Don C. McNeill
Year Inducted: 2012
Knowledge and responsible business practices, assets that benefit those achieving success. Don McNeill produced a professional business career of fortuitous dealings and decisions while also nurturing a horse racing model for winning.
Raised on the family farm in Thomas, Oklahoma, McNeill grew up with horses and his father Clyde provided an early education about breeding racehorses. McNeill aspired to own broodmares, produce some horses and then race them for the sheer sport of it. Over time, that plan would become monetarily strong as well, thanks to a series of stars.
McNeill became a commodities broker after earning his agricultural economics degree from Oklahoma State. His business ventures included oil and banking interests and he took the lead of McNeill Farms in Thomas and the McNeill Grain Company. He had already started his racing business, even before finishing school, by making his initial broodmare purchases.
Pari-mutuel horse racing became a reality in Oklahoma in the mid-1980s. 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.
Clever Trevor, already a top 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 dollars 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 who had more top runners to come.
A few years after Clever Trevor, another Oklahoma product bred by McNeill emerged. Mr Ross was considered a prospect when he arrived for training with Von Hemel but was not held in as high a regard as others. He would alter those initial thoughts by rivaling the success and longevity of Clever Trevor. Named after McNeill’s high school football coach in Thomas, Mr Ross was extremely versatile, winning stakes races both sprinting and going more than a mile around two turns. After finishing fourth behind Classic Cat in the 1998 Oklahoma Derby, he never finished out of the money at Remington Park again.
Mr Ross 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.
It would be years after Mr Ross before another McNeill broodmare produced his next star, one he nearly missed as he had begun to move away from horse racing due to health complications. Encouraged to stay involved by fellow Edmond owner & breeder Everett Dobson of Cheyenne Stables, McNeill agreed to keep one young colt that they could race in partnership.
Produced by the McNeill mare Abbey’s Missy, Caleb’s Posse showed talent as a 2-year-old and won the 2010 Clever Trevor Stakes at Remington Park. At age three he searched for his niche, eventually appearing best suited for longer sprint races up to one mile. After winning the Grade 3 Ohio Derby at Thistledown in Cleveland, Caleb’s Posse scored the Grade 2 Amsterdam and the Grade 1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga, both longer sprint races. He then ran away with the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. by four lengths. Retired after three consecutive near-miss runner-up efforts in New York in 2012, Caleb’s Posse moved to a stallion career at Three Chimneys 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 in 2012.
Don McNeill passed away in early 2015. In 2018, a statue of Clever Trevor, McNeill’s first star horse, was placed in the center of the Remington Park paddock walking ring.