Horse in the Hall

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This was in The Saratoga Special Aug. 9, so we’re catching up a bit.

It sure seemed like a good idea, if a bit out there, far-fetched, potentially chaotic and possibly somewhat dangerous.

McDynamo, a three-time steeplechase champion and millionaire, gets inducted into the Hall of Fame today. He’s 16 years old, and lives on a farm in Pennsylvania. He foxhunts, hacks around with ponies, makes occasional appearances at steeplechase race meets to lead races for children.

Once his (automatic) induction became official this spring, it dawned on me that he might be the rare –extremely rare – Thoroughbred who could actually attend his Hall of Fame ceremony. He’s not a stallion, not a pregnant mare, not dead. He’s also somewhat comfortable around crowds, if not so fond of closed-in spaces (his flat career ended partly because he hated the starting gate).

I emailed Brien Bouyea at the Hall of Fame. He loved the idea. Then it stalled. It’s not anybody’s fault, it just stalled.

Where would McDynamo be? Could he come in the pavilion? Could he lead the post parade for a race? Would he tolerate the noise? Would Fasig-Tipton allow another horse on the grounds with the sales yearlings?

Most of those questions were answered with an “I don’t know.” If The Special had a marketing team and a budget, this could have been a spring/summer project. “Just get it done,” I could have hollered from down the hall. And don’t call me until it’s figured out.

Owners Michael and Anne Moran were game. She even called NYRA about leading a post parade.

Again, the idea stalled. Not anybody’s fault, and I’d have been more than happy with a spot outside the pavilion for petting and visiting. Trainer Sanna Hendriks would have gone for it. The horse probably would have hated parts of it, but he’d have liked parts of it too. Hendriks mentioned a pulled muscle that cost him some time last year, but he was due to get back to light work exercising hounds and going for trail rides.

A big, robust son of Dynaformer, McDynamo would have looked a picture. Dapples, long tail, look of attention, a healthy belly. He could have strolled the back ring at the sales grounds, posed for photographers and television cameras, sent out good vibes for the yearlings.

I like to think about what horses might say to each other. The Hall of Famer would have told the youngsters, “Everything’s going to be OK. You’re going to a good place. Someday you’ll realize life’s about the journey. Soak it in. I’m 16 – I’ve been a sales yearling, a racehorse, a claustrophobic nut, a surgical patient, a champion, a foxhunter, a babysitter, a friend to little kids and ponies. And, hey, now I’m a Hall of Famer. Maybe that’ll happen to you someday. Just do your best kids. Now somebody get me another flake of alfalfa.”

Then think of what he could have been for fans. McDynamo, shining example of all that’s good in racing. He ran, tried, won, lost, jumped, fell, got up, earned a million dollars. He won a race at the same one-day race meet seven years in a row. And people could have touched him, said hello, paid a real visit to a Hall of Famer. Part of the magic of the ceremony every year is the physical presence of so many of the game’s greats. Why limit that to humans? Bring a horse, and watch the magic really flow.

Mostly, he could have been a bridge for Thoroughbreds everywhere. McDynamo, whether he made it here for his induction ceremony or not, is an example of what the breed can do. Much like Mr. Hot Stuff, who won the A.P. Smithwick Memorial steeplechase four years after running in the Kentucky Derby, McDynamo used steeplechasing as his canvas.

It could have easily been flat racing. He’s bred to be a star, he sold at Keeneland, he won two races on the turf with Moran as owner and trainer. Pat Day rode him. Like so many, he could never get beyond that second allowance condition, however. Moran turned to jump races rather than claiming races and the rest is history. Today, the owner deserves to be celebrated for that as much as anything else. Moran and all the others who came in contact with the horse (Hendriks, Craig Thornton, Brianne Slater, Gus Brown, Jody Petty, John Hodges and Don on the farm…) helped McDynamo become McDynamo.

They all deserve to take a bow, and so did the horse.