McDynamo, a Racing Hall of Fame member and the National Steeplechase Association’s all-time leading earner, died Dec. 1 at trainer Sanna Neilson’s farm in Pennsylvania, where he had resided throughout his jump-racing career and retirement.
Owned by Michael J. Moran and trained by Neilson, McDynamo earned three Eclipse Awards as champion steeplechase horse, in 2003, 2005, and 2006. He was never defeated in seven starts at the Far Hills Races, where he won five consecutive editions of the Grand National (Gr. 1), now America’s richest steeplechase race and run as the Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase in several of those years.
He earned $1,310,104 over fences and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2013. He made 25 starts over fences, won 15 of them, and placed in five others.
“It was a real honor and privilege to be his caretaker,” Neilson said. “He made all the people around him look good.”
A foal of 1997, the son of Dynaformer out of Rondonia, by Monteverdi (Ire), was bred in Kentucky by Richard and Nathan Fox and Richard Kaster. A full brother to graded stakes winner Old Chapel, he was offered at the 1998 Keeneland September yearling sale and purchased by Moran for $82,000.
He was a respectable flat horse even though difficult in the gate. He won his maiden victory for owner-trainer Moran and partner Steve McDonald at Pimlico Race Course in June 2000, his only win that year, and added a Colonial Downs allowance score the following year.
Moran tried him in New York, a fourth at Saratoga Race Course and a sixth at Belmont Park with Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day astride him. McDynamo was competitive on the turf but not paying his way. Moran bought out his partner and pivoted to his first love, steeplechase racing.
Moran, then based at the Fair Hill Training Center, turned McDynamo over to Neilson, and the country life suited the claustrophobic four-year-old. “He was lovely to train,” Neilson said. “He was kind and generous. He was a sound horse, so you could go out every day and train him. He never fussed.”
Six weeks after his flat-racing farewell, McDynamo won a Far Hills maiden hurdle by 4¼ lengths on Oct. 20 with Craig Thornton astride him.
Neilson put him away for the rest of the year and brought him back as a novice competitor in 2002. He won a Colonial Downs allowance hurdle, and then Neilson and Moran sensed a soft spot in Churchill Downs’ Hard Scuffle Steeplechase (Gr. 1) during Kentucky Derby (Gr. 1) week. On the lead much of the way, he won by 2¼ lengths.
Later that season, with Gus Brown substituting in the saddle for Thornton, McDynamo won Far Hills’ Foxbrook Supreme Hurdle and the Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens’ Aflac Supreme Hurdle, both for novices. McDynamo now was paying his way and banked almost $200,000 in 2002.
He made three starts in 2003 and won them all, including his first win in the Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase (Gr. 1) and the first of three victories in the Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1).
He wasn’t just winning; he was dominating. He won at Far Hills by 15¼ lengths and took the Colonial Cup by four. He set course records in both races, and then eclipsed his Far Hills mark in 2004.With a spotless record, he was voted his first Eclipse Award.
The following year, he won the Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase after missing the spring season, and in 2005 he claimed his second Eclipse Award with repeat victories in the Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase and the Colonial Cup with Jody Petty now in the saddle.
Arguably his best season was at age nine in 2006, when he won three of four starts, and collected his third Eclipse Award. Moran was concerned about the Breeders’ Cup Grand National at Far Hills. The ground was soft, and Moran was worried that McDynamo might not handle it.
He handled soft ground without any difficulty and won by 22 lengths. He backed that victory up with a one-length score in the Colonial Cup to claim the Eclipse title.
He returned at age 10 for a six-length victory in the Grand National and was retired at the end of that season to his trainer’s farm. He hunted for Moran and Neilson, who is Master of Fox Hounds for Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Hounds in Unionville, before spending his latter years with several companions, most recently a pony named Ted.