If any horse captured the imagination of the American racing public during the early 1980s, you would have to believe it would be John Henry. John Henry might have been one of the most versatile runners ever to set foot on a racetrack. He could do just about anything, run on dirt, run on turf, carry weight. As I said, he could do just about anything.
His most legendary run is, of course, the 1981 Arlington Million. This was the first-ever running of the race that has come to be the biggest turf race of the summer in America. It was also something very unique in American racing at the time, a race offering a purse of $1,000,000. We are now nearly thirty years on from that summer and with the coming of the Breeders' Cup, the escalation of purses in general due to economic changes, and other factors, it is hard to believe that such a short time ago, it was such a big deal. But what a big deal it was, John Henry appeared to have absolutely no chance to win even mere feet from the wire. The Bart was in front and appeared ready to pull off a monumental upset. However, John Henry was a champion above all else and his champion's heart refused to let him lose. He barely (and I mean BARELY) got his nostril to the wire first and denied The Bart being the first-ever Arlington Million champion, even if NBC mistakenly (and prematurely) declared The Bart the winner. However, he did not deny The Bart a place in racing lore. If anything, the fact John Henry got there to win is the only reason we even remember The Bart today. There is a statue that stands on the grounds of Arlington Park now called "Against All Odds" and it is a recreation of that unbelievable finish, one of the proudest moments racing has known in a long, long time.
John Henry won 38 other races in his 83-race career and hit the board 24 other times, earning $6,591,860. That total makes him the highest-earning gelding in racing history. John Henry won a grand total of seven Eclipse Awards and was inducted into the U.S. Racing Hall Of Fame in 1990. He lived to be a grand old man of racing at the Kentucky Horse Park, where he passed away at the age of 32.
Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!