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Daily Racing Form: Hovdey: McAnallys’ Circle Goes Full In John Henry

Ron McNally trained John Henry, and bred Liam the Charmer, the winner of this year's John Henry Turf Championship.

The ripples from a stellar performance dropped into racing’s vast pond never travel far before they lap against the shores of a proud breeder.

Wow. How about that for a pretentious way of getting into the backstories of Discreet Lover, winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup last Saturday at odds of 45-1, and Liam the Charmer, the winning favorite in the John Henry Turf Championship at Santa Anita on Sunday.

It is true, though, that the attention tends to peter out once past the winning owner, trainer, and jockey of a widely covered event. Take Ron McAnally, for instance, who bred Liam the Charmer with his wife, Deborah, and sold the son of Smart Strike for $500,000 as a yearling to William and Suzanne Warren of Saint Liam fame. Last fall, the Warrens sold Liam the Charmer to the Madaket Stables of Sol Kumin for $100,000.

“We were at a church group Sunday afternoon and missed seeing the race,” McAnally said Monday. “I didn’t find out about it until this morning. And it was the John Henry, too. How about that?”

As the trainer of John Henry, and now the breeder of a John Henry winner, McAnally knows the race well. In another life, it was the Oak Tree Invitational, the signature event of the Oak Tree Racing Association season, offered at a mile and a half on grass and won by some of the finest turf horses in training during the pre-Breeders’ Cup Turf era.

John Henry himself won it three times, defeating the Charlie Whittingham pair of Balzac and Bold Tropic in 1980, in a thriller over Spence Bay in 1981, and in 1982 with relative ease over Craelius, another Whittingham victim. Ol’ John tried to win the Oak Tree for a fourth time in 1983, but lost by a half-length to the fine French mare Zalataia.

With the McAnallys otherwise occupied, the historically minded folks at Santa Anita turned to Donna Cenicola for the John Henry presentation. Having been married to the late Lewis Cenicola, John Henry’s lifelong exercise rider, she knows the legend well. And just to tie a bow on the day, Liam the Charmer’s groom in the Mike McCarthy barn is Jose Mercado, who also cared for John Henry.

This made for a quietly delightful celebration, but it was nothing like the fireworks in New York, where Discreet Lover, a one-horse ATM owned and trained by Uriah St. Lewis, prevailed in the Gold Cup over horses owned by Godolphin, Coolmore, Calumet, and Ralph Evans. According to reports, St. Lewis bet $100 across the board at that 45-1 price, banked a winning purse of $412,500, and earned a fees-paid berth to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

St. Lewis and his family should be sending a thank-you note to farm staff at Woodford Thoroughbreds in Ocala, where the Florida-bred Discreet Lover was born, raised, and made eligible to the Breeders’ Cup program in early August of 2013 before the son of Repent was even weaned.

The nomination fee at that point was $400. Had Discreet Lover not been a Breeders’ Cup-eligible, it would have cost his current owner $100,000 in the wake of the Gold Cup triumph just to be able to take advantage of the Win and You’re In bonus, worth $150,000 in entry fees.

“We nominate all our foals,” said John Gleason, Woodford general manager, during a busy morning at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic yearling sale in Maryland. “Discreet Lover went through our training program and we sold him at the Maryland 2-year-old sale. So we were definitely cheering him on.”

Discreet Lover cost $10,000, and has earned $1.3 million.

Woodford had already been in the news as the breeders of Midnight Bisou, winner of the Santa Anita Oaks, Mother Goose, and more recent Cotillion Stakes on the DQ of Monomoy Girl.

“We’ve still got the dams of both,” Gleason added. “Midnight Bisou’s dam has a Warrior’s Reward yearling and a Wicked Strong foal. Discreet Lover’s dam has an Outwork weanling.”

They do tend to multiply. Just ask the McAnallys, who watched their stakes-winning Olympio filly Olympic Charmer turn into a broodmare of great treasure.

Olympic Charmer, a foal of 1996, won a pair of Grade 2 events and finished second in the Grade 1 La Brea to earn a breeding to rookie Coolmore stallion Giant’s Causeway in 2001. She remained in Ireland to produce five foals, including the Giant’s Causeway filly, named Charm the Giant, who was barely two weeks old when this reporter meet her on a cool April afternoon at Coolmore.

Charm the Giant grew up to win a Grade 3 race, and, on the coattails of her dam, a shot at some choice stallions. Her Empire Maker filly Charm the Maker placed in a pair of Grade 1 events and won the Sharp Cat Stakes at Hollywood while carrying the colors of the McAnallys. Then, Charm the Giant’s mating to Smart Strike in 2012 produced Liam the Charmer.

The John Henry winner had been knocking at a stakes win since he was 3, and McAnally had been paying close attention. The pride of accomplishment in breeding a graded stakes winner never grows old, especially when the win comes in a race of such personal significance.

“And besides that,” McAnally said, grinning though the phone, “we get an award from the Kentucky breeders fund.”

This story originally appeared on DRF.com


Visit DRF.com for additional news, notes, wagering information, and more.

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