Bobby Donato, Former Trainer Of Champion John Henry, Dies At 79

by | 07.04.2017 | 1:44pm
John Henry

Trainer Bobby Donato is best know as the first man to race future seven-time champion John Henry on the turf, and was also the first to win a stakes race with the popular gelding. Donato passed away on Saturday at age 79, due to complications from back surgery, according to

John Henry won six of his 13 starts under Donato's care, including a 12-length romp in Arlington's 1978 Round Table Stakes.

Donato traveled the racetrack circuit across the Eastern United States for most of his life, recently settling in to follow the Kentucky crowd. Though he never won more than 10 races in a year after 1984, Donato “loved the racetrack” and was well-known across the racing community, said his godson Matt Mungiole.


  • Bobby Donato was a great guy who always put the interests of his horses first. Everyone at Old Friends sends their condolences to Lodana.

  • Denise Steffanus

    I interviewed Mr. Donato in August 2015 about what made him decide to put John Henry on the turf. He said the common misconception was that he recognized the horse had a “grass” hoof.

    “He had a very nice foot, but the main thing was pedigree,” he said. “His father ran on grass in Chicago and he was out of a Double Jay mare. That’s grass top and bottom, and that was the main reason. … There’s no really special way to pick out a grass horse. You try them on it, you work them on it, and if they have nice action, smooth action, and work better on the grass, then you put them on the grass. John Henry reached out beautifully and did everything very handily. He had a beautiful stride on the grass.

    “With a horse like that, he stands out. They don’t come around very often. I’ve been training for 46 years, and there has never been another one like him. I don’t think there ever will.”

    Good job, Mr. Donato!

  • Linda White

    R.I.P. Bobby

    • Farmer

      Riposare in pace, il MiO amico. Say hello to Johnny Campo when you get up there

  • Rocío Aguilar

    I met Bobby in 2011 I’ve never worked with horses. Bobby taught me and took me under his wing until he died. He always helped me and protected me. Bobby was an incredible awesome human being: knowledgeable, kind, generous, understanding, animal lover. No one like him. He told me he wanted to be my best friend, and so he was.
    I’ll miss you, Bobby, for the rest of my life.
    With all my affection, gratitude and respect
    Rocío, or The Zombie, as you called me
    Rest in peace

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