Zeke Ferguson Hurdle Features McDynamo

(from NSA release)
Four grade I winners, including 2003 steeplechase champion McDynamo, headline the $50,000 Zeke Ferguson Memorial Hurdle Stakes (NSA-II) at Colonial Downs in New Kent, Va., Sunday.

The 2 1/4-mile stakes attracted just five horses but they pack plenty of punching power. McDynamo and Praise The Prince rank fourth and seventh, respectively, on the National Steeplechase Association career-earnings list. Anofferucantrefuse won the 2003 Ferguson. Paradise's Boss comes off a win in the third leg of the Steeplechase Triple Crown last month. Understood, who comes off a grade III stakes win, would be an outsider.

"It's a small field, but a pretty select field," said jockey Rob Massey, who rides McDynamo for the first time. "There are some good horses in there."

Trained in Pennsylvania by Sanna Hendriks, McDynamo can get back in the 2005 championship picture with a win in the Ferguson. Michael Moran's 8-year-old Dynaformer gelding won six consecutive races from October 2002 to October 2004, including two Breeders' Cup Steeplechases (NSA-I), and knocked down the 2003 Eclipse Award as champion steeplechaser. The streak ended in the Colonial Cup (NSA- I) last November, when McDynamo was a well-beaten fourth behind eventual 2004 Eclipse winner Hirapour.

McDynamo opened 2005 with a third in Keeneland's Royal Chase (NSA- I) behind Hirapour again and was second to Sur La Tete in the Iroquois (NSA-I) in his most recent start May 14.

Massey replaces regular jockey Craig Thornton, who will not make the trip from New Zealand to ride at Colonial.

The likely morning-line favorite, McDynamo carries co-highweight of 154 pounds and brings $610,604 of lifetime jump earnings into the race. Massey will try to harness the powerful bay gelding's energy until late in the race.

"If I can switch him off early in the race, I'd be very happy," said Massey. "I'd like to get him jumping behind a little bit of pace, get him to relax and have him use his ability late in the race."

Anofferucantrefuse and Paradise's Boss have both won from the front, but their recent form suggests a stalking strategy. Praise The Prince and Understood would rather come from off the pace, and McDynamo can win from almost anywhere provided he relaxes.

"A lot depends on how it sets up," said Massey. "It will be a tactical race for sure. At Keeneland, McDynamo ran very free early on and that didn't help him at all. He might have been doing too much early. It's probably easier said than done, but I'd like to conserve as much as I can."

Hendriks also trains the race's probable second choice, Praise The Prince. Owned by Augustin Stable, Praise The Prince counts $561,255 in career steeplechase earnings and three grade I victories on his record. The 10-year-old New Zealand import makes his 2005 jump debut, but has prepped with three solid flat races including a fifth at Colonial June 21. Clayton Chipperfield gets the mount, also at 154 pounds.

In 2003, Fox Ridge Farm's Anofferucantrefuse shocked Colonial Downs by winning the Ferguson at 21-1 for trainer Tom Voss. Usually a front-runner, the 8-year-old has won five of 15 steeplechase starts and more than $200,000. He too tightened for this with a flat start, finishing fifth at Colonial July 3. Cyril Murphy gets the mount at 150 pounds.

Paradise's Boss lit up the Belmont Park tote board when he rolled home in the restricted Meadow Brook (NSA- II) for trainer Jack Fisher. The 5-year-old makes his first start in open company and gets jockey Xavier Aizpuru at 146 pounds. Owned by Richmond residents Ann and Henry Stern, Paradise's Boss has won half his 10 lifetime jump starts.

Like Paradise's Boss, Understood comes into the Ferguson off a victory. The Virginia-bred won a grade III stakes at Nashville, Tenn., May 14 – coming from off the pace late to win the $50,000 event for Whitewood Farm and trainer Richard Valentine.

$50,000 David L. "Zeke" Ferguson Memorial Steeplechase (NSA-II), 3 & up, 2 1/4 miles
PP. Horse (with owner, trainer, jockey, weight)
1. Praise The Prince (Augustin Stable, Sanna Hendriks, Clayton Chipperfield, 154)
2. Understood (Whitewood Farm, Richard Valentine, David Bentley, 154)
3. Anofferucantrefuse (Fox Ridge Farm, Tom Voss, Cyril Murphy, 150)
4. McDynamo (Michael Moran, Sanna Hendriks, Rob Massey, 154)
5. Paradise's Boss (Ann Stern, Jack Fisher, 146)