Veteran trainer Bob Holthus, a regular on racing circuits in Kentucky, Arkansas and the Midwest for nearly 60 years, died Tuesday morning in Louisville at the age of 77.
Ever the hands-on horseman, Mr. Holthus was preparing to head to Churchill Downs to oversee his horses' morning training when he had an apparent heart attack. He died a short time later at a local hospital.
"This is a very sad day for all members of the Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby families as we have lost a revered figure and a true friend in Robert Holthus," said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs. "His talents as a horseman are easily appreciated by a look at wins and earnings that serve as the bottom line for a remarkable career, but Bob was also a true gentleman to everyone who crossed his path."
Mr. Holthus' career, which began at Nebraska's Columbus racetrack in 1952, started well before the launch of official record-keeping for American Thoroughbred racing. But he saddled documented winners of 2,824 races, which ranks 28th on the sport's all-time list, and compiled earnings of $46,085,877. He had at least 146 stakes wins, with 27 of those in graded-stakes events.
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Career highlights include a pair of victories in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park with Proper Reality (1988) and future champion Lawyer Ron (2006), both of whom were among his five career starters in the Kentucky Derby. Proper Reality finished fourth to Winning Colors in his Derby outing, and Lawyer Ron finished 12th behind Barbaro.
Mr. Holthus never won a training title at Churchill Downs, but he won 211 races there and had six documented top-five finishes in "leading trainer" races.
Mr. Holthus is survived by his wife, Bonnie; sons Paul and David; and a daughter, Debbie. A memorial service for Holthus has been scheduled for Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Christ Chapel on the Churchill Downs backside.