“John Henry” is book number ten in the Thoroughbred Legends series published by the Eclipse Press out of Lexington, Kentucky.
Steve Haskin, an award-winning writer for “The Blood-Horse” tells a lively tale of the dumpy little bay horse that was back at the knees and, “like a bargain-basement sale item, …always seemed to be available at a dirt-cheap price.”
John Henry was a demon in his stall—he hated to be confined. He passed through the hands of a number of owners and trainers who thought he showed some promise as a runner, even though he was in the habit of ripping his feed tub off of the wall and hurling it down the shed row. Once, when he was stabled at a track he didn’t like, John Henry did the same thing to his trainer:
“After one of the races, [John Henry] returned to the barn and was given a bath. Marino [his trainer] started walking him, and before he knew it, his jacket sleeve was in John’s mouth. John picked Marino up off the ground and took off down the shed row, dragging him along. Marino was being lifted in the air and was completely helpless…’Thank God I had a goose down jacket or he would have taken a big chunk out of me,’ Marino said. `That’s how mad the horse was.'”
Then the trainer, Ron McAnally took in the gelding that vented his anger on his water buckets, feed tubs, and sometimes his groom, and turned him into a demon on the race track. How did the trainer do this? McAnally says it was by treating him kindly and earning John Henry’s trust.
The ugly little demon-turned-race-horse repaid his trainer’s kindness by earning an amazing $6.6 million in eighty-three starts and thirty-nine wins. His durability and courage became a legend, and he attracted record numbers of fans to the tracks where he ran. He won his second `Horse of the Year’ title and closed out his racing career at the advanced age of nine.
John Henry and his trainer, Ron McAnally were both elected to the Thoroughbred Hall of Fame in 1990, which was only fitting.
John is now spending his retirement at the Kentucky Horse Park, and is shown to his visitors three times a day during the season (March 15th through October 31st). Go see him soon, as he turned twenty-six this year. Just don’t visit the grand, old gelding on a day when he’s been given medicine:
“John also hates medicine, and whenever he’s given a dewormer, which is a pasty substance, he keeps it in his mouth for hours and refuses to swallow it. One time, Roby [his groom] took him out to show him several hours after he had been given the medication. `John was standing in the ring,’ she said, `and all of a sudden, he blows this wormer all over the audience.'”
John still knows what he doesn’t like.