It wasn't a matter of if, only when. Today's announcement of McDynamo's election to the Racing Hall of Fame confirms what those of us who follow the game already knew. That the three-time Horse of the Year (2003, 2005, 2006), who was so good for so long and his accomplishments so unique, deserves a place among America's most heralded jumpers. And now he'll have a plaque on the wall to prove it.
McDynamo's entry into the Hall is like a ball player getting enshrined in Cooperstown on the first try, in his first year of eligibility, which makes it extra special. The Museum's Steeplechase Review Committee, which meets once every four years, requires 75 percent approval from its members for a candidate to gain election.
On course, the burly bay son of Dynaformer was a dynamic performer with distinct, exciting style. He was a rock star and like most champions possessed the "it" factor. He was fast and fluid, with a tremendous stride, and flew over the jumps with an effortless efficiency that few could match. He responded to the click of a camera like any other A-list celebrity, pausing, looking, posing.
They called jockey Angel Cordero the King of Saratoga for his many years as leading rider at the upstate New York track. McDynamo earned the moniker the King of Far Hills, where he accomplished a feat unlikely to be duplicated: winning a race for six consecutive years on the sport's biggest stage, Moorland Farm in New Jersey. Five of those wins came in steeplechasing's premier event, the Breeders' Cup Grand National, his final curtain call coming at age 10.
McDynamo didn't merely win the Grand National, he displayed bravado, running away by distances of as much as 22 lengths - so far ahead of the field that jockey Jody Petty once said he couldn't detect the hoofbeats of those left in his wake.
I was privileged to cover much of his career, from Far Hills to Camden, S.C., to Nashville, Tenn., to Belmont Park, and then back home to his owner's farm in Unionville, Pa.
McDynamo didn't become McDynamo until 2002, at age 5, four years after Michael Moran purchased him for $82,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sales. It was a princely sum for a jumper. But his owners' patience paid off with a Grade 1 victory in the Hard Scuffle Hurdle Stakes at Churchhill Downs on the first Thursday in May. Besides the Grand National, McDynamo captured the Royal Chase at Keeneland at 6, and the first of his three prestigious Colonial Cups at Springdale Race Course in Camden. In all, Big Mac won 15 of his 25 hurdle starts and amassed $1.3 million, surpassing the legendary Lonesome Glory.
McDynamo was more like a family member than a meal ticket, and it showed. He was masterfully handled and brilliantly spotted to assure longevity, good health, and peak form. McDynamo never made more than six starts a season, and was given plenty of time off after injuries. All horses should be so lucky. Besides Moran and his wife, Anne, other members of McDynamo's entourage included trainer Sanna Hendriks, who often worked the horse and kept him fit by foxhunting him in the offseason, Hendriks' assistant Brianne Slater, and jockey Jody Petty, who took over for New Zealand rider Craig Thornton later in the gelding's career.
When the induction ceremonies take place on Friday morning, Aug. 9, and Michael Moran gets to see and touch the plaque, listen to the accolades and feel the applause, it'll be interesting to observe his reaction. Moran was admittedly a nervous Nellie whenever the horse competed, locking horns with the era's best -- Flat Top, Hirapour, and Good Night Shirt, Sur La Tete. Win or lose, Moran was an emotional roller coaster, often welling up with tears, overwhelmed at his good fortune to be blessed with a horse like McDynamo. The tears never seemed to depend on the joy of victory or the agony of defeat. As long as McDynamo returned safe and sound, Moran had found his own personal winner's circle.
I remember when McDynamo ran his final race, a sixth-place finish to emerging star Good Night Shirt in the 2007 Colonial Cup. It was the first time I noticed Moran breathe a sigh of relief and act so calmly following a race. You'd never know the horse lost by Moran's laughter and affable graciousness to Shirt's owner, Sonny Via. He seemed completely at ease, for once.
When I asked him how he felt, Moran beamed, "Great. It's time. McDynamo's coming home for good. It's been quite a ride."
And with that, here are some of my favorite memories from those heady times.
(For a more extensive photo tribute, visit www.todmarks.photoshelter.com)
Chasing home Sur La Tete, Iroquois 2005.
Jody Petty and Anne Moran, 2006 Colonial Cup.
Flying high in the 2006 Colonial Cup.
Leading Good Night Shirt early in the 2007 Grand National at Far Hills.
Another big win at Far Hills. Jody Petty looks back in 2007 but no one's there.
Michael Moran greets Jody Petty, Brianne Slater after 2007 Grand National.
Wire to wire win in 2007 at Far Hills. Early action.
Triple teamed by Calvin Houghland entries in 2007 Iroquois, Nashville.
Trainer Sanna Hendriks reunites with her champ at the 2010 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup.
In 2011, Jody Petty reunited with McDynamo as hunt master for the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup pony racers.
Anne and Michael Moran after winning the 2005 Colonial Cup.
This blanket tribute made official what everyone already knew: McDynamo is the King of Far Hills.
With Sanna Hendriks' assistant Brianne Slater, 2007.
Celebrating in the winners circle, Colonial Cup 2006.
To the post in the 2006 Colonial Cup.
Jody Petty drives to the wire in the 2006 Colonial Cup.
Over the last in the 2006 Colonial Cup.
McDynamo flies over the challenging natural pine brush fence in the Colonial Cup.
Far Hills race overseer Guy Torsilieri gives McDynamo a carrot to nosh on during a ceremony honoring the gelding in 2008, a year after his retirement.
Alone again, naturally, in the 2005 Grand National.
Up and over the last in the 2006 Grand National.
View from the backside at Far Hills in 2004. McDynamo leads Sur La Tete and Tres Touche.
At the last in Far Hills, 2007.
The champ's halter in Camden.
NSA's Stirling Young IDs McDynamo.
At the barn before the 2007 Iroquois.
With trainer Sanna Hendriks at the Iroquois.
Finishing 6th in his final career start, the 2007 Colonial Cup.
With Brianne Slater in Camden.
Another shot of Brianne and McDynamo.
The champ and Brianne Slater on Colonial Cup morning.
The eye of a champion.
Enjoying a snack, 2004.
Sanna Hendriks up.
Sanna Hendriks schools McDynamo over the Springdale training course.
Toe to toe with Sur La Tete, left, in 2004.
Sur La Tete takes the measure of McDynamo in the 2005 Iroquois.
At the break in the 2005 Iroquois. (McDynamo at right)
Preparing for the 2005 Somerset Medical Center race at the New Jersey Meadowlands.
Tuning up on the flat against Sur La Tete at the 2006 Carolina Cup races.
Caroline, Elizabeth, and Emily Moran, 2003.
In the paddock before the 2003 Colonial Cup.
Driving to the wire in the 2005 Colonial Cup.
Michael Moran hoists the Colonial Cup trophy in 2005.
Michael Moran holds the Breeders Cup trophy in 2004.
Before the 2005 Iroquois.
With Brianne Slater at Camden in 2003.
Driving to the wire in the 2003 Colonial Cup, Craig Thornton up.
The 2002 Meadowbrook at Belmont Park. McDynamo (6) finished an uncharacteristic 9th.
Jody Petty and his beloved Shaggy celebrating in 2005 after the Colonial Cup.
2003 Breeders' Cup trophy.
Parading at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup course in 2007, before his final race.
With Brianne and James Slater before the 2005 Iroquois.