02/03/2009 12:00AM

All of a sudden, Mr. Hot Stuff serves notice

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ARCADIA, Calif. - If he is not the top 3-year-old in California, he is the top one missing from the Kentucky Derby early nominations list. Mr. Hot Stuff's convincing maiden win Sunday in his fifth start catapulted the full brother to Colonel John onto the Derby trail, even if the first deadline for Derby nominations has come and gone.

"When you're into February, and you're still a maiden . . ." trainer Eoin Harty said, figuring it was pointless to nominate. After all, Mr. Hot Stuff had lost his first four starts, and his career-high Beyer Speed Figure was a mere 72. Not exactly Derby material.

But 3-year-olds can improve overnight.

"The light switch went on, finally," Harty said.

Mr. Hot Stuff rallied from last to first Saturday, drawing away by 1 1/4 lengths and earning a 95 Beyer after running the mile in a quick 1:35.82. By comparison, The Pamplemousse earned a 96 Beyer winning the San Rafael Stakes in 1:35.31. Mr. Hot Stuff and The Pamplemousse are headed for a showdown Feb. 28 in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes.

A strategy shift led to the turnaround by Mr. Hot Stuff. "The difference was in the race before when Corey [Nakatani] took him back and let him finish," Harty said, adding that the Jan. 17 third-place finish changed him. "You could see the difference at the barn."

A moody colt usually found hiding at the back of his stall, Mr. Hot Stuff underwent a personality shift.

"He became confident, and would stand at the front of the stall," Harty said.

It appeared he wanted to run again, and Harty wheeled him back just two weeks later.

A former run-off, Mr. Hot Stuff performed Sunday like a seasoned pro. He dropped the bit into the first turn, rating comfortably at the back until Nakatani asked him coming off the far turn. Mr. Hot Stuff poured it on with a final quarter-mile in about 23.30 seconds.

WinStar Farm owns Mr. Hot Stuff, whose pedigree and running style suggests he wants farther than a mile. Late nominations for the Kentucky Derby close in March.

Is Brother Keith getting the drift?

The clubhouse turn will be everything for Brother Keith, who will set the pace Saturday in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis. And if he turns left this time, he could be gone. Brother Keith was rank and drifted out badly on the first turn of the Grade 3 one-mile San Rafael Stakes on Jan. 17, losing all chance while making just his second career start.

Trainer Bobby Frankel believes it was an isolated incident, and expects Brother Keith to improve with experience. After considering an out-of-town race, Frankel opted to keep Brother Keith home and see if jockey Tyler Baze can steer him to a wire-to-wire victory in the 1 1/16-mile Lewis. One thing is certain - the son of Johar loves the Pro-Ride surface.

"He worked in [59.40] on Monday like it was nothing," Frankel said.

It was the second Pro-Ride workout for Brother Keith since he raced, and Frankel said Brother Keith got enough conditioning from his fourth-place San Rafael effort to improve.

After blowing the first turn, Brother Keith dropped out by 15 lengths, made a mid-race move, then went evenly to lose by 11. Frankel said Garrett Gomez "rode him enough to get a race into him."

Gomez on Saturday will ride Pioneerof the Nile, a nose winner of the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity in his most recent start Dec. 20. I Want Revenge, runner-up in the CashCall, also will start. Others expected include Shafted, Papa Clem, Oil Man and Bittel Road.

Well Armed's work delayed a day

If Well Armed wins the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap for a second straight year on Sunday, he will do it with a revised training schedule. Well Armed was scheduled to work five furlongs Tuesday at 7 a.m. But Harty, who trains Well Armed, postponed the workout by a day.

"I'm not working, the track seems real deep," Harty said, and the times confirmed his observation. The Pro-Ride surface was renovated Monday, and workout times Tuesday were one to two seconds slower than normal at distances up to a half-mile, and three to four seconds slow at five furlongs and beyond.

Well Armed is using the San Antonio as a prep for the Dubai World Cup, and will skip the Santa Anita Handicap. Harty said the workout for Well Armed would take place Wednesday.

"I worked him on a deep track last week," Harty said, referring to a one-mile workout Jan. 28 in 1:39.80.

The likely favorite for the San Antonio is Champs Elysees, winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup in his last start. Others possible San Antonio starters are Tiago, Magnum, Informed, Racketeer and Dakota Phone.

Bussell Up sharp for U.S. debut

Bussell Up might not win her U.S. debut in race 3 on Thursday, but it won't be due to a lack of fitness.

"She's worked great; she's outworked everything I've worked her with," trainer Dan Hendricks said. "The only problem is the turf seems to be holding speed."

At 6 1/2 furlongs down the hill, Bussell Up's closing style could place her at a disadvantage. Seven of the last nine downhill turf sprints have been won by a horse setting the pace or within one length of the lead after the opening quarter-mile.

Bussell Up won 1 of 4 starts in Europe, and missed the break twice.

"We've done some gate work with her, but that might be her [habit]," Hendricks said. "All indications are she's a quality filly, and she works well on [Pro-Ride]. We might end up there anyway."

Rain is forecast, which could push the first-level allowance to the main track. Bussell Up's primary foe is fast-working comebacker Birdie Birdie.

* Dixie Chatter had the fastest half-mile workout Tuesday, a 48.40 move that sets him up for the Gradeo2 Strub Stakes on Saturday. A large field is expected, including Gio Ponti, Nownownow, Cowboy Cal, Blue Exits, Cherokee Artist, Medjool, Wishful Tomcat, Slew's Tiznow, and Wesley.

* Zambezi Sun, a Group 1 winner from Europe, turned in the fastest five-furlong workout Tuesday, 1:01.20, under Goncalino Almeida. According to his new trainer, Frankel, Zambezi Sun will make his U.S. debut Feb. 22 in the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo at 1 1/2 miles on grass.