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Family Tree

June 6, 2016

In the fall of 1976, before I became “old”, my good friend, Bud, whose passion was betting on horse races, told me that I had a namesake. Not someone he had run into at the track, but a horse. And not just any horse, but a semi-famous stallion thoroughbred which, at that time, held the Bay Meadows track record for the mile and one-eighth, and had held it since October, 1968. “Ole Bob Bowers” was the horse’s name, and as proof, Bud produced a photocopy of what appeared to be a racing form, listing all the current Bay Meadows track records. All of my friends were expert practical jokers, so I laughed this off and turned to more important things, like wine tasting. I knew nothing about horse racing, but I knew that horses had blood-stirring names like Man O’ War, Bold Ruler or Seabiscuit, and that Bud’s little list was obviously a joke.

But I kept it anyway, since it made good cocktail party conversation, and eventually I filed it away with other junk from the seventies. There it sat until 2006, when an invitation to a Kentucky Derby party stirred old memories. Barbaro won that race and I started thinking about thoroughbred names again. I found the old photocopy and decided to Google the name, and, mother of all surprises, Ole Bob Bowers was revealed in all his glory. Bud had not been joking after all. Not only had Ole Bob been a record holder, he had even been a stakes winner at Tanforan.

Ole Bob was a bit of a sexy beast, as well, siring a passel of ninety progeny, some that seem weirdly appropriate, like Ole Bow Wower, Joyfull Jumper, Boozie Trip, Chase the Nurse and No Work Today. Two others are even more strangely connected—Charjo Jenny (I have a daughter, Jenny) and Lucies Bower (I have a cousin, Lucy). But his track and stud muffin accomplishments fade when compared with one of those many offspring, John Henry. Like the folk-hero steel driving man he must have been named after, John Henry was a legendary, rags to riches horse that gives me a weird sense of fatherly pride. The Internet is full of stories and news of John Henry, who turned 31 at the Kentucky Horse Park on March 9, 2006. That’s 101 in human years. John was a feisty horse, to put it mildly, leading to an early castration. Although this didn’t improve his attitude, it might have let him focus more on his racing. He went on to an incredible career, winning 39 of 83 races and placing second or third another 24 times. He was named horse of the year twice, won seven coveted Eclipse Awards and, at six and a half million dollars, was the record money winner for years. Makes a daddy proud.

The publications are less kind to Ole Bob, in spite of the fact that he was a stakes winner, equaled the world record for nine furlongs and had more kids than a fundamentalist Mormon. One writer called him “ranker than dog shit in the stud and a below average producer.” Really? Another writer, talking about John Henry, said that “he was sired by a rather mediocre stallion known more for his terrible, terrible temperament than for his racing or sire ability. Ole Bob was such a nasty candidate that he’d been sold as a stallion for a mere nine hundred dollars.” I’m feeling personally insulted.

I never discovered how Ole Bob got his name. Horse names often bear connections to their parentage, but Ole Bob’s “parents” were Prince Blessed and Blue Jeans. Prince Blessed came from Princequillo and Dog Blessed and Princequillo came from Prince Rose and Cosquilla. “Old Prince Bob” might have been a more appropriate name.

Blood-stirring or not, you can have your Battle Joined, Man O’ War and Seabiscuit. My favorite is Ole Bob Bowers, and I’m looking forward to the movie.

From → Humor

  1. Loretta Johnson permalink

    Dear Bob: Please don’t succumb to an early castration. It wouldn’t be right. After all, you’re so funny, you’d be less so with a high voice. Loretta

  2. Thanks, Loretta. I assure you I will take your advice.

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