LEXINGTON, KY (February 24, 2005) According to The Blood-Horse magazine’s Thoroughbred Champions: Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century, the two greatest living Thoroughbred racehorses are Cigar and John Henry, both of whom reside at the Kentucky Horse Park. On Wednesday, March 9, the park will celebrate the birthday of John Henry, who turns 30 (roughly the equivalent of a 98-year-old human*) and the public is invited.
John Nicholson, Executive Director for the Kentucky Horse Park stated, “It has been such an honor for us to have John Henry all these years because he is by all accounts, unquestionably one of the greatest racehorses of the century. He is highly intelligent and also happens to be quite a character who has kept us all on our toes for the 20 years he’s been living here at the park.”
In spite of a rocky start, having passed through the hands of numerous owners and trainers early in life, under the eventual tutelage of trainer Ron McAnally, John Henry earned seven Eclipse Awards, including Horse of the Year two times, won 39 races and bankrolled $6,591,860.
Carey Warner, author of Thoroughbred Champions wrote, “Of all the Cinderella stories that Thoroughbred horse racing has inspired in its hundreds of years of history, there has never been one quite like the tale of a knock-kneed, nasty-tempered gelding that I watched with awe and idolized in the early part of the 1980s. The legend of John Henry is the greatest of all the ‘Rags to Riches’ stories I've heard among many, many tales of legendary race horses…”
Cathy Roby, who is the Hall of Champions Manager at the park observed, “John Henry still receives fan mail, gifts and cards from literally thousands of admirers. It’s a heart-warming sight when one of his fans sees John in person for the first time. We show video clips of some of his races before he makes his grand public entrance into our show pavilion three times a day. There is seldom a dry eye in the house when he saunters in to be applauded and cheered by his fans.”
When a horse is cherished by his handlers, as John Henry has been for most of three decades, it makes all the difference in the world to his quality of life. He had one of racing’s finest trainers in Ron McAnally, legendary jockeys such as Chris McCarron, Bill Shoemaker and Lafitte Pincay, Jr., talented exercise riders, dedicated grooms and hotwalkers, a devoted owner in Sam Rubin (John’s eighth and final owner, who had the wisdom to send John to Ron McAnally for training), and outstanding veterinary care. In spite of his infamous crankiness at times, John has been wildly loved and respected by nearly everyone who has come in contact with him.
John Nicholson continued, “When Chris McCarron was here at the park a few days ago to visit John Henry, Chris called Ron McAnally in California on his cell phone and put the phone to John’s ear so the horse could hear Ron talking to him. John’s ears pricked up with recognition as soon as he heard his trainer’s voice on the cell phone.”
The festivities will include birthday cake, short video of some of John’s accomplishments, reminiscing with special guests from John’s past, and photos (unless John Henry changes his mind). The party will begin promptly at 1 pm in the Hall of Champions.
“If there is one thing I could ask of the public on John’s birthday,” concluded Nicholson, “it would be to support Thoroughbred rescue organizations, such as the Secretariat Center here at the Kentucky Horse Park, in honor of John Henry. Many Thoroughbreds are not as fortunate as John has been, so if we can take this opportunity to do something to help a few at-risk Thoroughbreds, I think that will be a very appropriate, fitting tribute to this champion.”
For information on John Henry’s birthday party, call 859-233-4303.
The park will be open from 9 am until 5 pm Wednesday - Sunday through March 14; admission is $9 for adults, $6 for children 7-12. Children six and under are always admitted free of charge. Admission includes John Henry’s birthday party and the American Saddlebred Museum.
*According to Equus magazine’s age scale, to determine the age equivalency of a horse, start with his age, multiply by three and add eight. This puts champion John Henry at approximately 98 years of age.
The Kentucky Horse Park is a working horse farm/theme park and equine competition facility dedicated to man’s relationship with the horse. The park is an agency of the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet that hosted 913,000 visitors and 80 special events and horse shows in 2003. The park is located at Exit 120, Interstate 75, just north of Lexington. The place to get close to horses, the park is open daily March 15 to October 31, and Wednesday through Sunday, November 1 to March 14.