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Horse Racing – 1985 – Highlights – Year In Racing – Spend A Buck Wins The Derby + John Henry Retires


This video features two really great horses and one legendary athlete….as Spend A Buck was a really reat horse who make a heck of a lot of money for his owner….and John Henry is a bronzed  legend in his own right….and so we decided to pay tribute to both in this post herewith….cuz any way you cut the pie….we are “tickled pink” to have this “nugget of gold” in our treasure chest of vintage memories. 

John Henry (March 9, 1975 – October 8, 2007) was an American champion Thoroughbred racehorse….who was sired by Ole Bob Bowers by Prince Blessed out of Once Double (by Double Jay.  John Henry had 39 wins with $6,591,860 in earnings….was twice voted the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year….and was listed as #23 on Blood Horse magazine’s Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century.  John Henry had a series of trainers….while earning money in minor stakes, allowance races and mid-level claiming races. In 1978, New York City businessman Sam Rubin and his wife Dorothy paid $25,000 sight-unseen for the three-year-old John Henry.  Racing under the Rubins’ Dotsam Stable banner…. he was first conditioned by trainer Robert Donato….and under him, John Henry won 6 of 19 starts and $120,000…..while starting the year as a cheap claimer and finishing it as a stakes winner.  In 1979, John Henry was given to a new trainer, Lefty Nickerson…..and under him, John Henry won 4 of 11 races in 1979.  When the grass season was over in New York, Rubin decided to send the horse to California under trainer Ron McAnally. Under McAnally, John Henry won six stakes races in a row.  Racing through the age of nine, John Henry won the 1981 Santa Anita Handicap and repeated in 1982 after Perrault was disqualified. He is one of only three horses with back-to-back victories in the race’s 72-year history.  He also won the Arlington Million Stakes twice and won three renewals of both the Hollywood Invitational Handicap and the Oak Tree Invitational Stakes, two Grade I turf stakes in Southern California.  He won one of America’s most important races for older horses, the 1981 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, at 1½ miles on the dirt. This victory clinched his first Horse of the Year title.  A bronze statue called Against All Odds, created by Edwin Bogucki, stands on a balcony overlooking the paddock at Arlington Park. It commemorates one of John Henry’s most famous finishes; in 1981, at the inaugural Arlington Million, John Henry won over 5-year-old The Bart in a photo finish.  On December 11, 1983, John Henry became the first racehorse to surpass $4 million in career earnings when he won the Hollywood Turf Cup Stakes with jockey Chris McCarron at Hollywood Park Racetrack.  John Henry’s last race was the 1984 Ballantine Scotch Classic at the Meadowlands. As he took the lead in the stretch, Meadowlands track announcer Dave Johnson exclaimed, “And down the stretch they come! The old man, John Henry, takes command!” He pulled away to his 39th career victory and his second Horse of the Year title. The final time of 2:13 equaled the track record for 1⅜ mile. John Henry was a late entry into the Inaugural Breeders Cup in 1984 but a strained ligament in his left foreleg caused him to be withdrawn from the race and retired.  John Henry’s final race record stood at 83 starts, 39 wins, 15 seconds, and 9 thirds with $6,591,860 in earnings. He was twice voted the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year in 1981 and 1984; 1981 being the first unanimous election of the winner. That feat was not repeated until 2015 when Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was also elected unanimously.  

On May 4, 1985, Spend A Buck won the Kentucky Derby by 5-3/4 lengths over Stephan’s Odyssey under jockey Angel Cordero Jr. His 2:00 1/5 time is the fourth fastest as of 2007….paying $10.20, $5.40, and $3.40. It was his trainer Cam Gambolati’s first attempt to win the Derby, a feat not matched again until 2003 when Barclay Tagg  saddled Funny Cide for his win.  Earlier in the season, Spend A Buck had won two races at the newly reopened Garden State Park Racetrack in Cherry Hill, New Jersey: the Cherry Hill Mile on April 6 and the Garden State Stakes on April 20.  Before the season began, Garden State Park owner Robert Brennan had put up a $2-million bonus to the horse that won the two April preparatory races…the Kentucky Derby….and the May 27 Jersey Derby, Garden State’s signature race. Spend A Buck’s owner, Dennis Diaz, opted to skip the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes….and thus trade Spend A Buck’s chance to win the Triple Crown for a shot at the bonus. Cordero, Spend A Buck’s regular jockey, was committed to another race that day, so Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. rode Spend A Buck at Garden State. Spend A Buck won the Jersey Derby by a neck over eventual Belmont winner Creme Fraiche, capturing a $2.6-million prize, the largest single purse in American racing history. That record stood for 19 years, until Smarty Jones won the 2004 Kentucky Derby and a bonus inspired by Brennan’s.  Because Spend A Buck skipped the last two legs of the Triple Crown, the Triple Crown races put up a bonus of their own to encourage participation in the series.

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