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An Oldie But Goodie
William Nack
August 27, 1984
John Henry, the richest horse in the world, is still racing—and superbly—at the ripe age of nine
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August 27, 1984

An Oldie But Goodie

John Henry, the richest horse in the world, is still racing—and superbly—at the ripe age of nine

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Rubin recalls the poignant drama that ensued. The two men who owned The Bart jumped up, exclaiming. "We won! We won!" and headed for the winner's circle. After the photo was posted, a jubilant Rubin passed them on his way to the winner's circle. "They were crying," Rubin says. "To them it was worth millions. They had a colt who could breed. To us it was just a purse. I felt complete despair. I wish I hadn't seen them."

That fall John Henry revealed more dramatically than ever that extraordinary dimension that sets him apart from the others, the quality that Whittingham still marvels at today. In the Oak Tree, after John Henry set the pace for most of the mile and a half, Spence Bay raced past him in midstretch and went half a length in front. "I thought Spence Bay was going to win by two or three lengths." Shoemaker says. But John Henry dug in and battled back, and got up in the last two jumps to win it by a neck.

It was a rare, surpassing performance in a season in which John Henry won eight of 10 races and a record $1,798,030. Three Eclipse Awards were his: Horse of the Year, Best Older Horse, Best Grass Horse. For one year, this graduate of Evangeline Downs owned the game. As, amazingly, he could yet own 1984.

After two years in which John Henry was hampered by injuries—a wrenched ankle in 1982, a pulled hip muscle in 1983—the consensus was that Pappy, as exercise rider Lewis Cenicola calls him, was surely nearing the end of the tether.

Rubin laughs at that. "Sam, how long do you intend to run John Henry?" he was asked awhile back.

"We hope till his Bar Mitzvah," said Rubin. "By the way, don't tell him. He doesn't know he's a Jewish horse."

Certainly no one told the horse that he was nine this year. He had won two of five coming to the Sunset. On May 6 he won the Golden Gate Handicap by two lengths and raced the 1⅜ miles in 2:13 flat, shattering the track record by three-fifths of a second. Then he won his third Hollywood Invitational.

Through it all, of course, the Rubins have had themselves a high time of it. This summer they were lounging in front of their cabana on a topless beach in Monte Carlo, vacationing under the Mediterranean sun. "I'm delirious," Sam said. "The ease with which we live our lives. The friends we have. The good fortune. Sometimes we look up together and say, 'Somewhere Courtney and Lillian are singing and dancing.' Sometimes I wonder whether the good Lord isn't writing the scenario."

After leaving the winner's circle following the Sunset, Sam was walking with Dorothy through the clubhouse at Hollywood Park. He was bouncing as he walked, and singing again.

What a day this has been,
What a rare mood I'm in,
Why it's almost like being
In love...

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