After spending 2 years in South Florida working for the Winick family, into the Winick Barn came a horse named Spence Bay. He was an extraordinary talent winning races in the winter of 1981 in Florida. When the time came for Spence Bay to head west, Gary joined him at the request of Arnold Winick. He won 2 Grade I races in Californian but perhaps will be remembered most for an epic battle he lost to the legendary John Henry.
Excerpt from Jay Hovdey's 'Add Another Classic to Santa Anita's list of thrilling turf races'
Of John Henry’s 10 stakes victories over the Santa Anita turf, none was more dramatic than his victory over Spence Bay in the 1981 running of the Oak Tree Invitational.
If ever a horse deserved not to lose, it was Spence Bay. Alas, John Henry was at the peak of his considerable powers that season, having already clinched Horse of the Year by winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup. But at level weights, the Oak Tree was a race in which John Henry needed to compete, even though he was at the end of a long campaign. And Spence Bay was a fresh and formidable opponent, coming straight from a icy score in the Burke Handicap over the course.
Midway through the stretch, Spence Bay appeared to have John Henry’s measure. Correct that – he had John Henry beat. If you were there, you knew it. Then, from a place possessed only by those horses who make us cry, John Henry summoned a moment to remember, when, inside the final sixteenth, he actually picked up speed to pass a dead-game Spence Bay and win by a neck.
“To this day, I still can’t believe I lost that race,” said Fernando Toro, Spence Bay’s rider, not too long ago.