04/14/2010 11:00PM

McAnally, Duchossois follow familiar script


ARCADIA, Calif. - Veteran Hall of Famers like Ron McAnally are notorious for their patience. They know when to push and when to sit quietly in the weeds, waiting for the wheel to turn. Luck, if nothing else, always changes.

But, good grief, 18 years! That is how long it has been since McAnally unwrapped a 4-year-old filly named Martessa for Richard Duchossois at Hollywood Park, in late May of 1992. Martessa was bred in Germany, where she was a champion, and raced to a spectacular, high-profile victory in France, in an effort that goosed both her price tag and the anticipation of her new American connections.

In that Hollywood debut, Martessa disappointed no one, winning by two and running a mile on the grass in 1:33 flat. She also bowed a tendon, and that was that. McAnally had to console himself with a barn that included champion and Breeders' Cup winner Paseana and major 1992 stakes winners Ibero, Tight Spot, Festin, Brought to Mind, Tokatee, Race the Wild Wind, Sea Cadet, Algenib, and Super Staff. McAnally also won his third Eclipse Award. But no Martessa.

Things change, and McAnally would be thrilled these days with just two or three from that lineup. Over the past few years, the major victories have become fewer and farther between, to the extent that a common cry heard among veteran horseplayers and fans has become, "Somebody should give that man a horse!"

Well, what do you know . . . somebody did. Dick Duchossois, in fact, and she's a German-bred, French-raced filly who will carry McAnally's hopes on Saturday in the $150,000 Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita.

Eclair de Lune is no Martessa. At least, not yet. Her best race in Europe was a close third in Group 3 French company. In her California debut a month ago, she was a steadily closing fourth going a mile on the grass. There is a reason she is weighted at 114 pounds for the 1 1/4-mile Santa Barbara, getting 10 from the solid favorite, Tuscan Evening.

"It's not exactly like Bayakoa and Paseana carrying top weight all the time, but I'll take it," McAnally said after Eclair de Lune drew the outside post of six. "Ten pounds at a mile and a quarter can make a difference."

The Santa Barbara is one of the few major Santa Anita stakes that McAnally has neglected to win, although he came close with L'Attrayante in 1984 and Beautiful Noise in 2001. McAnally, 77, sits third to Bobby Frankel and Charlie Whittingham on the all-time winners list at Santa Anita, just shy of the 700 mark.

The trainer first saw Eclair de Lune last fall in Deauville, after a drive through the French countryside in the company of bloodstock agents Emmanuel de Seroux and Murray Friedlander. Lunch on the way was ordinary, but the filly made the journey worth the effort.

"She was correct, showed good presence, a good walker," McAnally recalled. "We had her vetted, she passed that, and we were prepared to pay even more when she went through the ring at the Arc sale. The first person I thought of for her was Duchossois."

The hammer fell at the equivalent of about $365,000.

Eclair de Lune went out of training to undergo her battery of importation tests, then took a while to get used to her new California surroundings. Accomplished European fillies have been sighted often around the McAnally barn - L'Attrayante, Alpride, and Zalataia lead the list - so the crew knew what was expected.

"I don't like to rush them too much when they get here," McAnally said. "Everything we've done with her she's done in hand. The boy that works her says every time she gets better and better. And her form tells us a mile and a quarter looks like her best distance."

So does her pedigree. Eclair de Lune is by Marchand de Sable, a son of Breeders' Cup Turf winner Theatrical who stood in France for a bargain but died in May 2009. At the time, Marchand de Sable's reputation was riding high with his son, champion French sprinter Marchand d'Or, while Eclair de Lune had just scored impressively in a prep for the French Oaks. On the bottom, Eclair de Lune is out of a mare by Acatenango, the three-time German Horse of the Year.

The filly also seems to have a head on her bay shoulders and well-honed instincts.

"We've got her on the back of the barn, on the Baldwin Avenue side," McAnally said. "A couple weeks ago, when they had that marathon race around here, I was giving her a carrot. Just as I did, her eyes started bugging out, her ears were pricked, and she started snorting. I couldn't hear anything. It turned out these runners - some of them were walking - were on the other side of the street. Whatever noise they made wasn't very loud, but it was one she hadn't heard before.

"Some horses are just dummies," McAnally added. "They wouldn't have spooked at something like that. Long story short - she didn't get the carrot. And I got the hell out of the stall."

In addition to Duchossois, the head of Arlington Park, McAnally also trains for Oaklawn Park chief Charles Cella. And, until recently, he had a few horses for Hialeah Park owner John Brunetti. In the not-so-distant past, such names would have meant a stable was in the pink, touching all the right bases. Now, they represent only a handful of horses.

"The people who are spending money aren't spending much," McAnally said. "And people forget you very easily in this game. I still love what I do, though, and I wouldn't want to do anything else. All you have to do is win a couple good ones, and it's amazing how the memory returns."