Veteran Kentucky-based trainer John E Churchman Jr, who saddled Kentucky Derby starters Fighting Fantasy and Wilder Than Ever in 1990 and ’91, respectively, passed away Tuesday night after a lengthy illness. He was 74.
Born June 4, 1935 in Louisville, Churchman began training horses in the mid-1960s and won a few hundred races and a handful of stakes races over four decades in the horse racing industry.
Fighting Fantasy, who entered the 1990 Kentucky Derby following a seven-length romp in the Grade III Thomas D. Nash Memorial Handicap at Sportsman’s Park, and Wilder Than Ever, third in the Grade II Jim Beam at Turfway Park the following year, both finished 15th in their respective Kentucky Derby appearances.
Both horses were owned by Ray Cottrell Sr., who would later form a successful partnership with trainer Ken McPeek. Churchman was Cottrell’s first trainer when the car salesman entered horse racing as an owner in 1984.
Churchman’s lone stakes victory at Churchill Downs came in the 1982 Debutante with his homebred 2-year-old filly Ice Fantasy.
One of Churchman’s favorite stable stars was Bravoure, who won the 1988 Cradle Stakes at River Downs. He considered the 2-year-old “probably as good a horse as I’ve ever been around.”
Churchman operated a small stable in recent years and his last victory was recorded on Jan. 28, 2008 at Turfway Park with maiden winner Storm Sight.
This spring, Churchman invited trainer Tom McCarthy to stable Blue Grass Stakes winner General Quarters with his limited string in Barn 37 at Churchill Downs.
Churchman is survived by wife Joyce. They had three sons – Gary (a farrier at Churchill Downs), Larry and Johnny.
Funeral services are scheduled for noon on Friday, Aug. 21 at Nunnelley Funeral Home, which is located at 4327 Taylor Blvd. in Louisville. Visitation is scheduled from 1-8 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 20, and 9 a.m. to noon on Friday, Aug. 21. Interment will follow the funeral and take place at Louisville Memorial Gardens West Cementary at 4400 Dixie Highway with Chaplain Ken Boehm presiding.