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"I really thought he was slightly retarded," Callaway says. "He did weird things. He was hard on the stall. He was hard on buckets and tubs. He'd like to tear them off the wall and stomp on them. He was good at that."
Callaway named the colt John Henry, after the steel-drivin' man of West Virginia legend. "That's the only thing I did well about him," Callaway says. Taking his veterinarian's advice, he entered John Henry in the January sale at Keeneland in 1977, and there horse trader Harold Snowden Jr. took him for $2,200. "He was just kind of a dumpy-looking 2-year-old," Snowden says.
That was the good part. The colt got so rank that Snowden had him castrated in March. He then sold him for $7,500 to horsewoman Akiko McVarish, but McVarish's veterinarian voided the sale after taking one look at the horse. In May, searching for a 2-year-old prospect to race in the Lafayette Futurity at Evangeline Downs, Louisiana owners Colleen Madere, Dortha Lingo and Dortha's son, John, visited Snowden's barn at Keeneland with their trainer, Phil Marino. Snowden showed them John Henry.
"I'll never forget it," John Lingo says. "They had a 55-gallon drum of molasses lying there to keep the front of his stall from falling out. He had kicked it so hard that the whole wall would swing away. I fell in love with him. I liked his spunk." Marino jumped on the horse and worked him half a mile. Coming back, he announced, "He's the best-movin' horse I've ever been on."
They gave Snowden $7,500 for John Henry, and off they went to prepare for the Lafayette Futurity. That fall he came roaring off the pace to win the $86,450 race by a head. He ran nine more times along the bayous, but his form fell off and he was put in claiming races. He never won again in Louisiana. In March 1978, his owners called Snowden, looking to swap John Henry for some 2-year-olds.
Colleen Madere, who groomed poodles for a living, made the call. Snowden offered her Pay the Way, a colt, and Separation Gap, a filly, and she agreed to the trade. So Snowden ended up owning John Henry for the third time. "I started trying to sell him again," Snowden says. "I tried everybody."
That spring Rubin was looking to buy a racehorse. By then he had become a millionaire in the bicycle business. Early one morning in May, Sam told Dorothy. "I'm going to take $150,000 and I'm going to buy one or two $25,000, $50,000 horses, use the rest for expenses, and we're going to have some fun. When I blow the $150,000, I'll be finished with owning horses."
"That's fine with me," said Dorothy. They went to Aqueduct that day and ran into Sam's old friend Joe Taub, president of the New Jersey Nets. Sam asked Taub. "You know anybody who's got a good $25,000, $50,000 horse around they want to sell?"
"Not really. Sam. but if I hear of anything I'll send him over," Taub said.
Sam and Dorothy weren't even in their seats when Jimmy Ferrara, a horse agent, came up to them and said, "I was talking to Joe Taub and he says you're interested in buying one or two horses." Sam said that was so. Ferrara told them about Snowden's gelding.