In a thrilling, heart-pounding finish, Gil Johnston’s Mr. Hot Stuff came back in the last strides to nip Robert Kinsley’s Modem in the Far Hills Races’ $400,000 Grand National by a nose on Saturday. Buttonwood Farm’s All the Way Jose finished third, another nose back in America’s richest steeplechase race.
A competitor in the 2009 Triple Crown races, Mr. Hot Stuff was the oldest runner in a field of seven in the 2 5/8-mile Grand National, a race that attracted three overseas competitors, all of whom ran somewhat disappointing races over Far Hills’ lush, firm turf course.
On an afternoon that recalled late summer more than mid-autumn, Mr. Hot Stuff’s performance recalled earlier glory days. He won the 2013 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) and appeared to be on the cusp of duplicating his flat form, in which he earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby (Gr. 1) starting gate with a third-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby (Gr. 1).
The 97th annual Far Hills Races attracted a strong cast of overseas-based horses, and the New Jersey steeplechase meet’s rich races also are a magnet for many of the top jump jockeys in England and Ireland, including two who have worn the crown as Irish champion jockey.
Paul Townend, who has the mount on Jamarjo in the $400,000 Grand National (Gr. 1), was the champion Irish jump jockey in 2010-2011. He was an immediate sensation when he began riding professionally in his teens and ranks among the top jockeys now at age 27. Riding second call for champion trainer Willie Mullins behind perennial champion Ruby Walsh, Townend already has 31 wins from 216 starts in the current season. In the 2016-2017 season, he rode 53 winners from 337 starts, with earnings of approximately $2-million. In addition to the Grand National, he has mounts in every Far Hills stakes race except the New Jersey Hunt Cup.
Davy Russell, 38, succeeded Townend as the champion jockey in the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons. The veteran from County Cork has 18 Cheltenham Festival winners, including at least one in each year since 2006. He already has 56 wins this season from 203 starts, a strike rate of 27.6%. He rides Katnap in the Grand National for Irish trainer Joseph O’Brien, the former two-time champion flat jockey in Ireland.
Brian Hughes, 32, returns to Far Hills for a second shot at the Grand National, after finishing third last year aboard Sharp Rise. He had a career year on England’s northern racing circuit in 2016-2017 with 135 wins, including a record 20 trips to the winner’s enclosure at Ayr Race Course. He rides Hammersly Lake in the Grand National for trainer Charlie Longsdon.
Danny Mullins, 25, has raced in the United States occasionally. His first foray into the U.S. in 2015 yielded a win in the Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase. The son of successful trainers Tony and Mags Mullins, he rode on the flat until his weight began to rise. He had 46 wins and purse earnings of approximately $1-million in the 2016-2017 season, and in the current season he has 18 wins from 253 starts. He’ll ride Mr. Hot Stuff in the Grand National for trainer Jack Fisher.
Three other overseas-based jockeys have mounts in the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle for novices.
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