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John Henry-McAnally Team in Hall of Fame

April 18, 1990|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Henry, the old gelding who was twice elected horse of the year, and Ron McAnally, the trainer who deftly nursed him from race to race, have been voted into racing's Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.

The result of voting by 100 turf reporters was announced Tuesday. Others elected were All Along, the filly who was a champion in both France and North America; Bimelech, who won the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes in 1940, and jockey Jorge Velasquez, who has ridden more than 6,100 winners.

The Hall of Fame's steeplechase committee elected Zaccio, who was the champion jumper three times during the early 1980s, and his trainer, Jonathan Sheppard.

The newest members will be inducted into the hall at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on Aug. 9. In honor of its 40th anniversary, all living human members of the hall are being invited to attend the ceremony.

John Henry, sold for $1,100 as a yearling, bounced from owner to owner in Louisiana and Kentucky before Sam Rubin, a New York bicycle importer who had owned just a few horses before, bought him for $25,000 in 1978.

After running for claiming prices in New York, John Henry was shipped to California, where McAnally became his trainer. John Henry wound up with 30 stakes victories and had earned $6.5 million, a record at the time, when he was retired in 1984. He was a 6-year-old when he won his first horse-of-the-year title in 1981, and was voted the award again in 1984. Counting divisional championships on both grass and dirt, John Henry won seven Eclipse Awards. In 1981, McAnally won the Eclipse Award for best trainer, and Rubin was voted outstanding owner.

Because of his fragile legs and sometimes ornery, independent disposition, John Henry was not an easy horse to train. Considered better on grass, he won the Arlington Million twice, but he also is the only two-time winner of the Santa Anita Handicap, a dirt race. John Henry won many of his races by narrow margins through sheer determination, refusing to let rallying horses pass him, and McAnally thought that he would have won a third Arlington Million if he hadn't been blocked from seeing another horse closing along the rail.

One of the reasons John Henry raced so well under McAnally was that the trainer allowed the horse to have his own way. When John Henry would go from the barn to the track for a morning workout, his exercise rider, Louie Cenicola, permitted him to make intermittent stops to gaze at the scenery and activity along the way.

After Lefty Nickerson, one of John Henry's New York trainers, was responsible for McAnally getting the horse, McAnally promised him a share of his commissions for the rest of John Henry's career. Nickerson received an estimated $250,000 as a result of the gesture.

McAnally, 57, grew up in a Kentucky orphanage after his mother died and his father was unable to keep the family together. He was a successful trainer before getting John Henry and has saddled horses that have won about 90 stakes races. His first important horse was Donut King, who won the Champagne Stakes in 1961, and some of McAnally's other stakes winners included Super Moment, Auspiciante, Pay Tribute, Cruiser II, Excitable Lady, An Act, Bayakoa and Hawkster. Bayakoa was voted the Eclipse Award as champion filly or mare last year.

All Along beat colts in three countries in 1984, winning the Arc de Triomphe in France, the Turf Classic and the Washington D.C. International in the United States and the Rothmans International in Canada. She was voted North America's horse of the year, becoming the first female to win the honor unanimously in 38 years.

Velasquez, who has been riding for more than 25 years, came to the United States from Panama in 1965. He won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness with Pleasant Colony in 1981, and in 1985 he rode 57 stakes winners, which is still a record.

Bimelech won all six starts in 1939 and was voted champion 2-year-old colt. The next year, he was the 2-5 favorite in the Kentucky Derby but ran second to Gallahadion, a 35-1 shot. Bimelech redeemed himself in the other Triple Crown races.

Zaccio won 18 of 35 starts and was voted the outstanding steeplechase horse in 1980, '81 and '82. The English-born Sheppard has been America's leading money-winning steeplechase trainer 17 times during a 25-year career.

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