982 Meadowlands Cup Handicap in the early days of simulcasting. The evening race was only simulcast within New Jersey, so I made the drive to Atlantic City Race Course from Philadelphia.

The gelding was the even-money favorite in the Meadowlands event with Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker riding. Even though John Henry finished third, it was an exciting race and helped advance the cause of simulcasting.

John Henry was a truely gifted thoroughbred who kept horse racing alive during a difficult decade. He came along after the three Triple Crown champions of the 1970's.

"John Henry's true legacy was written in people's hearts far more indelibly than his superlative racing career could ever reflect." said John Nicholson, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park. "John Henry was a testament to the fact that a horse's value is far greater than the sum of his pedigree, conformation, sales price and race record. Winston Churchill said that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man, but I would add that horses like John Henry prove that the inside of a horse is even better for the inside of man."

He raced from 1977 to 1984 accumulating almost $6.6 million and nearly as many fans. Trained primarily by Ron McAnally, John Henry ran all over the country. His last four starts were at four different tracks, all victories with Chris McCarron guiding the champ to the winner's circle.

Tom Levinson, stepson of the late owner Sam Rubin said, "John always had fire in his eyes as he circled his opponents in the paddock while they pranced, his eyes glazed with the determination to win. Certainly he was the people's hero."

The three jockeys who climbed into the saddle over the last four years of John Henry's career, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Bill Shoemaker and McCarron, were appropriate pilots.

"What can I say about the legendary John Henry that has not already been said?," commented McCarron. "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."

John Henry was the working guy's racehorse. He came from humble origins and became a two-time Horse of the Year. He also was named champion older male horse in 1981 and was a four-time Eclipse Award winner as top male turf runner.

I also remember him capturing the first running of the Arlington Million, the first $1 million horse race. Three years later John Henry again won the Arlington Million.

John Henry became a legend during his racing career, a legend that grew during his retirement. Many stakes races are rightly named for John Henry, but he was certainly one of a kind.

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