06/20/2013 1:47PM

Hollywood: McAnally's resurgence fueled by old approach

Barbara D. Livingston
Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally is on pace to reach $1 million in annual earnings for the first time since 2008.

The two horses arrived at Santa Anita in May, fresh from a trip from South America and a weeklong quarantine in Miami. The 4-year-olds Di Giorgio and Safety Belt were first and second in separate Group 1 races in Argentina on May 1 and became the newest members of trainer Ron McAnally’s stable when they arrived in Southern California a few weeks ago. They are not well known in American racing.

Give McAnally time.

South American horses helped McAnally establish a reputation as one of the nation’s leading trainers in the last 25 years. Horses from South America are playing a key role in his stable revival. Weeks before his 81st birthday on July 11, McAnally can’t wait to come to work.

“When you have horses like that, it gives you a little more interest,” he said. “We were down for the last year or two, but we’ve got a couple of good horses.”

A member of racing’s Hall of Fame since 1990, McAnally had less than $1 million in annual stable earnings from 2009-2012, a streak likely to end this year. Through Sunday, McAnally had stable earnings of $569,470, with the lucrative Del Mar summer and Santa Anita autumn meetings still to come.

Already this year, McAnally’s stable has returned to prominence in Southern California with three stakes wins by the Argentine-breds Interaction and Suggestive Boy. In March, Suggestive Boy won the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita, giving McAnally his 700th career win at the track.
If McAnally gets past $1 million this year, he will not do it with great volume of starters. The success will come with quality runners.

McAnally has forged an alliance with South American owners Jose Cerillo and Federico Fantini Jr. in recent years. They race Suggestive Boy, who also won the Grade 2 Arcadia Stakes in February at Santa Anita. Suggestive Boy missed the spring because of a splint bone injury but returned to training recently with the expectation of a start at Del Mar this summer.

Cerillo and Fantini raced Interaction, who gave McAnally his third career win in the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita in April. Interaction was found to have an ankle injury in May and will be retired to stud in South America later this year.

“He was going to be retired this year anyway,” McAnally said. “You hate to lose a good horse. It’s good that we have the other two coming in.”

The departure of Interaction makes the arrival of Di Giorgio and Safety Belt all the more timely. Di Giorgio won the Group 1 Gran Premio Republica Argentina over about 1 1/4 miles by six lengths on dirt at Palermo, Argentina, on May 1, the same day Safety Belt was second in the Group 1 Gran Premio de las Americas.

“They could be ready by Del Mar,” McAnally said. “We’ve started on the track with them.”

The addition of such high-class horses in the last year has picked up spirits around the stable, McAnally said. Many of his staff, including grooms, hotwalkers and assistant Dan Landers, have been with McAnally for more than a decade. Landers joined McAnally’s team as an assistant in 1995.

Better horses in the barn makes for higher morale, McAnally said.

“The guys in the backstretch get more enthusiastic about the business,” McAnally said. “Many of the horses we have now, we owned or bred. It gives the guys a job. I can’t let them go. They’ve been good to me, and I want to be good to them.”

Best known for training the veteran John Henry to Horse of the Year titles in 1981 and 1984, McAnally also trained champions such as Bayakoa, the outstanding older female of 1989 and 1990; Paseana, the outstanding older female of 1992 and 1993; Tight Spot, the top older turf male of 1991; and Northern Spur, the top turf male of 1995.

Bayakoa and Paseana were South American imports. So were the McAnally-trained Grade 1 winners Ibero, who won the 1993 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park; Different, who won the 1996 Spinster at Keeneland; Toda Una Dama, who won the 1998 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita; and Candy Ride, the winner of the 2003 Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

McAnally said he believes the South American horses are “more durable.”

“They like mud, grass, or dirt, just about anything,” he said. “They are sounder than a lot of the horses from Europe.”

The 1991 season which featured Tight Spot’s win in the Arlington Million was McAnally’s most lucrative, with stable earnings of $8,388,214. That year he was honored with the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding trainer, which he also won in 1981 and 1992.

Today, McAnally is still a daily presence at Santa Anita where his stable is based. He is not as active as he was a few years ago when he regularly traipsed back and forth on an hourly basis to his stable. Last fall, he underwent knee replacement surgery. These days, McAnally spends most of his mornings at Clocker’s Corner, watching his stable of approximately 20 horses come and go, staying in regular contact with Landers.

This is his retirement. There is no golf game waiting.

“I don’t know what else I’d do,” he said.

His morning routine will vary slightly at Del Mar. His stable is adjacent to the backstretch of the racing surface, and a balcony above the barn office allows for a view of nearly the entire racetrack, an ideal position to monitor horses.

Del Mar opens July 17. For McAnally, it will be his 65th season there. It remains his favorite racing venue.

“I like Del Mar,” McAnally said. “I have all my life. It’s a relaxing type of racing.”

Di Giorgio, Safety Belt, and Suggestive Boy could make the 2013 Del Mar meeting even more memorable. Last year at Del Mar, Suggestive Boy won the restricted Wickerr Stakes on turf and was fifth in the $1 million Pacific Classic. Suggestive Boy could run in the $200,000 Del Mar Mile on turf on Aug. 25.

Last fall, Suggestive Boy was seventh behind 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita. McAnally wouldn’t mind a rematch in the same race at Santa Anita in November.

“I’d like to try him again,” McAnally said of Wise Dan. “If Suggestive Boy comes back the way he ran earlier this year – what he had was a minor thing – I wouldn’t mind giving him a chance, but I think Wise Dan is a good horse.”

In McAnally’s low-key demeanor, that’s a throwdown. You’ve been warned, Wise Dan. Ron McAnally has another South American runner to watch.

Catching up with Ron McAnally

Born: July 11, 1932, Covington, Ky.

Career wins: 1,354

Career earnings: $91,882,498

Accolades: Eclipse Award, outstanding trainer, 1981, 1991 and 1992; Inducted into racing Hall of Fame, 1990.

Breeders’ Cup winners: Bayakoa, 1989 Distaff (Gulfstream Park), and 1990 Distaff (Belmont Park); Paseana, 1992 Distaff (Gulfstream Park); Northern Spur, 1995 Turf (Belmont Park).

Other $1 million stakes wins: Arlington Million, John Henry (1981, 1984), Tight Spot (1991); Pacific Classic, Candy Ride (2003); Santa Anita Handicap, Mr Purple (1996).

Training titles: Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1999; Hollywood Park autumn meeting, 1991, 1994; Del Mar, 1980, 1989; Oak Tree, 1980, 1989.