How do you Beat The Shirt?

- -

A year later and the question remains the same. Only the horse has changed. For the past five seasons “How do you beat McDynamo?” was heard as much during Far Hills week as the local weather report. This season all you need to do is swap McDynamo with Good Night Shirt and the question remains as viable as ever.


Jack Fisher’s big horse enters Saturday’s $250,000 Grand National off of three convincing Grade I wins this year and seemingly devoid of competition. Six will line up against the champ and all will have to run the race of their life to get unsaddled. Steeplechase Times took a moment to poll a few jockeys and see just how to go about knocking off Good Night Shirt.

Matt McCarron rides EMO Stable’s Orison for Doug Fout. Last year Orison finished sixth behind McDynamo in the Grand National but gave Good Night Shirt all he could handle in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park, closing late to finish second by 1-length. McCarron defeated Good Night Shirt with Hirapour in the A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga in 2006 and knows winning will be a tall order on Saturday.

“I think Jack (Fisher) said it best: ‘Fall in front of him or block him at the start.’ It’s going to be very tough this year but it’s a good question,” McCarron said. “You have to have a horse that could emulate his running style and just track him. He makes a jumping mistake in every race and if it comes late you have to take advantage of that. Though he did make a mistake late at Atlanta against Hip Hop, and he came right back to win, so who knows?”

Jody Petty piloted McDynamo to three of his five Grand National wins and ranks as the last jockey to defeat Good Night Shirt, turning the trick in last year’s renewal. He also handed the champion his other defeat at Far Hills, winning the Grade I Foxbrook Novice Stakes with Move West in 2005. Petty rides Sally Radcliffe’s Best Attack for the first time on Saturday and knows all too well the lore of Far Hills.

“McDynamo showed that horses have their course, and I just have to hope Far Hills is not Good Night Shirt’s. I respect him a lot, but I’ve got to hope he comes back to the pack,” Petty said. “He’s just been winning too easily, so for him to get beat something’s got to change. Hopefully the course will level the playing field a bit where someone moves up and he comes back a little bit, otherwise I’m not sure anyone can beat him.”

Paddy Young rides New Zealand import Isti Bee for Brigadoon Stable and Fout. The 7-year-old makes his first start in America and has shown a liking to off-turf courses in Australia. Fout has had success with New Zealand-breds, including Gliding’s win in last year’s Grade I Foxbrook, and Young has been impressed after a pair of morning schooling sessions.

“I’ve schooled him twice and both times he showed me he was a great jumper. Obviously Doug knows a lot about these New Zealand-bred horses and that’s plenty good enough for me,” Young said. “Now it’s only a question of if he can transform that form to America. He’s got a great attitude about him so I am looking forward to testing Good Night Shirt.”

As for defeating the champ?

“I don’t know if you can beat Good Night Shirt. I think he’s probably got to beat himself more than we can beat him. In the past we had the one definite chance of him making a mistake or two, but his jumping has gotten a lot better this year, so you can’t really rely on that,” Young said. “His two races at Far Hills were over really soft ground, so I don’t think we can say whether or not he doesn’t like that course. The hope for the rest of us is that he doesn’t, but you don’t know. He’s got a great running style, he can either make the running or sit just off, and that’s what makes him so good. But I’m going to ride my horse like he’s better than Good Night Shirt. I don’t think you can take him on early and I don’t think you should drop out the back and hope to make a run. I’ll ride my horse like he’s the best and go from there.”