Updated on 06/29/2012 7:09AM

Hovdey: McAnally mining more talent from South America

Shigeki Kikkawa
Interaction, one of two potential stars from South America for trainer Ron McAnally, wins an allowance race June 16 at Betfair Hollywood Park.

Bob Baffert noticed right away.

“You’ve lost weight,” he told Ron McAnally. “Lookin’ good.”

“Twenty pounds so far,” McAnally replied. “You scared me.”

This is how Hall of Famers communicate, veteran trainers anxious to stretch their singular careers as long as possible while enjoying in good health the spoils of their labors. Baffert, 59, reacted to his cardiac episode in Dubai last March by shedding pounds and hitting the gym, and it shows. McAnally, who turns 80 on July 11, took the younger man’s experience literally to heart and went on a diet of his own, strict but somewhat healthier than the one he was on in the northern Kentucky ophanage of his youth.

Now, after Baffert’s freshly stented pump passed the stress test of the Triple Crown – in which colts he trained finished second in all three jewels – McAnally hopes to hit the high road with his new fighting weight and a pair of potential stars from South America.

Two weeks ago Interaction broke cover with a narrow victory in his West Coast debut over the capable Norvsky in an allowance race on the Hollywood Park grass. He is due to run next in the Sunset Handicap there on closing day, July 15.

More to the point, on Saturday it will be Suggestive Boy’s turn in Hollywood’s $300,000 Shoemaker Mile, a Grade 1 event that also has drawn Mr. Commons, Jeranimo, Liberian Freighter, and the eastern invaders Little Mike and Corporate Jungle. This is very unlike McAnally, to throw a new kid into the deep end of the pool first time out in the hemisphere. But Suggestive Boy is ready to run, and McAnally’s hands were tied by the tyranny of the condition book.

“He acts like a good horse and he trains like a good horse,” McAnally said Wednesday evening, after downing a salad. “When the boy sets him down at the end of his works he comes with a real good turn of foot. I don’t need to look at my watch to see how good he’s doing it.”

When it comes to McAnally referring to anything about a racehorse as “good,” context probably is not required. Here’s some anyway.

Set aside for a moment John Henry, Tight Spot, Affluent, Olympio, Sweet Return, Syncopate, Pay Tribute, and Donut King, all home-grown major American talents for McAnally, as well as that other bunch of McAnally’s accomplished Europeans, including Northern Spur, Alpride, Brave Act, Dark Moondancer, and Johann Quatz. Concentrate instead on the mother lode of South Americans that McAnally has introduced to the bloodstream of U.S. racing.

The list begins with Hall of Famers Bayakoa and Paseana and continues with Candy Ride (Pacific Classic), Ibero (Met Mile, NYRA Mile), Festin (Jockey Club Gold Cup), Different (Spinster Stakes), Auspiciante (Matriarch), Toda Una Dama (Santa Margarita Handicap), and Potridee (Vanity Handicap).

There’s more, but for now fans want to know if Suggestive Boy and Interaction can measure up. Both horses were sired by Storm Cat’s son Easing Along, a champion stallion of Argentina out of a full sister to Easy Goer who has bounced back and forth between the hemispheres, even standing for a time at his birthplace of Claiborne Farm.

Having already won the Carlos Pelligrini, Argentina’s biggest race, as well as running in France, Dubai, and last summer in New York for Christophe Clement, the 6-year-old Interaction has been pretty much fully exposed since he was named 2009 Argentine Horse of the Year. Whatever McAnally can get from him will be gravy.

Suggestive Boy, on the other hand, is four and raced only six times last year at San Isidro in Buenos Aires. Five of those six starts were in Group 1 company, and he won four of those, one as a maiden, a record that looks like nothing but upside to McAnally.

“He’s average size – not too heavy or too light,” McAnally said of Suggestive Boy. “Everyone who sees him working in the morning has noticed him. They’ve been wondering when I’m going to run him. Needless to say I didn’t think I’d have to run him in a group one first time out.”

Also needless to say, McAnally would not mind having a trophy in his case with Bill Shoemaker’s name attached. Beyond Shoemaker’s work aboard a host of McAnally stakes winners – including the last half of a 1981 Horse of the Year campaign with John Henry – the two men were fast friends, sharing a hardscrabble upbringing that led somehow to sipping champagne from crystal slippers and rubbing elbows with elites. Is horse racing a great game or what?

Still, a trainer in his 80s has his work cut out these days, handcuffed by the demographic leanings of the modern patron class. McAnally’s new shooters are owned by Jose Cerrillo Chowell, a Mexican mining magnate, and Fernando Fantini Jr., a polo star, bloodstock agent, and son of the legendary Chilean breeder. It was the younger Fantini, well versed in history, who steered the horses McAnally’s way.

For his U.S. debut Suggestive Boy will be ridden by Joe Talamo in the Shoemaker, and with Little Mike and Liberian Freighter in the field they should get the pace McAnally is hoping for.

“I nominated him to the Arlington Million,” McAnally added, only he said it with the sigh of a man who knows how futile it sometimes can be to make plans. Whether or not Suggestive Boy will rise to the heights of Ibero, or even Candy Ride, remains to be proven on the racetrack.

“He’s the kind of horse who does everything right – all class, like a grade one horse,” McAnally said. “I guess we’ll find out.”