11/26/2011 4:09PM

Churchill: Holthus service gets large turnout

Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Bob Holthus in 2006.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -  Bob Holthus was eulogized as a “prince of a man” and a great horseman before several hundred family, friends, and colleagues at a memorial service held Saturday morning in a packed chapel in the stable area of Churchill Downs, where Holthus was a fixture for much of the last 20 years before his death of heart failure Tuesday morning at age 77.

Several speakers remembered Holthus for his kind spirit, his uncommon generosity, and his humble nature during the 45-minute service. John McKee, who rode three of the five Kentucky Derby starters that Holthus had during his training career of nearly 60 years, and John Asher, vice president of communications at Churchill, were among the speakers effusive in their praise for a man who endeared himself to countless numbers of horsemen, fans, and others with his understated demeanor and gentle humor.

Jerry Russell, his Louisville neighbor for nine years, called Holthus a “prince of a man” who was honest, reliable, ethical, and someone to whom “yes meant yes and no meant no.”

Holthus died Tuesday at his Louisville home after suffering for years from heart problems but while still active as a trainer. His wife, Bonnie, and other family members were among those attending the service.

Holthus began his training career on his 18th birthday in 1952 and won 2,824 races from 19,674 starts, for stable earnings of more than $46 million. He was the all-time leading trainer at Oaklawn Park and also led meets at another half-dozen tracks.

A second memorial service for Holthus, who was cremated, is scheduled for Monday at noon Central at Oaklawn in Hot Springs, Ark., where he wintered for most of his career. Some of his ashes were scattered in the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle at Churchill, and a winner’s circle ceremony in his honor was held following the third race Saturday.