Rock Your World gives Hall of Famer Ron McAnally a shot at elusive Kentucky Derby win

Kentucky Derby hopeful Rock Your World works out April 27 at Churchill Downs.
Kentucky Derby hopeful Rock Your World works out April 27 at Churchill Downs. He was bred by Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally and wife Debbie.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

There are three Hall of Fame trainers trying to win the 147th edition of the Kentucky Derby. But only two of them are actually running horses.

If that doesn’t make any sense, then neither does the fact that 1990 inductee Ron McAnally, who never won the race as a trainer, is trying to win it as a breeder. But he’s got a pretty good shot.

Rock Your World surprised everyone a month ago when he won the Santa Anita Derby by 4 ¼ lengths in his third start and first time on dirt. He was so impressive that he was installed as the 5-1 second choice in the Kentucky Derby behind Essential Quality at 2-1. Both colts are undefeated.

McAnally, 88, says if Rock Your World wins the Kentucky Derby with he and his wife, Debbie, as the breeders, it would be “at the top” of a lifetime full of accomplishments.


That’s a tough sell to those who’ve marveled at his more than half- a century of training achievements.

Five former Brown football players, all around 28 years old, are headed to the Kentucky Derby as members of the ownership group of Hot Rod Charlie (or as they call him, “Chuck”).

April 30, 2021

“He had a lot of great accomplishments,” said John Sadler, who is Rock Your World’s trainer. “He had one horse [John Henry] that has a statue in the Santa Anita paddock. He had Paseana and Bayakoa. He has a long, long list.”

The percentages of training or breeding a Kentucky Derby winner are well to the right of the decimal point preceded by a “0.” McAnally might do it with only one mare that lives at Winter Quarter Farm in Lexington, Ky.

“They’ve got some retired horses that live here and are enjoying life and they’ve got some young ones,” said Don Robinson, who manages the farm. “But they’ve only got one active broodmare.”

Rock Your World’s mom is Charm the Maker and his dad is Candy Ride. McAnally trained both horses and owns Charm the Maker.

It makes this opportunity all the more special.

A win “would be, without a doubt, one of the highlights of our lives,” McAnally said.

Adding to the anticipation of Rock Your World running in the Kentucky Derby is that the race is one of the few things missing from McAnally’s resume. He’s brought 10 horses to the Kentucky Derby and never hit the board.

“Ron McAnally is one of the greatest trainers of all time,” said fellow Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who often visits with McAnally at Clockers’ Corner at Santa Anita. “There were a lot of great trainers that never got the chance to win the Derby, and he is one of them.

“When I first came into the business, I always looked up to him asked him questions and followed his program because I was stabled next to him. Even at his age, he’s still very sharp.”

Kentucky Derby hopeful Rock Your World gets a bath after a workout at Churchill Downs.
Kentucky Derby hopeful Rock Your World gets a bath after a workout April 27 at Churchill Downs.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

McAnally won the Eclipse Award for top trainer three times. During his career he has 18,010 starts with 2,592 wins. He still dabbles in training and has had four starts this year with one win, a percentage that would get you in the Hall of Fame if you weren’t already there.

“He’s a guy that’s been in California his whole career and had wonderful horses there his whole career,” Sadler said. “He’s had a storied career especially when you think about his relationship with Jenny and Sidney Craig [who owned Candy Ride] and all the great horses he’s had. I think it’s really nice for him to be in this position. He’s a little older now and to have bred a really top horse ... I know he’s thrilled.”

McAnally has offered Sadler no advice on how to train Rock Your World, even when the horse took an unusual path to get here. His first two races were on the turf before winning the Santa Anita Derby.

“John Sadler is a very good horseman,” McAnally said. “He takes his time and treats them well.”

Their relationship goes back a long way to when Sadler was a veterinary assistant for Jack Robbins, the father of Del Mar’s director of racing Tom Robbins and now retired trainer Jay Robbins.

“Jack was the veterinarian for the McAnally barn, so I got to be around him a lot,” Sadler said. “I know this is fun for him especially because he’s got the [horse’s] family. He’s even got a full brother [same sire and dam] to this horse. A trainer needs to be looking ahead, and this one will make his vision even a brighter one.”

One thing that McAnally had to learn as breeder is that you can’t keep every horse, even if they are really good.

“I had him as a yearling in Kentucky before the sale, and I had the [groom] take him out of the stall two or three times,” McAnally said. “I had the feeling, honestly, that this was a good horse. But you can’t keep buying them back. It’s so that people know when you consign a horse, you’re actually there to sell the horse. You’re either serious about selling the horse or you’re not.”

McAnally’s version of selling Rock Your World, who went for $650,000, was initially met only with a chuckle from Robinson.

“In the old school, if you’re a seller, you really can’t bid on your own horses because it irritates people,” Robinson said. “I’ve been with Ron for a long time and have had to remind him, ‘Ron, it makes people angry so you have to be careful.’ Still, there is so much respect for Ron McAnally.”

When 3:57 p.m. rolls around Saturday, the McAnallys will be parked in front of their big-screen television.

“I’ll have a lot of butterflies,” McAnally said. “It means just as much as if we were training the horse. Debbie will be yelling and our two little dogs will be barking and we’ll be excited if he wins or if he just runs good.”

And if Rock Your World wins the Kentucky Derby?

“They don’t bottle enough champagne.”