10/08/2007 11:00PM

John Henry dies at age 32

John Henry
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- , the Hall of Fame gelding who was a five-time champion, two-time Horse of the Year, and known for his toughness and longevity, was euthanized Monday evening at the Kentucky Horse Park, his home since 1985. John Henry was 32.

The beloved gelding, who had age-related Cushing’s disease and kidney trouble, was treated several times for dehydration over the summer as central Kentucky’s temperatures soared to 100 degrees. But his condition improved enough recently that the park had stopped issuing daily updates on his status. John Henry’s stall was equipped with a five-foot tall air conditioning unit throughout the summer, and he spent much of his time the last several weeks happily eating sweets brought to him by visitors eager to pay their respects.

According to a statement issued by the Kentucky Horse Park Monday night, a team of people ultimately made the decision to euthanize him.

“After continued successful efforts to maintain the quality of John Henry’s life, in the past 48 hours he did not respond to our medical intervention,” said the park’s equine director, Kathy Hopkins. “Due to the loss of kidney function and muscle mass, his veterinarian, Dr. Mike Beyer, found it impossible to keep him properly hydrated and comfortable. Over the years, our goal has always been to maintain the highest quality of care and life for him, and it became evident over the weekend that this was no longer possible. Our hearts go out to all of those who so deeply cared for John during his long and charismatic life.”

A small group of people were with John Henry when he died at 7 p.m. Eastern time, including Hall of Champions director Cathy Roby, who cared for him for the last 16 years, and his breeder, Verna Lehmann.

John Henry will be buried near his paddock at the Hall of Champions, and the park is making plans for a public memorial service. Plans for the service will be announced on the park’s website at www.kyhorsepark.com.

“The mighty heart of the great John Henry has, at long last, yielded to time,“ said John Nicholson, the Kentucky Horse Park executive director. “The racing industry has lost a legend, but, more significantly, many people have lost a personal hero. John Henry’s true legacy was written in people’s hearts far more indelibly than his superlative racing career could ever reflect.

“John Henry was a testament to the fact that a horse’s value is far greater than the sum of his pedigree, conformation, sales price, and race record. Winston Churchill said that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man, but I would add that horses like John Henry prove that the inside of a horse is even better for the inside of man.”

John Henry was foaled March 9, 1975, in Kentucky, the result of a mating between Ole Bob Bowers and the Double Jay mare Once Double. Lehmann’s Golden Chance Farm bred the horse, little knowing the status he would achieve. Famously bad-tempered, John Henry sold as a yearling for just $1,100 in 1976. He was sent back to auction a year later, where he brought $2,200, but his new buyer, Harold Snowden Jr., found it necessary to geld him soon afterward in an effort to control the horse’s temperament.

Snowden was the first of several owners for John Henry. Snowden sold him to a Louisiana-based partnership for whom John Henry won his first stakes race, the Lafayette Futurity at Evangeline Downs, but the group traded him back to Snowden. Snowden then sold John Henry to Sam Rubin, who raced him in partnership with his wife, Dorothy, in the colors of their Dotsam Stable.

John Henry went on to become one of the greatest champions of the modern era, amassing 39 wins from 83 career starts and retiring in 1985 with a then record $6,591,860 in earnings. His victories included 16 Grade 1 races, including the 1984 Arlington Million and Turf Classic, the 1983 Hollywood Turf Cup, the 1981 Jockey Club Gold Cup, two Santa Anita Handicaps (1981 and 1982), two Oak Tree Invitationals (1981 and 1982), two Hollywood Invitationals (1980 and 1981), and two San Luis Rey Stakes (1980 and 1981).

John Henry was voted champion grass horse in 1980, ’81, ’83, and ’84; champion older horse in 1981; and Horse of the Year in 1981 and 1984.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1990.