John Henry was one of the most beloved horses of his era, earning Horse of the Year honors twice (1981 and 1984) while winning 39 races from 1977 through 1984 and racking up over six million in earnings.
Some of his biggest wins took place in California, but he also spent a large chunk of his career on the East Coast and NYRA has packaged all 20 of his New York starts on their Youtube site. He rose from the claiming ranks to become the sport’s most popular champion.
John Henry faced 10 rivals on that October afternoon in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, including Relaxing, who would be named that year’s champion older female, as well as Summing and Temperence Hill.
Relaxing would finish third, a length behind the victorious John Henry.
Splitting them was the horse who made John Henry work the hardest that day, Peat Moss. Horses named after types of fertilizers are usually anything but memorable, but Peat Moss was in some ways a poor man’s John Henry. He, too, was a gelding who rose from a claimer to a stakes winner and ran the race of his life to rally inside of John Henry in the final yards lose by a rapidly diminishing head in a thrilling stretch run that belonged to two blue collar heroes.
Even if races from over three decades are before your time, they’re well worth a look. Magic never ceases to amaze me.
“The best part of life starts at the head of the stretch.”