By - Joe ClancyPersonal Ensign lowered her head and went after Winning Colors. I was there at the 1988 Breeders’ Cup. Four races later, Alysheba entered the winner’s circle—in the dark—after setting the earnings record. And I was still there. Cigar roared through the stretch in the 1996 MassCap, his 15th consecutive win. Saw that, too, while standing on a chair in the Suffolk Downs dining room. Montjeu floated away with the 1999 Irish Derby (Ire-I) at the Curragh, to the cheers of Irishmen lifting pint cans of Budweiser (imagine). My dad and I watched that from the reserved enclosure. Secretariat lost to Onion, Forego went down to Nearly On Time, and Smarty Jones yielded to Birdstone. I witnessed those, too.
But I never saw anything in racing like McDynamo winning a fifth consecutive Breeders’ Cup Grand National Steeplechase (NSA-I) at Far Hills, N.J., Oct. 20. Grown men cried. Women swooned. Goosebumps got chills. And the 10-year-old Dynaformer gelding just kept galloping, relentlessly jumping and putting away challenges. He won by six lengths, but it could have been twice that.
Think about it. Five years in a row he won the most valuable and most important steeplechase on the continent. He covered 13 1⁄8 miles, jumped 70 fences, and defeated 26 opponents. Twenty-seven if you count age. He won the first in 2003 at 6. The wins kept coming at 7, 8, 9, and now 10. This year, he was the oldest horse of 39 to start in the day’s six races. Each Breeders’ Cup challenger was at least two years his junior.
Want more? He won the first of the five in the same year Richard Mandella trained four Breeders’ Cup winners at Santa Anita. Remember that? Pleasantly Perfect, Halfbridled, Action This Day, and Johar. Ashado, who had her first foal this spring, was a 2-year-old. Funny Cide, now a lead pony, was 3. Chapel Royal, whose first foals will race next year, finished third in the Juvenile (gr. I). Retired jockeys Jerry Bailey, Jose Santos, Julie Krone, Pat Day, and Gary Stevens rode on the card. Of the 10 runners in the Classic (gr. I) that year, just three—Perfect Drift, Evening Attire, and Funny Cide—started in 2007, and all are younger than McDynamo.
And people say Thoroughbreds don’t last. Pierre “Peb” Bellocq once drew a cartoon of McDynamo dressed up like the Energizer Bunny. The horse just keeps going and going…
Taking the rest of us for a ride on his wave. Watching McDynamo win again felt like going to church. The priest’s homily hit home, made people think, inspired them. There was no holy water at Far Hills, but the comparison fits. This horse is that good, and anyone with even a remote attachment to sport would understand. It’s about greatness. We watch because of the chance to be awed. Josh Beckett throws 97 mile-per-hour fastballs and 70 mile-per-hour curves. David Ortiz hits better with runners in scoring position and two outs. Tiger Woods turns it up four notches in the Masters. Brett Favre keeps suiting up for NFL games, setting records, and dreaming of another Super Bowl. Roger Federer clicks off games, sets, matches all over the world.
Yes, this is just a horse, but what a horse. He started off like most, sold as a yearling (Keeneland, $82,000 in 1998), raced on the flat (two wins in nine starts), and then found steeplechasing. His true calling resulted in 15 victories in 25 career starts, a record $1,310,104 in earnings and three Eclipse Awards.
Alas, the ride came to an end Nov. 18 when McDynamo finished sixth in the Marion du Pont Scott Colonial Cup (NSA-I) behind 6-year-old winner Good Night Shirt. McDynamo didn’t tie the great Flatterer with four Colonial Cup victories and won’t win a fourth Eclipse Award. But he does get the Thoroughbred equivalent of a gold watch—sound legs to stand on and no more races to run. Minutes after the Colonial Cup defeat, owner Michael Moran and trainer Sanna Hendriks retired their champion—preferring to see him walk off the course at 10 rather than see him exit by some other means at 11.
I’m going to miss him.
Joe Clancy is a co-founder of ST Publishing, which produces Steeplechase Times, the Saratoga Special, and the Special at Keeneland newspapers.