updated 12/24/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/24/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST
—George Burns, 88
The fairer sex is not the problem for John Henry, the George Burns of horses. For one thing he's kind of ugly, and his disposition—like that of his otherwise undistinguished sire, Ole Bob Bowers—is terrible. In fact his lack of graciousness was so total that, at the tender age of 2, he was gelded. Though this did nothing to improve his temper (his handlers experimented for a while with leaving a volleyball in his stall in the hopes he would kick the ball instead of them), it ended forever his interest in the ladies.
Nonetheless, Burns and the irritable Thoroughbred have much in common. At ages when most of their contemporaries are pushing up daisies—or perhaps eating them—both are having the best years of their productive lives.
In John Henry's case the numbers, heavy with zeros, are mind-boggling: $6.5 million in career earnings, $3 million more than any horse in racing history; 39 wins in 83 lifetime starts, the last 45 in top-level stakes races.
But what really makes John Henry so special—unique actually—is the simple number 9, his age. In 1984, while most members of the Thoroughbred class of 1975 were resting comfortably in the equine equivalent of nursing homes, John Henry won five Grade 1 stakes and more than $2.3 million. There are two ways to put this in perspective: (1) The only other horse to win a Grade 1 stakes race at the age of 9 was Borrow, who did it once in 1917. (2) Since each year in a horse's life is generally thought to equal seven human years, it's as if your grandfather laced on a pair of sneakers and went out and whipped Carl Lewis in a handful of Olympic dashes.
Now that ain't horsing around.