Far Hills, N.J., Oct. 24, 2005 -- Intermittent rain kept the fair weather fans away from the Far Hills Race Meeting, which meant only die-hard devotees of the sport and outdoor feasting showed up on October 22 to watch one of the most memorable Breeders' Cup steeplechases.
The wanna-be types who use the gathering at Moorland Farms to show off the family sterling or parade their latest tweed wardrobe acquisition stayed home for the most part. The hardier folks, tailgating with tents over their banquets, took the showers and mud in stride.
So did McDynamo, who won the $200,000 feature displaying wire-to-wire bravado, capturing the Cup for an impressive third straight time. It was his fifth career victory at Far Hills, where he obviously loves the course. And the triumph offered redemption for the son of Dynaformer, who had not won another race since last year's Cup.
But it all went his way, albeit slowly, after the likely pacesetter, Preemptive Strike, bowed out earlier this month with a bruised hoof. McDynamo's finish in 5:46 3/5 over the squishy turf was far off the track record of 4:53.8 for the race, set under better conditions by All Gong in 2000.
Hirapour, last year's Eclipse award winner and the favorite to take the title again in 2005, understandably was touted as McDynamo's key rival in the five-horse field. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that McDynamo was his key rival. Hirapour struggled, however, and despite his Irish breeding (they're usually good in mud) could only manage a third-place finish behind Three Carat. When I asked whether it was the lack of a pacesetter or deep footing that doomed his horse's chances, Hirapour's jockey, Matt McCarron, told me, "both played, but the footing played more than anything."
And this was after the jumps were moved (quite an undertaking) to provide a better surface for the Cup.
McDynamo's jockey, Jody Petty, riding the horse in a race for the first time, escaped the mud-splattered finish of the other riders by going to the front immediately and never yielding the lead. McDynamo was over the last of 14 hurdles on the 2 and 5/8-mile route and headed for home as the rest of the field was taking off over the final jump.
"Oh my God," said a dazzled and delighted Jody as he pulled up after the finish line, where McDynamo enjoyed a nine-length margin over Three Carat. Sanna Hendriks, the leading trainer in the National Steeplechase Association standings, said Jody has only schooled McDynamo at home previously. Jockey Craig Thornton, who was flown up from New Zealand to ride the horse the last two years in the Cup, had training commitments Down Under this season and couldn't make the trip.
Sanna, who characterized McDynamo's other efforts this year as part of a "rough season," said she has no plans to retire the 8-year-old, who is owned by Michael Moran. The horse, an $80,000 purchase, has won nearly 10 times that amount now.
"Everyone kind of started doubting him a little bit, thinking he'd lost a step. I didn't really feel that way; I felt like he was a victim of unfortunate circumstances. I hadn't given up hope on him," she said.
"I felt he was the same horse; he's been training great," added Sanna, who is gracious as well as talented, and devoted to McDynamo. "When he kicked on going down the backside I was like, 'Oh, God. I hope he gets home.' But he's a great galloper."
McDynamo is being pointed toward next month's Colonial Cup, which will decide the Eclipse Award. In order to take the title, though, Sanna said her horse must beat Hirapour, who has two victories this season and won the Colonial Cup last year, while McDynamo lagged to finish seventh there.
"He ran huge here (in 2004), but he didn't run his race in the Colonial Cup," said Sanna.
Far Hills grew out of the old Essex Fox Hounds' race meeting, which was started as a day out to express appreciation for local landowners who permitted the hunt to cross their property. It grew from the few thousand in-the-know folks who attended several decades ago to the place to be for an estimated 30,000 when the weather is good. Many of those people had no idea what the horses were doing, and cared less, but there was a feeling of the old days this year, when it was undisputed that the racing took center stage.
Want to see the Breeders' Cup steeplechase? It will be televised on October 26 at 3:30 p.m. EST on ESPN2.