01/05/2018 1:10PM

2017 Eclipse Awards: Mr. Hot Stuff


One thrilling race in New Jersey in the fall defined the year for the 11-year-old Mr. Hot Stuff, a finalist for the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding steeplechaser of 2017.

Mr. Hot Stuff struggled through his first four starts of the year, with only a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey Handicap in South Carolina to show for his effort. Then came the Grade 1 Grand National Stakes at Far Hills in New Jersey in October. In the 4:57.40 needed to run the 2 5/8 miles, Mr. Hot Stuff claimed his first major win since 2013.

The victory was the latest accolade in a remarkable career. A gelding by Tiznow bred by WinStar Farm, Mr. Hot Stuff was third in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby way back in 2009. He later finished 15th behind Mine That Bird in the Kentucky Derby and eighth behind Summer Bird in the Belmont Stakes a month later.

In early 2011, Mr. Hot Stuff switched careers and has won 6 of 16 starts in jump races. The $400,000 Grand National is by far the greatest win of his career, and his first six-figure payday. The victory was worth $240,000 to owner Gillian Johnston and trainer Jack Fisher.

Fisher has come to admire Mr. Hot Stuff, who he says is something of a camera hound.

“Mr. Hot Stuff loves his job,” Fisher said in early January. “He’s a beautiful-looking horse. He likes to show off. Every picture taken he has his ears pricked and he’s posing.”

As the first part of 2017 unfolded, there were no winner’s circle photos of Mr. Hot Stuff. He was a well-beaten third behind Scorpiancer in the Temple Gwathmey and was pulled up in the Grade 1 Calvin Houghland Iroquois Stakes at Percy Warner Park, outside of Nashville, on May 13.

There was no cause for alarm that day, Fisher said, just a case of bad luck.

“It wasn’t his fault,” Fisher said. “Another horse hit him at a fence and knocked him.”

Mr. Hot Stuff did not race again until the New York Turf Writers Handicap at Saratoga in August, when he finished seventh in a field of 10. He ran marginally better in the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory Stakes on Sept. 21 at Belmont Park, finishing fifth behind All the Way Jose.

In the Grand National, jockey Danny Mullins had Mr. Hot Stuff near the front dueling with All the Way Jose for the lead. The two were joined by Modem after the final hurdle, and the three fought to the wire. Mr. Hot Stuff had his nose in front of Modem at the wire, with All the Way Jose only a nose farther back in the field of seven.

“I think my jockey was really good,” Fisher said. “Danny Mullins jumped the last and it took him zero time to get back into riding that horse. It took the other guys a stride or two.”

The richest jump race in the United States belonged to Mr. Hot Stuff.