“I was behind a wall of horses. Finally, I got through and he must have been like 10 lengths off the pace, and I’m telling you he flew by everybody and he won by two lengths. “That was such an impressive race. That’s the kind of horse he was.” Former racing steward Pete Pedersen, who saw all of John Henry’s record 15 stakes wins at Santa Anita, recalled a horse with a ton of heart. “I remember a gutty, gutty, gutty horse,” he said. “Ran hard all the way. I think he was the public’s favorite. He was just a wonderful thing for racing. He was a genuine hero. “You’d have to name John Henry among the handful of great horses that raced here in the West. The public loves a competitor who’s overcome many things, for whatever reasons, and can go to the top, and that was John Henry.” Once sold for $1,100, John Henry won seven Eclipse Awards under McAnally’s care, including two for Horse of the Year in 1981 and ’84. “He was so competitive,” McAnally said. “He was just a hard horse to pass. If you ran head and head with him, he was going to beat you every time. The way that he was beaten a few times is when they snuck up on him right at the finish line. “He was a great horse, and hopefully some day we’ll get one like him.” [email protected] (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2103 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! McAnally knew he had something special the first day John Henry arrived at his barn from New York in 1980. “The first time we ever started him, he arrived at like 4 o’clock in the morning and on the same day he ran at 5 o’clock (in the afternoon) and finished second,” McAnally said. “I said, `This horse, it looks like he’s got something.’ “From then on, we paid a little more attention, and the better he got the more attention we paid.” Laffit Pincay Jr., who rode John Henry during many of his big victories in 1980 and ’81, remembers one particular race that looked hopeless at the top of the stretch. “I got caught between horses, I had no place to go for a long time, and coming down the stretch I thought I had no chance,” he said. “He still has that spunk in him,” said Ron McAnally, his former trainer. “The girls that I talk to once in a while at the horse park, the three girls that take care of him, they said when he isn’t trying to back them into a corner they know something is wrong.” John Henry, who won 39 of 83 starts, including 15 Grade I stakes, was the sport’s all-time leading money-winner with earnings of $6,597,947 when he was retired in 1984 at age 9. One of the most popular race horses to ever run in Southern California, John Henry still is alive and kicking at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Known for his ornery ways during a career where deuces were wild – two Santa Anita Handicap wins, a pair of victories in the Arlington Million and two Eclipse Awards as Horse of the Year – the gelding who enjoyed a rags-to-riches career will turn 32 on March 9.