“Like fine wine…” flowed the words from emcee Ted Bassett at the annual Eclipse Awards Dinner to announce that John Henry had been named 1984 Horse of the Year at the advanced age of 9. The same words today could describe octogenarian Ron McAnally, John Henry’s Hall of Fame trainer and poster boy for the geriatric set. McAnally, who celebrated his 82nd birthday on July 11, ages gracefully while continuing to pump out Grade 1 stakes winners. Seated at a Clocker’s Corner table one morning in June near the end of the extended Santa Anita Park meet and looking forward to Del Mar, McAnally made only a few minor concessions to Father Time while continuing his lifelong love affair with his job.
“As long as I’m alive, that’s all I know how to do,” said the soft-spoken trainer of the regimen that keeps him young: showing up at the track early every morning seven days a week. “I don’t play golf, tennis, or cards.” McAnally admitted that he does not move as smoothly as he did when he was 41, largely the result of partial knee replacement surgery in 2012, but the anticipation of his next stakes win keeps a bounce in his step and a glint in his eye. “Dan Landers, my assistant since 1995, has been my right arm, especially since the knee surgery,” said McAnally, who conditions 15 horses at Santa Anita and another four at Pomona with Jose Miranda, an employee for 42 years. Landers walked by and alerted McAnally to the arrival of Miss Serendipity on the track. The 6-year-old Argentine-bred mare had given McAnally his most recent Grade 1 score with a 13-to-1 upset in the $300,000 Gamely Stakes on the Santa Anita turf on May 26. McAnally has not lost his touch with South American imports, who gave him a series of earlier career highlights and have provided most of his success the past two years.
In addition to Miss Serendipity, the McAnally stable also boasts Quick Casablanca, a 6-year-old Chilean-bred horse which two days before the Gamely missed winning the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Stakes on grass by two necks in a three-way photo. In 2013, McAnally won the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile with Suggestive Boy, a 6-year-old Argentine-bred who remains in training, and the Grade II San Juan Capistrano Stakes with Interaction, another Argentine-bred who was retired to stud in his native land. McAnally said the secret to Miss Serendipity was the same as most of the two dozen other South American imports he has turned into graded stakes winners: patience. “Miss Serendipity took longer than most,” explained McAnally of the mare who arrived last summer at Del Mar but did not make her U.S. debut until January at Santa Anita. “She had a skin rash that we used medicated shampoo on to clear up.”
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THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN - NORTH AMERICAN TRAINER - ISSUE 33
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Author: Steve Schuelein