Like everyone else, Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally is looking forward to the familiar, but expecting the different, when the 81st summer racing season begins this Friday at Del Mar.
As usual, early that morning, he’ll be at his customary perch on the balcony overlooking the track outside the barn where his horses have been stabled for decades. The spot where he watched champions Bayakoa, John Henry, Paseana and Tight Spot train for stakes victories and Candy Ride putting in an inspiring work before providing McAnally and owners Sid and Jenny Craig a coveted victory in the 2003 Pacific Classic.
“I’m there every morning. Wouldn’t miss it,” McAnally said in a recent phone call.
McAnally first came to Del Mar as a 16-year-old in 1948 working for his uncle, trainer Reggie Cornell, and first had horses there on his own in the late 1950s. McAnally is second on the track’s all-time list for trainer stakes victories with 77, behind only the record 133 that Bob Baffert keeps adding to and making more unreachable.
This will be his 60th summer at Del Mar. No trainer can match that.
Many things will be different at Del Mar 2020. And specifically for McAnally, for the first time, the meeting will be underway when he celebrates his birthday. This Saturday he turns 88.
The last time Del Mar was in session on July 11 was 1945. Opening day of a season that welcomed back racing after three years lost to World War II. In subsequent years the meeting has generally commenced a week or two later in July, allowing for preparation time for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club following the end of the San Diego County Fair around July 4. But the postponement of this year’s Fair due to the COVID-19 pandemic made an earlier start to the race meeting possible.
McAnnally's birthday is part of an eventful weekend for the McAnally family. She’s Our Charm, trained by Ron for his wife Debbie, is entered in the seventh race on the opening-day card. Friday is also the birthday for the McAnally’s daughter, Laura, which they plan to celebrate in conjunction with Ron’s on Saturday.
“He’ll go to the track in the morning. We’ll have his favorite Marzipan cake for his birthday later,” Laura said. “It’ll be a small gathering, just family. But I know that if he could bring the horses to the house, he’d be a complete man.”
McAnally’s dedication to the animals was such that when Santa Anita was shut down and protocols put in place, McAnally continued to go to the track to supervise care daily. Despite some family protests about the risk.
“He’d say, ‘The horses got me to where I am today and I’ll never turn my back on them’,” Laura said.