Category Archives: John Henry

What Does Game On Dude Have In Common With John Henry?

Chantal Sutherland, aboard Game On Dude celebrates winning the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, CA. Photo by Eclipse Sportswire.

Who would have believed that the most talked-about member of the 2010 3-year-old class would be not Derby winner Super Saver, champion Lookin At Lucky or Drosselmeyer – but Game On Dude, the gelding who ran 4th in the Belmont that year?

I sure wouldn’t. But I am a believer now.

Game On Dude had a magnificent campaign in 2011, quietly scooping up wins and places in stakes across the country, culminating in a near-theft of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. With the older male division in such a disarray, he almost took the Eclipse in that group and was name-dropped for Horse of the Year. But that was last year – on Sunday, Game On Dude proved he had not lost a step since the Breeders’ Cup with his professional win in the G2 San Antonio. He is a lean, mean, running machine, and the championship is his for the taking in 2012.

This bay son of Awesome Again, trained by the master, Bob Baffert, is on the verge of becoming our next great gelding. He has been campaigned in a much more rational manner than the previous heir to the “supergelding” crown, Mine That Bird. Though he did not win any 3-year-old classics, he does have a Big Cap on his resume, as well as a hard-fought second in the Hollywood Gold Cup. He has an opportunity to repeat in the Big Cap this year, and with no First Dude to run him down, he could score the Gold Cup, too. Then there are the East Coast races – Whitney, Woodward, Stephen Foster, Jockey Club Gold Cup – the possibilities are endless.

To top it all off, his most successful pilot is Chantal Sutherland, a female jockey not afraid to promote herself as well as her sport. Sutherland is a fan favorite and on her way to becoming one of the best riders in the country, thanks to Game On Dude.

I know many fans are skeptical of the Dude’s potential – but think about this – how many people were fans of John Henry after his first few stakes wins?

Game on Dude has a record of 6-4-1 in 15 starts – 12 of those starts have been graded stakes, with 2 G1s, one G2 and one G3 win.

In John Henry’s first 15 starts, he had this record: 3-2-2. Of his first 15 starts, his only stakes win was in the Lafayette Futurity, which was ungraded at the time. But horses raced more back then, and this is only John’s juvenile record. Let’s look at John Henry’s record at a more reasonable point: his early 5-year-old season. By February of 1980, his 5-year-old season, John Henry had raced 43 times, with a record of  16-9-5.  Seven of those wins were in stakes races, but he had yet to win a Grade 1.  That year was when John Henry took the first steps toward becoming the horse we remember – in March he won his first G1, the San Luis Rey. It was the first of four G1 races he would win that season. He would never finish worse than 3rd in 1980, and he only did that once.  Who was the really big star of 1980? Spectacular Bid, of course.

John Henry is a legend of racing. But he started out just like Game On Dude – a very good horse with a lot to prove.

We are at the beginning of a legendary run here. Don’t let a funny name or nostalgia for a long-past (and never coming back) era blind you to the charm of Game On Dude.

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Here’s a movie I would Go See

John Henry and The Bart, 1981 Arlington MillionI was listening to Drake & Zeke Monday AM, and they were talking to a sportswriter whose article about Barbaro is in the works to be a major motion picture.  That’s exactly what we need — weeper about a beautiful horse who wins the KY Derby, gets injured and then dies.  Isn’t that basically the same plot as Million Dollar Baby? 

Why keep rehashing the Barbaro story, when there is a much more uplifting horse story just laying there at Hollywood’s feet?  I can picture it now…

AGAINST ALL ODDS: The Story of JOHN HENRY

 Old John’s story took him from Kentucky to the bayous of Louisiana to the NYC circuit to Cali and beyond, and he was connected to a host of colorful people, not the least Sam Rubin, his final owner who enjoyed his greatest success.

The beginning of the film could be a high-energy replay of the Affirmed/Alydar Belmont, the highest peak in the TB world…then the images fade into a quieter, plainer backside where a small, brown colt is tearing down the walls of his stall and throwing feed bins.  From there, the film could show him passed from owner to owner until he falls into the hands of funloving Rubin and trainer Ron MacAnally.  You can see John win the Chocolatetown Handicap and Sam accept the trophy full of hershey’s candy.  The movie progresses as John wins more, and don’t forget Whittingham’s legendary comment, “beat him? I’m just trying to outlive him!”  The climax will be his thrilling run in the inaugural Arlington Million, against the top horses in the US & Europe.  He races far back and grinds out the stretch, racing neck and neck with The Bart, surging under the wire to a photo finish.  The crowd and commentators all watch and wait for the stewards’ decision, and finally, the tote board flashes OFFICIAL — John Henry has won, by a nose, AGAINST ALL ODDS!

The story takes place in the early 80’s, which is experiencing a renaissance in pop culture.  Racing fans lov movies about our heroes, and John Henry was one of the greatest ever — 83 starts, 39 wins and over $6 mill in earnings, the first horse to reach that amount.  He raced a long time, to the age of 9, and when he rtired, it was not to stud, but to the only theme park for horses, where his many fans could visit him.  He died last year at the age of 32, and over 500 people attended his funeral, including me:-)

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