04/19/2006 12:00AM

McDynamo the one to beat


The handicapping principles that guide most horseplayers sometimes do not apply to steeplechasing. Take layoffs, for instance. Jumpers are trained in different fashion for the grueling races that await them, and it is not at all uncommon for a horse entered after a lengthy respite to win a steeplechase of high prestige.

This maxim frequently applies to the Royal Chase of the Sport of Kings, the Grade 1 steeplechase run every April at Keeneland. As the richest early-season race on the steeplechasing calendar, the $150,000 Royal Chase becomes a primary target for steeplechase trainers even before their horses are unsaddled after the Colonial Cup in November.

McDynamo, the likely favorite for the ninth running of the Royal Chase on Friday, is typical of the top-class jumpers who get a breather after a major fall campaign before gearing back up for Keeneland. As a two-time (2003, 2005) Eclipse Award winner for top steeplechaser, McDynamo clearly has the credentials to win Friday despite showing no official races on his past performances for nearly five months.

The Royal Chase, run over 13 hurdles at "about" 2 1/2 miles, is carded as the ninth of 10 Friday races at Keeneland.

McDynamo, a 9-year-old trained by Sanna Hendriks, is one of eight jumpers entered in the Royal Chase. He and Sur La Tete "are the class of the bunch," said Joe Clancy Jr., spokesman for the National Steeplechase Association. "Erin Go Bragh might have more recency than them, but they have the superior credentials."

Erin Go Bragh had a useful prep last month, when he finished second in the Little Everglades in Florida.

Sur La Tete, a three-time Grade 1 winner trained by Neil Morris, last raced officially in the Iroquois last May, when he defeated McDynamo. McDynamo and Sur La Tete were pitted against each other in an unofficial race on April 1 in Camden, S.C., a 1 1/2-mile flat race with no purse. McDynamo won by 3 1/2 lengths over Sur La Tete in an eight-horse field, but neither was under urging, said Clancy.

Under handicap conditions, McDynamo, with Jody Petty to ride, will carry 166 pounds in the Royal Chase, eight more than Sur La Tete and 18 more than Erin Go Bragh.

Hirapour, the 2004 and 2005 Royal Chase winner, is not in the lineup after undergoing ankle surgery last fall.