No colic, no foot abscess, no cough, no high nail from a shoeing, no flat tire on the van. And no defeats. For seven consecutive years, McDynamo went to American steeplechasing's richest race meet - the Far Hills Races in New Jersey - and delivered.
The victories, the consistency, the delivery defined a career which peaked today with the announcement of his induction into Thoroughbred racing's Hall of Fame. Owned by Michael Moran and trained by Sanna Hendriks, the Kentucky-bred goes in with 1960s great Tuscalee to create the steeplechase class along with Invasor, Housebuster, Lure and Calvin Borel from flat racing. The group will be inducted in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Aug. 9.
McDynamo and Tuscalee bring to 18 the number of steeplechase horses in the Hall - McDynamo on his first chance on the ballot, Tuscalee some four decades after his career ended.
Regardless, the newcomers belong.
Greatness confirmed for McDynamo
Though just part of his story, McDynamo's Far Hills string provides an example of his quality and durability through a career that included 15 steeplechase wins in 25 tries. After nine flat starts (with two wins), the son of Dynaformer won his jump debut at Far Hills in 2001. The success just built from there and included a novice stakes score over the course the next season and a hard-to-fathom five consecutive wins in the meet's Grade 1 feature (the name changed from the Breeders' Cup to the Grand National) 2003-07.
Hendriks finds it all difficult to believe, and she lived through it.
"Every year he came around and was ready," she said. "Amazingly, nothing happened. You'll always have something happen with horses. He had a foot abscess one year in the spring. We shipped him to Nashville once and he got sick and couldn't run. For whatever reason, those didn't happen for Far Hills."
He was far from one-dimensional, as he also won three Colonial Cups, the Grade 1 Royal Chase at Keeneland, a Grade 1 novice at Churchill Downs, plus a stakes at The Meadowlands. By the time he retired, he led all American steeplechasers with $1,310,104 in earnings.
Like most Thoroughbreds, McDynamo was not destined to be a steeplechasr. Bred by Nathan Fox, Richard Fox and Richard Kaster, the future Hall of Famer sold at Keeneland September to Moran for $82,000. The Pennsylvanian took on partner Steve McDonald early (hence the horse's name) but bought him out once steeplechasing became the career goal. With his stamina, tenacity, jumping ability and speed late in a race, McDynamo thrived at the new game.
"We had serious doubts at the beginning; he was a stall walker, he didn't have a whole lot of confidence and the gate phobias," Moran said. "He was given every chance, and look what happened. The beauty to him was he could run on any ground. Top of the ground, bottomless ground, the racetrack, he won pretty much everywhere we took him."
In a career full of highlights, Hendriks singled out three races - the 2003 Colonial Cup (his first), and the 2004 and 2007 victories at Far Hills.
"The first Colonial Cup is one of my favorites because I just thought he was so incredible that day, and I didn't see it," she said. "I was in the hospital having (son) Parker. They called and told me we won. I had to ask which horse because I knew how good our other horse, Lord Zada, was doing. When I watched the film McDynamo just crushed them."
He won his first of three Eclipse Awards that season. A year later, off an 11-month layoff because of hock surgery, McDynamo won the Breeders' Cup at Far Hills - over eventual champion Hirapour and multiple Grade 1 winner Sur La Tete - arguably the best field McDynamo ever beat.
Three years later, McDynamo went back to Far Hills and defeated rising star Good Night Shirt in the Grand National. It was the future Hall of Famer's final victory.
"That was so emotional for me because I was dumbfounded that he could do it again," Hendriks said. "By then, I'd go up there thinking this could happen or that could happen. I always tried to do the best I could by him and he certainly came through for me. I was so nervous about letting him down."
Retired after finishing sixth behind Good Night Shirt in the 2007 Colonial Cup, McDynamo lives on Hendriks' farm in Pennsylvania - a 16-year-old foxhunter, companion to a pony and occasional distinguished guest at a steeplechase meet. He missed much of the 2013 hunting season with a pulled muscle in his hind end, but Hendriks expects him to return and even hinted at the possibility of a visit to Saratoga this summer.
"That would be an honor," she said. "He's a little woolly right now, but he'll look a lot better by August. He's a lovely horse, you can ride him around with ponies or do anything you want with him. It's neat that he's still around and kicking, I'd love to show him off."
Win-leader Tuscalee gets his recognition
Tuscalee won 37 races, more than any American steeplechase horse in history, but his true greatness may best be measured by another standard - reputation. More than 40 years after his final start, people who saw him run talk about him with reverence.
"That horse was in there, running and jumping those big brush fences at Delaware Park. I'll never forget it."
"Game, just a game, tough horse."
"You know he once won 10 races in one year, right?"
Campaigned by his breeder Al Smith, the Maryland-bred built a career out of running - early, late, often. He made 89 total starts, added two flat wins to those 37 over jumps, and shared a championship with Mako in 1966 (before Eclipse Awards). Trained by Leiter Aitcheson and often ridden by his son Joe (a Hall of Famer), Tuscalee raced from 1962-72. Along the way he built a following.
"Whenever we went to Virginia to run, Daddy would stop at The Carriage House restaurant in Georgetown on the way home," said Marilyn Ketts, Smith's daughter. "The maître d knew Tuscalee, the waiters knew Tuscalee, everybody asked about Tuscalee."
His best season came in that championship campaign. He started 13 times, and won 10 - including a victory at Fair Hill under 165 pounds and a score at Montpelier under 167 - seven of them stakes. Key wins that season included the Midsummer at Monmouth Park, the Georgetown and Tom Roby at Delaware Park, the Noel Laing at Montpelier, the Fair Hill and Manly at Fair Hill.
Beyond 1966, Tuscalee won once as a 3-year-old, and twice as a 12-year-old. He won eight races as a 4-year-old, and five times won at least four races in a single season.
Smith bought Tuscalee's dam Verna Lee at the Timonium sale in 1959. She was carrying the future Hall of Famer at the time and Tuscalee was born at Smith's farm Blythewood in Upper Marlboro, Md. The son of Tuscany was unruly as a young horse and gelded. The result was a durable, professional, lifelong performer. Tuscalee ran over jumps with great success, obviously, foxhunted, competed in hunter paces and even helped raise young horses for Ketts.
"He used to foxhunt with one of my twin daughters, then we used on the farm with the babies - breaking them and teaching them to gallop," she said. "He was about 20 and would slow gallop with the babies. He was a good teacher, made them feel real secure about it. We rode him until he was about 25, then he was turned out in a field in full retirement - the local legend."
Ketts doesn't recall the exact year Tuscalee died, but the champion is buried on her At Last Farm in Aquasco, Md. She'd heard talk of his Hall of Fame consideration in the past, but was overjoyed all this week.
"My father would be absolutely thrilled to death, he'd be very honored," she said. "I was shocked, thrilled. I knew he was up four years ago, but hadn't heard anything for a while. It really means a lot."