Don McNeill, the Edmond, Oklahoma-based commodities broker with a lifelong love for breeding and racing horses, passed on Saturday, March 21.
McNeill grew up on his family farm in Thomas, Okla. and immersed himself in the business of breeding racehorses at a young age. Once pari-mutuel wagering became legal in Oklahoma in the early 1980s, McNeill was immediately involved in supporting the state’s newest sport.
When Remington Park opened in 1988, McNeill Stables was primed for victory in its home state. Under the guidance of trainer Donnie Von Hemel, McNeill runners won four races in the track’s first season. In the second season, the spring of 1989, one McNeill homebred would make history.
Oklahoma-bred Clever Trevor, already a top local runner as a 2-year-old, became the first winner of the Oklahoma Derby, known originally as the Remington Park Derby. The triumph catapulted the gelding, by Slewacide from the McNeill mare Little Mary Beans, and his connections into a successful tour of North America in 1989.
Clever Trevor finished 13th behind Horse of the Year Sunday Silence in the Kentucky Derby but would rebound to win the St. Paul Derby at Canterbury Downs in Minnesota and the Arlington Classic in Chicago. In defeat, Clever Trevor may have run his best career race, leading the Travers Stakes at Saratoga in upstate New York before the Belmont Stakes winner Easy Goer could run him down in the final strides. Clever Trevor earned more than $1 million before his 3-year-old campaign was over and retired in 1992 with nearly $1.4 million in earnings. He was the first horse to earn over a million dollars for McNeill. Click here to read an article from the September/October 2012 issue of Southern Racehorse about McNeill and Clever Trevor.
A few years after Clever Trevor, another Oklahoma product bred by McNeill emerged. Mr Ross, named after McNeill’s high school football coach in Thomas, would win stakes races both sprinting and going more than a mile. He won three consecutive Oklahoma Classics in 1999, 2000 and 2001. Taking his act on the road in 2001, Mr Ross nearly swept the Oaklawn Park graded handicap series in winning the Essex, the Razorback and then running second in the Oaklawn Handicap. After a career spanning six years, Mr Ross finished in 2003 with total earnings of $1,091,046. Almost half of the money was made at Remington Park, where Mr Ross won nine races from 15 starts before retiring to McNeill’s farm in Edmond, Okla.
Caleb’s Posse was McNeill’s most recent national talent. He campaigned the colt with Edmond, Okla. businessman and friend Everett Dobson. After winning the 2010 Clever Trevor Stakes at Remington Park, he matured as a 3-year-old in 2011, winning the Grade 3 Ohio Derby at Thistledown, then scoring both the Grade 2 Amsterdam and the Grade 1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga. He then ran away with the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Caleb’s Posse moved to a stallion career in Kentucky, having amassed over $1.4 million on the track.
McNeill’s steady plan for racing enjoyment produced three millionaires and countless exciting memories for his family as most of his runners were named after children or grandchildren.
McNeill joined some of his best horses in the Oklahoma Horse Racing Hall of Fame at Remington Park in 2012. He was the second leading owner in stakes wins at Remington Park with 17. McNeill horses were trained nearly exclusively by Von Hemel for over 30 years.
Services are still pending for McNeill, who was in California at the time of his passing.