Seabiscuit is getting a paddock mate for Christmas when a new bronze statue of the legendary John Henry will be unveiled on Dec. 26 as part of a full day of special events on the opening day of the 2009-10 Santa Anita Park winter/spring meet in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the opening of Santa Anita on Christmas Day 1934.
Other events include the final race day appearance of retiring super-mare Zenyatta, and the unveiling of a new marker by the Arcadia Historical Society summarizing in pictures and words the many great moments, people, and horses associated with Santa Anita Park in its first 75 years.
John Henry becomes immortalized in a life-size bronze statue in the paddock gardens of Santa Anita Park on Dec. 26.
The life-sized bronze statue of John Henry will be unveiled after the third race of the day by his long-time Hall of Fame trainer, Ron McAnally, in Santa Anita’s paddock gardens, joining a statue of Seabiscuit and jockey George Woolf.
Sculpted by Nina Kaiser, the statue stands at John Henry’s height, 15.2 hands, and weighs roughly the same as “John” did, 1,000 lbs. Commissioned by Santa Anita and Oak Tree, Kaiser worked on the project for more than two years.
A dark bay foal born March 9, 1975, John Henry was a Kentucky-bred son of the lightly regarded Ole Bob Bowers, out of the Double Jay mare Once Double, and as an irascible youngster devoid of fashionable pedigree, his owners decided to geld him as a yearling.
Purchased as a 3-year-old for a paltry $25,000 by Dorothy and Sam Rubin, he was soon transferred to the Southern California-based McAnally, where John Henry would go on to become a superstar of the American turf, winning the inaugural Arlington Million in 1981 and becoming the first two-time winner of the Gr. I Santa Anita Handicap, in 1981 and ’82.
When he was retired in 1985, John Henry was Thoroughbred racing’s all-time leading money-won earner, with $6,591,860 in the bank.
“Without a doubt, John Henry was one of the most popular horses to ever compete here at Santa Anita and he probably meant more to our sport and to our business than any other horse you can think of in the 1980s,” said Santa Anita President Ron Charles. “He was immensely popular with our fans because I think people related to him on so many levels.”
“He came from the ‘wrong side of the tracks,’ he was hard-working and he was just so incredibly game—he could be ornery and he didn’t like to be pampered. He was an over-achiever who consistently beat the best-bred horses in the world and people loved him for that. Additionally, he was able to perform at the highest level for so long. He was truly iconic and on top of that, Ron McAnally did a great job with him and with the media as well. John Henry keynoted a tremendous run of success here at Santa Anita and like Seabiscuit, we are proud to be able to present his likeness for our fans to enjoy for generations to come.”
In addition to his victories in the Big ’Cap, John Henry’s other Santa Anita stakes wins included the 1980 San Gabriel Handicap, the Oak Tree Turf Championship in 1980, ’81 and ’82, and the San Luis Rey Handicap in 1980 and ’81.
John Henry, who was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1990, was Eclipse Champion Older Horse in 1981, Champion Turf Horse in 1980, ’81, ’83 and ’84, and he was accorded racing’s highest honor, Eclipse Horse of the Year, in 1981 and again, at the age of 9, in 1984.
Additionally, he was ranked number 23 on BloodHorse Magazine’s Top 100 U.S. racehorses of the 20th century.
John Henry resided continuously at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, from August of 1986 until his death at the age of 32, on Oct. 8, 2007.