Two-time Horse of the Year John Henry euthanized

Updated: October 11, 2007, 6:47 PM ET
Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Grumpy yet beloved, thoroughbred great John Henry died Monday after 32 years of defying odds -- both in racing success and longevity.

The two-time Horse of the Year, who earned more than $6.5 million before retiring as a gelding to the Kentucky Horse Park where he became an icon, was euthanized Monday night in his paddock at the park.

He had survived several illnesses over the years but never recovered from a recent bout with dehydration, in which he experienced kidney failure that forced him to receive intravenous fluids. The horse was rapidly losing weight.

"John's always been known for his biting and kicking," said Cathy Roby, barn manager at the horse park's Hall of Champions where he was stabled. "He had gotten to the point where he really wasn't trying, where he just wasn't John anymore. He was just tired and he was ready to go."

Mike Beyer, the veterinarian who tended to John Henry until the end, said euthanasia was the only choice.

John Henry's Career

• Bay gelding foaled in 1975, by Ole Bob Bowers-Once Double, by Double Jay.
• Career totals: 83 starts, 39 wins, $6,591,860 in earnings
• He won seven Eclipse awards from 1980 through 1984, including Horse of the Year in 1981 and 1984.
• Won the Santa Anita Handicap twice (1981 & 82)
• Only horse to win the Arlington Million twice (1981 & 1984)
• The highest money earning thoroughbred of all time at the time of his retirement.
• Inducted into National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1990

-- The Associated Press

"We didn't want to get to the point where he didn't have dignity," Beyer said.

John Henry was retired 22 years ago to the park, where he was beloved by the public and, along with stablemate Cigar, one of the park's biggest attractions.

Foaled March 9, 1975, and an average runner early in his career, John Henry was the highest money-earning thoroughbred in history when he retired in 1985.

The gelded son of Old Bob Bowers out of Once Double won four Grade I races and Horse of the Year honors at age 6 and 9 and collected seven Eclipse awards from 1980 through 1984.

"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," Chris McCarron, who rode John Henry in 14 of his last races, said in a statement from the park.

Although he never won a Triple Crown race, he was successful at the highest levels of competition on the dirt and the turf.

John Nicholson, park executive director, said the horse's value was far more than the sum of his pedigree. Schoolchildren who would visit the park often found inspiration from his story, Nicholson said.

In his career, John Henry earned 39 victories, 15 seconds and nine thirds in 83 starts and earned $6,597,947. He was inducted into thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame in 1990.

Foaled at Golden Chance Farms in Kentucky in 1975, John Henry was called "small," "ugly" and "bad-tempered" as a foal. He was sold at the January mixed sale at Keeneland for $1,100.

He soon became known more for his disposition than his racing ability, often tearing buckets and tubs of the wall of his stall and stomping them flat.

He was sold to Harold Snowden of Lexington for $2,200 in 1977. Snowden chose to geld John Henry with the hope it would calm him and allow him to focus on racing.

He changed hands two more times until native New Yorker Sam Rubin and his wife, Dorothy, bought him for $25,000 sight unseen over the phone. John Henry's new trainer, Bob Donato, thought the horse would fare well on grass, and John Henry won six of 19 starts as a 3-year-old.

As a 4-year-old, John Henry won four of 11 races for trainer Lefty Nickerson. The following year, John Henry was sent to work with trainer Ron McAnally in California and his career blossomed.

John Henry
Horsephotos.comJohn Henry, a two-time Horse of the Year, won 39 of 83 races and $6,591,860.
McAnally trained John Henry with "carrots, apples and love," the horse park said. He visited during the horse's retirement and had seen him as recently as September, bringing the animal's favorite cookies and carrots, the park said. Lewis Cenicola, John Henry's exercise rider for six years, also visited the horse in September, the park said.

He won six stakes races in a row as a 5-year-old, including four Grade I races -- the San Luis Rey Stakes, the San Juan Capistrano Invitational, the Hollywood Invitational and the Oak Tree Invitational.

That year also saw him claim his first of seven Eclipse awards as the nation's champion turf horse. He finished the 1980 campaign with eight victories and three seconds in 12 starts.

John Henry's remarkable run continued for the next four years as he won 18 of 30 starts. In 1981, he won eight of 10 starts and was named champion grass horse, champion older horse and horse of the year.

As a 9-year-old, John Henry won four straight stakes races, claimed $2.3 million in earnings and again was named champion grass horse and horse of the year.

He won what proved to be his last race, the Ballantine's Scotch Classic at the Meadowlands on Oct. 13, 1984. John Henry was scheduled to run in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Turf Classic that year, but a strained suspensory ligament kept him on the sidelines.

Rubin planned to race John Henry as a 10-year-old but changed his mind in July 1985, after the horse injured a leg during training.

"If he'd have broken down on the race track, I couldn't have lived with it," Rubin said at the time.

Tom Levinson, Rubin's stepson, said in the statement that his mother and Rubin "loved sharing John's victories with his adoring fans and we appreciate their devotion even to this sad day. ... We are sure that if Sam Rubin were here today, he and my mother Dorothy would agree that their wish would be for John Henry to be remembered as the mighty, cantankerous champion we all loved."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press