An Enigma Named Mr. Hot Stuff
Perhaps more than any horse in the field of the Belmont Stakes, it's almost impossible to predict what Mr. Hot Stuff is going to do Saturday.
He showed absolutely nothing as a juvenile in three races on the West Coast.
Trainer Eoin Harty freshened him for a month after his final start in 2008, and Mr. Hot Stuff responded with a third place finish in his first outing as a three-year-old. He finally broke through to victory in his fifth career start at Santa Anita.
Mr. Hot Stuff followed that sterling effort with a third place finish in the Grade Three Sham and a runner-up finish to highly regarded Pioneer of the Nile in the Grade One Santa Anita in his next two races.
It looked as if Mr. Hot Stuff had found his best stride with the Kentucky Derby looming on the horizon.
We'll never know.
Bumped and squeezed at the start, Mr. Hot Stuff finished 15th in the Run for the Roses in his first career on dirt—23 lengths behind Mine That Bird.
Harty says he's going to "throw" Mr. Hot Stuff into the Belmont to see if the colt can atone for his desultory performance in the Kentucky Derby.
The truth of the matter is that Harty doesn't do thing anything in such a haphazard fashion.
Harty is not as well known to the casual racing observer as D. Wayne Lukas or Nick Zito, or even Todd Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin for that matter. But a glimpse at the record shows that he's a dangerous trainer when there's a big purse up for grabs.
Harty conditioned Colonel John to win last year's Santa Derby and Travers stakes. His Well Armed won the $6,000,000 Dubai World Cup earlier this year by 14 lengths. In 2001, Harty sent out Tempera and Imperial Gesture to win a pair of Breeders' Cup races.
Could Mr. Hot Stuff join this illustrious group?
Harty acknowledges that Mr. Hot Stuff is not as precocious as his full brother Colonel John.
But he may not have to be to win the Belmont.
With flashy filly Rachel Alexandra on the sideline, Mine That Bird holds a distinct class edge. He's the only Grade One stakes winner in the group.
However, Dunkirk, Chocolate Candy and Mr. Hot Stuff have each hit the board in a Grade One.
The other horses in the field have either not run in a Grade One race or were unplaced.
Fitness shouldn't be a problem. Mr. Hot Stuff put in a series of solid works recently at Keeneland's synthetic track which suggest he's ready to go.
As a son of Tiznow, who sired 2008 Belmont winner Da'Tara, stamina shouldn't be a problem either.
The major question that revolves around Mr. Hot Stuff is whether he can show the same form on dirt as he has on the synthetic surfaces of the California racing circuit.
Harty, for his part, says that he doesn't think that should be a problem.
In an interview before last year's Kentucky Derby, Harty voiced the opinion that the softer synthetic surfaces actually keep horses fitter than if they had run exclusively on dirt.
We'll find out Saturday.
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