Charles Town mainstay John McKee passes

Longtime prominent Charles Town owner, breeder and trainer John McKee passed away on Saturday at the age of 85. He was the  second local mainstay to pass away this year and the third in the last 18 months.

McKee concluded his training career with 1,328 winners from 12,176 starters who earned just over $17.7 million. McKee enjoyed the best season of his career in 2022 when his runners notched 55 wins and earned nearly $1.5 million, both career bests.

His top earners were No Change, Bridging The Gap, Youthinkthatsfunny and Command The Cat. Yet he will likely forever be linked with Rachel’s Turn, a talented homebred mare who won 15 of 35 career starts, including at least one stakes victory at ages two, three and four.

McKee also conditioned Silver Key to a win in the 1993 Grade 3 Cherry Hill Mile at Garden State Park. That was the trainer’s only graded victory of his career.

McKee kept and raced many of his homebreds from Beau Ridge Farm and won 580 races and earned nearly $12 million as an owner with No Change topping that list. As a trainer he won 17 West Virginia Breeders’ Classics races, the first coming in 1988 and the most recent in 2020.

His legacy as a breeder was stamped with runners sired by his top stallion, Fiber Sonde, and conditioned by other trainers, including Muad’dib, Late Night Pow Wow, Hidden Canyon and Bullets Fever. a quartet that combined to earn nearly $1.8 million. Muad’dib, two-time hero of the West Virginia Breeders Classic, is still competing for trainer Jeff Runco, who also conditioned Bullets Fever to a brief, undefeated career from eight outings.

Yet the most prominent of Fiber Sonde’s offspring was Runnin’toluvya. Bred by Leslie Cromer and trained by Tim Grams for his and his wife Judy’s Grams Racing Stable, Runnin’toluvya won 16 races, including the 2019 Grade 2 Charles Town Classic, and earned $1.1 million in a career that concluded with a win last September.

In 2020, five of the winners on WVBC night were offspring of Fiber Sonde, with McKee himself training two of them.

Sadly, McKee joins prominent fellow owner-trainer-breeder James W. Casey on the recent list of departed individuals who were influential in West Virginia breeding and racing, just 18 months after the industry lost Randy Funkhouser in the fall of 2021. Burt Bacharach, the singer-songwriter and composer who bred two West Virginia-bred first class Hall of Famers Afternoon Deelites and Soul of the Matter, also passed away earlier this year.

McKee, who also served on the board of directors of the Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, is survived by his wife Cyndy.

John McKee
John McKee, center right in brown blazer and holding end of saddle cloth, after Aye a Song won the 2015 West Virginia Triple Crown Nutrition Breeders Classic. Photo by Coady Photography.