Mr. Hot Stuff and Zanjabeel star at Far Hills

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“It’s my first Grand National…”

That’s how Danny Mullins answered when asked about the thrill of winning the American Grand National on outsider Mr. Hot Stuff at Far Hills last month.

“Hopefully I’ll add a few more,” Mullins said, finishing the thought.

For now, the $400,000 American Grand National (a 2 5/8-mile hurdle race) will suffice.

Owned by Gillian Johnston and trained by Jack Fisher, Mr. Hot Stuff won a thriller, nailing Modem and All The Way Jose in a three-horse, two-nose-margin photo. British raider Hammersly Lake finished fifth while Irish raider Katnap failed to threaten, winding up sixth. The latter was sold after the race and will stay in America.

Mr. Hot Stuff ended a six-race losing streak, winning his first race since April 2015 and capping off a star-crossed, star-studded career. The full-brother to Travers winner Colonel John promised big things early in his flat career, finishing third in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby before finishing 15th in the Kentucky Derby in 2009. By the next summer, the stunning dark bay colt was riding a 1-for-18 career mark and was faced with the inevitable slide down the ladder of an under-achieving flat horse.

Plucked from WinStar Farm and trainer Eoin Harty and sent to Fisher, Mr. Hot Stuff had a new lease on life. He won two of his first four hurdle starts in 2011, missed nearly two years before winning a novice stakes and the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick in 2013. He missed all of 2014 and won the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey in his return in 2015, finished second, beaten a nose in the Grade 1 Iroquois, then missed all of 2016.

“When he got hurt the last time, whatever he did, he’s done every ligament he’s got. I said that’s it. Gill said I really want to do the Iroquois,” Fisher said. “We saw him at Gill’s farm, he’s out in a field, I didn’t recognize him. ‘Really? That’s him?’ He just looked like an old field horse, a polo pony. He looked rough.”

Returning at 11, Mr. Hot Stuff finished third in the Temple Gwathmey, then pulled up in the Iroquois after a rough trip.

“He ran badly but I couldn’t knock him, he got slammed,” Fisher said. “He’s still sound, so, let’s keep going. It paid off today.”

Asked to explain the reformation at Far Hills, Fisher couldn’t begin to explain the enigmatic, electric Mr. Hot Stuff.

“I have no idea. I did give him a talk, ‘I said this race is more important than the Kentucky Derby,’ ” Fisher said, only half kidding. “He was just showing up this year, he’s gotten slower, he doesn’t have a kick any more, but today, he showed more pace. Danny put him up there, It’s not where I told him to be. It set up differently than I thought it would, Hot Stuff in front…I thought it was good, they’re going slow, he’s jumping for fun, that probably built him up, ‘Hey, I’m in front now.’ ”

And at the end of the most important American hurdle race of the year.

Mullins, aboard Mr. Hot Stuff for the second time, found Mr. Hot Stuff very different than the horse he rode to finish a non-threatening fifth behind Grand National rivals All The Way Jose and Modem

“At Belmont, he traveled quite well but found very little off the bridle so I was kind of thinking I’d like to ride him a bit more forward. Things worked out brilliant,” Mullins said. “I was quite conscious to keep hanging onto him as long as I could, some of the other tracks, like Belmont and Saratoga, have flat finishes and you need to keep chasing the race, here, you just have to ride little conservatively and hang onto them a bit, thankfully, once I asked him, he dug deep and galloped to the line well.”

With a dearth of American-born jockeys, the sport has become a feeding frenzy to European jockeys. Some have come for good – Sean McDermott, Kieran Norris, Ross Geraghty, Paddy Young, Jack Doyle to name a few – and others have made drop-in appearances. Mullins has gradually developed a relationship with Fisher, coming here when things are quiet at home.

“It started with Sean McDermott who asked me to come over two or three years ago and it’s blossomed from there. It’s fantastic to win this, Ruby (Walsh) came and won it last year, obviously, the race has grown in prestige the whole time,” Mullins said. “It would be fantastic to see jump racing become more of a global sport, like the flat is, the flat jockeys have a great life jetting all over the world, riding. We have to do everything we can to promote jump racing in that way.”

Asked to compare Far Hills, Mullins hesitated and then thought of some of the Irish summer tracks.

“It’s somewhat like Galway, although it’s left-handed, it’s a tight track, up and down with a stiff finish, you need quite a good horse to win here, but you also need a horse that’s going to do everything you ask all the way. If a horse runs a bit keen here, the crowd can get to him, they can burn their petrol out early in the race,” Mullins said. “Mr. Hot Stuff has been around the block, he’s sensible to everything you ask him to do, for a jockey a horse who allows you to ride the race to your own plan it’s a great help, especially on a track like this. Belmont and Saratoga are flat and speed, where here you just have to ride clever but you need a willing partner to do that.”

On a day when Irish jockeys swept the seven races and Irish raider Zanjabeel dominated the $125,000 Foxbrook Novice Stakes, Mullins was captivated by the atmosphere, the friendliness and certainly the prize money ($800,000) at Far Hills.

“I’d love to see more Irish horses coming out. The fact that Willie (Mullins) didn’t bring any of his horses here was an advantage to us today, whether they would have beat us, I don’t know, but it’s always a help when they stay home,” Mullins said. “American racing is growing all the time, you’d have to think Irish trainers and owners and English too, are going to stand up and recognize this racing. We have fine prize money for winter racing but the summer horses are neglected a little bit, the big pots are here for them, people need to come and have a go. It takes a sporting owner and trainer to have the guts to try it, but as we seen with Gordon and his horse, it pays off.”

• Yes, it paid off for Gordon Elliott and the Confidence Partnership who had the confidence to unleash Zanjabeel on 10 overmatched rivals in the Foxbrook. Ridden by Jack Kennedy, the 4-year-old son of Aussie Rules found a comfortable spot throughout the 2 1/2-mile stakes before cruising to a 4 3/4-length sweep over Ice It and Irish-bred New Member.

“Everything went to plan,” Kennedy said. “The plan beforehand was to jump off in mid-division or just in front of it, got a lovely position, jumped and traveled great, just turning into the straight and going to the last, they picked it up and he stayed and put the race to bed. I couldn’t have asked for any better from him. I had loads of light but I wasn’t too wide on him, he was jumping and traveling, it couldn’t have gone any smoother.”

Elliott agreed with that sentiment, engineering the smoothest of raiding parties with Zanjabeel.

“The last couple of months it was the plan, we were supposed to bring a horse for the big race but he pulled a muscle and couldn’t come. It was great. It was great. We just thought he wanted good ground, he’s not a winter ground horse. It worked out, the owners are ballsy enough to come over, this horse is for sale now. Hopefully we’ll get him sold,” Elliott said immediately after the race. “He’s a good horse, he’s won on the flat and over hurdles but the problem is he needs good ground. I couldn’t see him out of the money, but the longer I was here all day, everyone kept telling me it was the best race of the day.”

Elliott finalized the last part of his plan, selling Zanjabeel to American-based owner George Mahoney’s Rosbrian Farm and Ben and Wendy Griswold.

As for Kennedy, he was as smitten with Far Hills as Mullins.

“It’s a great buzz,” Kennedy said. “It’s my first time here, I’d happily come back every year, it’s a great crowd, the atmosphere is great, like one of our summer meets. It’s similar to Bellewstown.”

• A version of this article was originally published in The Irish Field.