November 12, 2007 — The Thoroughbred retirement facility Old Friends will participate in a partnership with Bill Oster and the Kentucky Horse Park to create a privately funded memorial for the renowned racehorse John Henry, who died October 8 at 32.
John Henry (Ole Bob Bowers – Once Double, by Double Jay), famous for his cantankerous disposition, was unparalleled in his achievements on the racetrack. He retired in 1985 as the world’s richest Thoroughbred, having earned more that $6.5 million. He received seven Eclipse Awards throughout his career and was voted Horse of the Year in 1981 and again in 1984. A gelding, he raced until he was nine and won 30 stakes races, more than any horse in history. Voted “Horse of the Decade” in the 1980s, John Henry was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Oster, a park volunteer for the last 10 years and one of John Henry’s primary caretakers, said the idea of a memorial had been on a back burner for several years ever since “we almost lost him to colic surgery in 2001. At first I thought we needed to do something very grand. But then, the more I thought about it, the more I felt that any memorial needed to be unpretentious and simple, just like John was himself.”
The memorial, which is pending approval from the park commission, will consist of a landscaped sitting area outside John Henry’s former paddock at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions, and will include an understated monument to be sculpted by local equine artist Shelley Hunter.
For its role in the project Old Friends, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is home to nearly 30 retired Thoroughbred champions, has opened a John Henry Memorial Fund at the Citizen’s Commerce Bank in Kentucky to receive donations for the tribute.
“One of the reasons I first came to Kentucky was to see John Henry,” said Michael Blowen, president and founder of Old Friends and originally from Boston. “It was his fan following at the Hall of Champions that inspired the formation of Old Friends.”
Donations can be made payable to the John Henry Memorial Fund and sent to Old Friends, 1841 Paynes Depot Road, Georgetown, KY 40324. For additional information about donations, call Blowen at 502-863-1775. For more information about the memorial, contact Oster at 502-316-0980 or email [email protected].
Like the Hall Of Champions, Old Friends’ Dream Chase Farm, located in Georgetown, Ky., is open to tourists who come to see such luminaries of racing as Super Derby winner Wallenda, Eclipse-winning turf champion Sunshine Forever, and eight-time stakes winner Ruhlmann. For information about daily tours and other retirees visit www.oldfriendsequine.org.