John Collins, a beloved Central Kentucky farrier who worked with any number of top Thoroughbreds including Horse of the Year Zenyatta, died suddenly at his home in Fayette County on Wednesday night or Thursday morning at the age of 50, the Paulick Report has learned.

Cause of death was not known, though friends said they believe he may have suffered an aneurysm.

“No one had more friends than Johnny Collins,” said Mike Cline, manager of Lane’s End in Versailles, Ky., where Collins spent a good part of Wednesday working with the farm’s horses.  “He’s just one of those people you wanted to be around. I feel really bad for his mother, his sisters and his family. We are all in shock out here. He was a really fit, healthy guy.”

“We are crushed,” said Don Robinson of Winter Quarter Farm in Lexington, where Zenyatta was foaled. Collins did the blacksmith work for Zenyatta, as well as on her dam and grandam at Winter Quarter, and also pulled her shoes off when she arrived at Lane’s End to begin her life as a broodmare.

“John was like your friend and family,” Robinson said. “And he had a way with horses ¬– he was a natural. He’s one of the few people I’ve seen that was just a natural with horses. He was absolutely at ease with a horse, and they felt it.”

Robinson said Collins honed his skills at what he called the “Jackie Thompson finishing school,” a reference to the highly respected Central Kentucky farrier who learned from the legendary George Tompkins. Though the three men, all of them African-American, were unrelated, their craft was passed down from one generation to the next almost as if they were family. Collins referred to Thompson as “Uncle Jack.”

“He was a class guy,” said Robinson. “I’m lucky to have known him.”

Bill Harrigan of Miacomet Farm in Georgetown worked with Collins for 25 years. “He was a like a brother,” Harrigan said. “We traveled together, went to a lot of places. He loved horse racing and loved sports. We went to the United Center in Chicago and watched Michael Jordan, and spent a lot of time together at the track. Johnny always had a smile on his face. He was just one of those people you rarely meet in life who never had a bad day.”

John Greathouse of Glencrest Farm in Midway is another Central Kentuckian who knew John Collins for many years. He posted the following on his Facebook page: “The world lost a great person yesterday. You were as good a guy as there was out there and a good friend. I will miss our time together. My condolences go out to Johnny's family. I was glad to have known him and will miss him dearly. RIP Mr. Collins.”

Even Zenyatta had a soft spot for John Collins. A diary post written in her name at on Dec. 14, 2010, said: “My blacksmith here at Lane’s End is the same person who took care of my feet years ago when I lived in Kentucky! His name is Johnny Collins. He is the same man who put on my shoes when I went to the Keeneland Sale in September, 2005! He took care of my feet when I was a little girl! Now, here he is taking off my shoes at the farm several years later. This is absolutely adorable! Johnny told me he’d been keeping track of me and all of my progress since then! It was so great to touch base with him, my first blacksmith, after all of these years! We had a blast sharing all of the FUN times since we last saw each other!

Tucker, Yocum and Wilson funeral home will be handling the services for Mr. Collins.