ARCADIA, Calif.— History will be revisited on Saturday, Oct. 1 at Santa Anita, as Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally will be on-hand to present the trophy for the race named in honor of his superstar pupil, legendary Hall of Fame two-time Horse of the Year John Henry who retired at age nine in 1984 as racing’s all-time leading money earner. The Grade II, $200,000 John Henry Turf Championship, for 3-year-olds and upward, will be contested at a mile and one quarter over Santa Anita’s Camino Real Turf Course.
McAnally, one of racing’s most beloved figures and a member of racing’s Hall of Fame since 1990, will forever be linked to the rugged gelding who came under his care late in his four-year-old year in the fall of 1979 at Santa Anita.
Raced primarily in the east through his first 38 starts, John Henry actually made his Southern California debut at Santa Anita’s Oak Tree Meeting in his 28th start, on Oct. 8, 1978. Trained at that time by Robert Donato, John Henry, a diminutive bay with an ornery temperament, ran third beaten a half length as the 2-1 favorite under Chuck Baltazar in the Grade III Volante Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on turf.
McAnally took over as head coach the following year, sending “John” out to a second-place finish under Darrel McHargue in the Grade II Carlton F. Burke Handicap at 1 ¼ miles on turf Oct. 14, 1979.
With two career stakes wins to his credit prior to coming to McAnally, John Henry, who was foaled on March 9, 1975, was by Ole Bob Bowers and was out of the Double Jay mare Once Double. In his second start for McAnally, he would notch the first of what would be an astounding 27 stakes wins in his next 44 starts, as he took a division of the Henry P. Russell Handicap by 3 ¼ lengths as the 3-5 favorite on Nov 5, 1979.
In a nationally televised race for the ages that helped to cement McAnally’s status as one of America’s top conditioners, John Henry was just up to win the inaugural Grade I Arlington Million Stakes by a nose with Bill Shoemaker on Aug. 30, 1981. The first two-time winner of the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, taking the Big ’Cap in 1981 and 82, John Henry would be awarded Eclipse Horse of the Year titles under McAnally’s steady hand in both 1981 and 1984.
In his career finale, he marched to victory going 1 3/8 miles on turf under Chris McCarron in the Grade I Ballentine’s Scotch Handicap at the Meadowlands on Oct. 13, 1984, retiring as racing’s all-time leading money earner with $6,597,947 from an overall mark of 83-39-15-9. He would subsequently be voted the first-ever nine-year-old to capture racing’s highest single-season honor.
In addition to his Horse of the Year titles, John Henry won five additional Eclipse Awards with McAnally, reigning as Champion Turf Horse in 1980, 81, 83 & 84, as well as Champion Older Male in 1984.
McAnally, who frequently visited John Henry at the Kentucky Horse Park until his passing at age 32 on Oct. 8, 2007, was voted America’s Eclipse Award Champion Trainer three times, in 1981, 1991 & 92.
With 2,592 career victories, McAnally ranks fourth on Santa Anita’s all-time stakes-won list with 113 added money victories and is also fourth all-time at Santa Anita behind fellow Hall of Famers Bobby Frankel, Charlie Whittingham, and Bob Baffert, with 709 races-won.
A winner of the Laffit Pincay, Jr. Award for a lifetime of high integrity and decades-long service to racing this past August at Del Mar, McAnally, who turned 90 on July 11, currently has seven horses in training at The Great Race Place. He will be accompanied in the John Henry Winner’s Circle by his wife Debbie along with several close friends and long-time racing associates.
Santa Anita Press Release
Photo: Hall of famers Ron McAnally and John Henry (Courtesy of Santa Anita)