He looks like a plain brown horse. Acts like a plain brown horse. Eats grass, nibbles leaves, and snorts at birds like a plain brown horse. But McDynamo is no plain brown horse. He will attempt to win a fifth consecutive Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Grand National at the Far Hills Races in New Jersey on Saturday. America's richest jump race at $300,000, it attracted nine entrants, including new rival Good Night Shirt, and is the centerpiece of a $600,000 day at the New Jersey course.
Though it's 50 miles from Monmouth Park, Far Hills provides a championship day for Thoroughbreds who run and jump. Post time is 1 p.m., with the Grand National, the fourth of six races, set for 3 p.m. There is no parimutuel wagering, but that won't stop the 50,000 in attendance from picking a favorite. Clearly it's McDynamo, the oldest of 43 horses starting on the day.
A 10-year-old gelded son of Dynaformer, McDynamo carries a perfect 6-for-6 mark over the course, which is holding its 87th renewal this year. Owned by Michael Moran and trained by Sanna Hendriks, the Kentucky-bred McDynamo won a maiden race at Far Hills in 2001, won a novice stakes there in 2002, and has four-peated in the big one. Hendriks calls getting her horse back for a seventh season an achievement, and won't hint at another win. Still, she counts on a big effort from the stable star.
"The Patriots are going to win the Super Bowl, that's my only prediction," she said while letting McDynamo have an afternoon stroll at her Pennsylvania farm Monday. "He seems really good and is coming into the race pretty happy and fresh. It would be unbelievable to win, but to me it's almost as unbelievable to have him going back for a fifth try and a seventh year at Far Hills."
Considering that many Thoroughbreds don't race past age 3, Hendriks has a point. There's no stallion career to retire to, but McDynamo still had to stay sound enough to run 32 times (23 over jumps). Along the way he has won 16 races, earned more than $1.1 million and has taken down three Eclipse Awards. He's old, but not finished.
"He's got gray hair, and he's a lot quieter now," Hendriks said. "At 4, I was trying to rein him in and keep him under control. At 10, I'm trying perk him up. Has he lost his desire? I don't think so. He's just gotten more mature, and he understands his job now. When he was 4, he was 'Let me at 'em' - every fence, every step of the way. He knows the race is 2 1/2, 2 5/8 miles now."
By McDynamo standards, 2007 has been a bust, with just one start. Coming off an Eclipse Award in 2006, Hendriks bypassed the handicap Grade 1 Royal Chase in April and aimed for the weight-for-age Grade 1 Iroquois in May. There, McDynamo threatened briefly but flattened out and ran fourth behind winner Good Night Shirt. Good Night Shirt returned last month and won the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park - leaving McDynamo to play catch-up. With Jody Petty riding, he must shake off a five-month layoff and sweep the Breeders' Cup and the Colonial Cup in November for a fourth Eclipse.
Of course, McDynamo won the 2004 Breeders' Cup after 11 months on the sidelines for hock surgery.
"It's always a challenge any time you're coming into a race like this without another race to get you there," said Hendriks. "He always seems to run well fresh. So we're hoping that will be to our advantage."
Like all members of the old guard, McDynamo must prove himself against new rivals, and this year he faces one of his toughest in the 2 5/8-mile, 14-fence test.
Good Night Shirt missed by a neck to Mixed Up in the Royal Chase and then impressively won his next two starts to zoom to the top of the leaderboard with $214,163 earned this year. A 6-year-old son of Concern, he can clinch the Eclipse with a win Saturday for owner Sonny Via and trainer Jack Fisher. Willie Dowling rides. Fisher remains impressed by the champ, but anticipates a battle.
"Has McDynamo been beaten at Far Hills? By anybody? Ever?" Fisher said. "That's his course, and he'll be tough to beat and is still the favorite until somebody beats him. My horse is good right now, and he's coming to this race the same way he came into the Belmont race."
But he has got a long way to go to surpass the plain brown horse.
Others in the field are: Three Carat, Best Attack, Chivite, Underbidder, Orison, Sweet Shani, and Luongo. All starters will carry 156 pounds.