“I promise you, Jack, you don’t need to go see him. Save the flight to California. You won’t be disappointed.”
Those were the words from the bloodstock agent who negotiated the deal for Mr. Hot Stuff to transfer from flat racing with WinStar Farm and trainer Eoin Harty to steeplechase racing with owner Gillian Johnston and trainer Jack Fisher.
Harty said it better, “He’s the Fabio of horses.”
A full-brother to Travers winner Colonel John, Mr. Hot Stuff has always had a following, built mostly on reputation and physique, but built just the same. Munnings couldn’t paint a better looking horse. Deep shoulder. Flowing neck. Power walk. Dark bay. Searching eye.
Bred by WinStar, Mr. Hot Stuff broke his maiden in his fifth start and then closed ground to finish third in the Sham Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby in 2009. Those efforts led to the Kentucky Derby where he finished 15th behind Mine That Bird. Five weeks later, he failed to threaten in the Belmont Stakes. Unable to graduate from the first-level allowance condition, he lost 13 in a row before Fisher took a look (he did get on the plane) in 2010.
Fisher tried him once on the turf at Laurel, he finished third in a two-other-than allowance, before putting him away for the winter.
Mr. Hot Stuff won twice over hurdles in 2011 before bowing a tendon while training at Saratoga that summer, forcing him to miss the entire 2012 season. He returned with a training flat win over the Colonial Downs course April 6.
Now 7, the son of Tiznow makes his return to jumping in the Queen’s Cup MPC Chase Hurdle at the Queen’s Cup Steeplechase, in North Carolina. Saturday’s $50,000 novice stakes attracted seven novices including last year’s champion novice Alajmal. Owned by Greg Hawkins and trained by Janet Elliot, Alajmal won twice last year and opened his 5-year-old campaign with a sharp win in the Carolina Cup over Saturday rivals Fog Island, Forgotten Man and Barnstorming.
The novice condition limits the field to horses who have not won over hurdles prior to March 1, 2012 or which have never won three races other than 3-year-old. Irishman Sean Flanagan, riding his first year in the U.S., guided Mr. Hot Stuff to the flat win and has the return call.
“He’s done everything perfect from day one,” Fisher said. “He’s doing great. He’s pretty much the same horse as he was two years ago, plays around, he knows he’s good looking, he knows he’s cool, he walks around here like, ‘Hey, you know I ran in the Derby.’ ”
Harty knows the look.
“He was as good a looking horse as I’ve ever trained, he wasn’t as talented as his brother, obviously, whatever talent he had he didn’t choose to show it,” Harty said. “If he was at the 2-year-old sale…if The Green Monkey brought 16 million, he would have brought 18, because he had the look and he had the best gallop out ever, in any work, in any race you’ve ever seen. You know how these guys are at the sale, ‘he went in 10 and 2 but you should have seen his gallop out.’ That was the story of Mr. Hot Stuff.”
On the flat, Mr. Hot Stuff would settle early and close belatedly, always promising bigger things to come. They just never came.
“In his last race, on HRTV Jeff Siegel says, ‘This is it for Mr. Hot Stuff, if he doesn’t do it today, I’m off Mr. Hot Stuff forever,’ ” Harty said.
Mr. Hot Stuff finished fifth that day and became a jumper, never to bother Siegel again.
“Granted, he was running against tough competition out here in California but I don’t think he tried that hard. Maybe we give these horses too much credit for being that smart, I don’t know,” Harty said. “He just always seemed like he’d kick in that last eighth of a mile and promise so much and deliver so little.”
In his final six starts for Harty, Mr. Hot Stuff was beaten a total of 14 ½ lengths, managing two seconds, a fourth, two fifths and a sixth.
Instead of dropping Mr. Hot Stuff to the claiming ranks, WinStar opted to sell him and give him another chance. Harty, son of a steeplechase jockey, liked the idea.
“I was confident he could jump, he has the size and the moves of a horse who could jump a fence, he certainly had the athletic ability,” Harty said. “I think most horses can jump, we just don’t bother with it. If you give them a little confidence, they can all do it. I didn’t know how competitive he was going to be but I had no doubts about the jumping aspects of it. He would look good in the paddock at Cheltenham.”
Fabio at Cheltenham…maybe next March.
• Watch Mr. Hot Stuff in the Kentucky Derby.
• Watch Mr. Hot Stuff break his maiden on flat.
• Watch Mr. Hot Stuff and family.