John Henry was born on 9 March 1975. His owners watched him closely for any traits that could lead them to a name, and as he enjoyed destroying steel buckets, he was named after the world famous legend who was referred to as the Steel-Drivin Man. Because he was not of the best breeding, his owners decided to geld him, being sired by Ole Bob Bowers and out of the mare Once Double. He might not have had the breeding or the perfect conformation for a racehorse, but John Henry was determined to succeed, and became one of the most legendary horses of our time. Not surprisingly, Kentucky Horse Park has honored him by unveiling the John Henry Memorial Statue.
John Henry began his horse racing career as a minor event racehorse, and soon worked his way up to claiming races. John Henry might have started off as an unknown horse, but it did not take him long to win the hearts of thousands with his greatest achievements being the Hialeah Turf Cup Handicap, Oak Tree Turf Championship, Hollywood Invitational Handicap, San Luis Rey Handicap, Santa Anita Handicap, Arlington Million, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Turf Classic Invitational and the Sunset Handicap. He was named the U.S. Champion Older Male Horse in 1981, the U.S. Champion Turf Horse in 1980, 1981, 1983 and 1984, and the United States Horse of the Year for 1981 and 1984. In 1990, John Henry was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame and is number twenty-three on the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses list. After he retired from racing, John Henry lived out the remainder of his life at the Kentucky Horse Park. At the age of thirty-two, John Henry developed kidney problems. When he eventually reached the stage when treatments were no longer helping, the decision to euthanize him was made. Everyone said their good-byes, but most significantly, when Chris McCarron, his regular jockey was notified, he rushed to the park within an hour and stood by his dear friend right until the end. John Henry passed away on 8 October 2007.
The news of his death devastated fans and those who had ever worked with him, and letters, cards and flowers began to arrive in the hundreds. The outpouring of grief was overwhelming, and when the park announced their plans to create a memorial statue of John Henry, the public opened their hearts towards the project. People not only donated money towards the project, but started sending sculptor, Shelly Hunter, coins and medals, together with notes and messages to John Henry. She was extremely touched by these items and constructed a metal box, to be welded to the inside of her sculptures chest, containing theses items, before the statue was sealed. The beautiful sculpture of John Henry will stand as proud reminder to one of the most loved and missed racehorses in horse racing history. The John Henry Memorial Statue pays tribute to a horse that not only won racing events against the odds, but won respect and an everlasting legacy.