Cup of Coffee: No Asterisk

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I have a client who’s looking for a nice horse to run on flat and/or over jumps and I was wondering about Mr. Hot Stuff. I’m probably crazy but I thought I would ask. Not sure what he’s worth as a stallion but if you wanted to make a switch with him, let me know.


The email went out April 20, 2010. I send a lot of emails. Make a lot of calls. Usually stabs – trying to recruit flat horses to become steeplechase prospects. Most of the time, I don’t get any response (I called Chad Brown about Saginaw when he was a maiden). Sometimes I get a response. Doug Cauthen, at WinStar Farm at the time, returned my email, basically with a maybe and a how much?

I was shocked I got a maybe.

When you email about a full-brother to a Travers winner, who has run in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, finished third in the Santa Anita Derby and looks like God chiseled him himself, you don’t expect a response. It’s almost embarrassing to ask, but I’ve learned to ask. They say you never know how high a frog can jump until you ask. It’s a perfect analogy when you’re looking for jump candidates.

When I got a maybe, I called Jack Fisher, my most loyal client, and told him about the horse. He knew of him, looked him up for a refresher and was immediately intrigued.

“Jack, one thing I can tell you, you don’t need to go see him. I never say this, but trust me, save the plane ticket,” I said. “He’s everything you want in a horse – tall, scopey, athletic, bred for it, runs long, hasn’t had a lot of miles, been taken care of the right way.”

Fisher called me from the airport, on the way home.

“You’re right, I wasted a plane ticket,” Fisher said.

That meant he liked him.

Mr. Hot Stuff became a jump prospect, arriving at Fisher’s Maryland barn late spring, 2010, a year after his dalliance on the Derby trail. Fisher eliminated the potential for “Full brother to Travers Winner Colonel John” in a stallion ad and Mr. Hot Stuff began to jog hills (OK, it’s Fisher, gallop hills), pop small logs in the woods and go from five-star city slicker to a rough-and-ready country boy. Fisher tried him once on the flat, he finished third at Laurel and then took the winter off. He broke his maiden over jumps in May 2011, then won again that summer. A bowed tendon derailed a return to the flat (Fisher was aiming at the 2-mile optional claimer here) and he missed the rest of 2011 and all of 2012.

The dark bay gelding returned this spring to win a novice stakes at Nashville and became an open stakes winner yesterday when he won the A.P. Smithwick Memorial, combining speed and stamina for a stylish win.

Before the race, HRTV asked me what we look for in jumper prospects. Turf, stamina, athleticism and connections. The latter trait is as important as the first three. Plenty of horses have the first three but don’t have the fourth. I eliminate most horses because I know the connections won’t sell the horse, will be insulted if I ask them or simply haven’t taken care of the horse well enough to handle a new career.

Steeplechasing is a dichotomous endeavor. The individual race is more dangerous, no doubt, but the lifestyle and the chances of retirement far outweigh the risk. It’s like living on a golf course, sometimes you have to go out and swing a club.

WinStar could have dropped down Mr. Hot Stuff, run him for a claiming price at Santa Anita, a few weeks after he was beaten less than 4 lengths in an a-other-than allowance. They probably could have lost him for $75,000, won a purse and got the claiming price. Instead, they responded to my email, thought about it and thought good about it. Now 7, Mr. Hot Stuff has a good life. The key to Thoroughbred retirement is productivity. A horse has to be productive. Mr. Hot Stuff, off WinStar’s books, won a $100,000 stakes at Saratoga, same check as the flat horses, money goes into the bank the same way. No asterisk.

I don’t know what happened, when it happened or why it happened, but the chasm between flat racing and jump racing seems expansive these days. We’re playing the same game, with the same horses. Next time someone calls you about a jumper, don’t scoff, you might have a Saratoga Grade I winner in your barn.