WHERE'D HE GET THEM REAPERS?
When Cyrus McCormack invented the reaper 154 years ago, it probably never occurred to him that someday his creations would be pitted against each other in battles to the death and leaps over cars at 40 mph. But then, old Cyrus never met Ernie Brookins, a canny North Dakota entrepreneur. Concluding that the dwindling popularity of tractor pulls had left a fallow but open field on the Midwestern state-fair circuit, Brookins has come up with two new uses for another piece of timesaving farm machinery, the combine.
The first is the Combine Demolition Derby, in which 12 of the 3�-ton behemoths plow into each other. The one left running wins. "We used to use 'em for thrashin'," says Brookins. "Now we use 'em for smashin'." The second is the Combine Jump, a form of Reaper Madness. Brookins climbs aboard his Coors Light Silver Bullet, guns its custom V-8 Chevy engine and blasts off from the top of a flatbed truck and over an automobile. "It's a 7,000-pound rig flying through the air with 40,000 pounds of thrust," says Brookins, who claims to harvest a fair living from his combine competitions. "It's an exciting thing to see." Suffice it to say, when the combine lands, it performs some serious furrowing.
HE DIDN'T NEED A FANCY PEDIGREE
Racing in an era of megabuck stallion syndications and ludicrously extravagant yearling prices, John Henry proved that a horse didn't need a fancy pedigree to become a champion. If John Henry didn't begin his career in the fashionable prep schools of Santa Anita and Belmont Park, no matter. When his owner, Sam Rubin, decided to retire him last week after he injured a knee in a workout at Hollywood Park, the 10-year-old gelding had been at the top of the game for years.
Born of undistinguished parents and sold as a yearling for $1,100, John Henry was gelded at two to calm his man-eating temper. He hit his stride in the spring of 1977 at an obscure little bullring called Jefferson Downs in Kenner, La., winning his maiden race by a desperate nose.
After letting him beat around in small stakes and claiming races for a year, his handlers put him on the grass. By the time he got off last Oct. 13, with a 2�-length victory in the Ballantine Scotch Classic at the Meadowlands, the two-time Horse of the Year had won $6,597,947, more money than any thoroughbred in history.
For the last six years John Henry had run exclusively in stakes races, seldom getting an easy outing to tighten him for a harder one. He may have lacked the brilliance of Secretariat, the outrageous lick of Seattle Slew or the sheer ability of Spectacular Bid, but he was about as consistent as top horses get and as tough as hickory.
John Henry had personality, and rail-birds knew it. Returning to the winner's circle after a race, he would often stop and stare at the Teletimer, as if checking his speed. The doughty old campaigner kind of reminded you of Seabiscuit or Stymie. None had much breeding, but all achieved stardom after knocking about in cheap races early in their careers. And each became, in his time, the leading career money-winner.
Big John will most likely be turned out to pasture at the Kentucky Horse Park outside Lexington, in the shadow of Man o' War's statue. One of his neighbors will be Forego, the great gelding of the 1970s. For more years than we had a right to expect, John Henry graced this sport with his speed, pluck and fortitude. He earned his rest, but he'll be missed.