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 Smithwick Memorial was a ray of promise, but physical issues intervened. Mr. Hot Stuff missed the 2014 season, came back to run well in 2015, and then missed all of last year.
He returned with a good effort in a Grade 3 race but showed little in his next two starts before finishing fifth in Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1), won by Jonathan Sheppard-trained All the Way Jose on Sept. 21.
His past form was undeniable, but the question was whether Mr. Hot Stuff had lost a step or two if not his stuff. He proved on this warm afternoon that he remains a formidable competitor. He kicked away from the start with top Irish jockey Danny Mullins and alternated on the lead with All the Way Jose, ridden by leading jockey Darren Nagle.
Modem, third in three prior Grade 1 races this summer, including the Lonesome Glory, kicked on as the field hit the final turn under Jack Doyle, and it appeared that the battle would be between him and All the Way Jose.
But Mr. Hot Stuff, flashing his class, refused to concede the issue. He jumped the last in third, a short distance behind the leaders, and whittled away their slight advantage over the last furlong. All the Way Jose wavered ever so slightly, and Modem took over as the finish line neared. But Mr. Hot Stuff found a last effort in the shadow of the wire and claimed the victory from the outside. He won in 4:57 2/5 on firm turf.
Owner Johnston, who acquired Mr. Hot Stuff after his flat career, said she never lost faith in her valiant Tiznow gelding, who was bred out of the Turkoman mare Sweet Damsel by WinStar Farm in Kentucky.
The win, worth $240,000, raised Mr. Hot Stuff’s 2017 tally to $251,100 and all but assured him the 2017 Lonesome Glory Award as the National Steeplechase Association’s leading earner.
The win also was highly significant for his trainer, Jack Fisher, who had a win and a second in previous races. Those results raised his 2017 earnings to $1,182,050, a National Steeplechase Association record. By day’s end, his tally was $1,206,050 with three weekends of racing remaining in the 2017 season.
Fisher had held the earnings record, set in 2008 at $1,156,907. He has exceeded the million-dollar mark two other times, in 2015 and 2016, and is the only trainer to break into seven figures.
Zanjabeel takes Foxbrook Champion Hurdle
The Confidence Partnership’s Zanjabeel struck the only blow for the overseas interests invading Far Hills when he held off DASH Stable’s Ice It to win the $125,000 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle for novices. Armata Stables’ New Member finished third.
A two-time winner previously this year, Zanjabeel moved to the fore on the final circuit of the Far Hills course and easily repelled a full-throated charge by Ice It and jockey Sean McDermott to claim the victory by 4 3/4 lengths under jockey Jack Kennedy.
New Member closed some ground late to pick up the show spot. Trained by Gordon Elliott, Zanjabeel ran the Foxbrook’s 2 1/2 miles in 4:42 2/5.
With Zanjabeel’s victory, Bruton Street-US’s Moscato maintained his commanding position atop the year’s novice ranks. Scratched from the Grand National, Moscato has earnings of $156,000 from four wins and two seconds in six career starts over fences.
Menacing Dennis placed first in Gladstone
In the afternoon’s kickoff race, the $50,000 Gladstone Race for three-year-olds, Hudson River Farms’ Snuggling finished first by 2 1/2 lengths but was disqualified to third for interference before the last fence.
Benefitting from the disqualification was Bonnie Rye Stable’s Menacing Dennis, who laid close to the early pace under Mark Watts before surrendering the lead to Snuggling in the stretch and finishing second.
Riverdee Stable’s Down Royal in turn finished third, 7 1/2 lengths behind Menacing Dennis, after being forced wide by an advancing Snuggling as the field turned into the stretch. Ridden by Bernie Dalton, Down Royal ended up in the middle of the course and charged to the finish line to take the third spot.
Trained by Julie Gomena, Menacing Dennis moved into a strong position to claim the three-year-old championship after collecting the Gladstone’s $30,000 first-place purse. The Greatness gelding previously had finished a distant fourth in a Shawan Downs maiden race for three-year-olds on Sept. 23.
Snuggling completed the Gladstone’s 2 1/8 miles in 4:05 3/5 on firm turf.
In other races, Amy Taylor Rowe’s Lady Blanco won the $75,000 Peapack Stakes by six lengths for trainer Leslie Young and jockey Paul Townend, and Where’s the Beef pulled away to a 1 1/2-length victory over Super Saturday in the $50,000 New Jersey Hunt Cup. Mark Beecher rode Where’s the Beef for owner Welcome Here Farm and trainer Ivan Dowling.