May 30, 2011

Where Is Mr. Hot Stuff?

Mr. Hot Stuff breaks his maiden over the hurdles at the Fair Hill Races.

    He won more than $195,000 in his career and made starts in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, but Saturday Mr. Hot Stuff was trying to break his maiden, again - this time as a steeplechaser.
     The handsome dark bay or brown horse is at the starting point for a new and promising career. The smartly bred son of Tiznow was a $200,000 Keeneland yearling in 2007 and is a full brother to Colonel John.
     After scoring a 95 Beyer while breaking his maiden as a flat racer, Mr. Hot Stuff was never able to live up to his potential.  Eventually he was retired last year, having only won that one maiden race at Santa Anita in the Spring of 2009.
     Originally, Mr. Hot Stuff was owned by Arthur Arundel, a man long connected with the steeplechase industry.  In 2010, Mr. Arundel retired the colt and sent him to trainer Jack Fisher with the hope he would continue a long history of excellence in ‘chasing.
Mr. Hot Stuff in the Belmont post parade
     It appeared those hopes would take a detour on February 8th of this year when Arthur W. “Nick” Arundel passed away at 83.  Three Arundel horses were dispersed at a sale at Jack Fisher’s barn in April in Butler, Maryland.
     Another perennial steeplechase owner stepped forward at the sale and shelled out $70,000 for a thoroughbred who hadn’t won a race since April 2009 and had never won a jump race. New owner Gill Johnston left Mr. Hot Stuff in Jack Fisher’s care and his steeplechase career commenced.
     On a card filled with tons of “off-the-track” thoroughbreds, Mr. Hot Stuff broke his maiden in a 2 ¼-mile hurdle contest.
     Steeplechasing is one of many “next-careers” for thoroughbred racers.  Just perusing the past performances for Saturday’s program at the Fair Hill Races one found several horses with six-digit earnings and 52 with prior flat racing experiencing.
Staying On wires the field in a 1 1/4-mile training flat race with rider Jody Petty aboard.
     Horses like Saco River, Sharps Island and Staying On were on the racecard.  In many cases, their career earnings of more than $200,000 each dwarfed the entire earnings for the rest of the field. 
Lining up for the Valentine Memorial at the Fair Hill Races
     For those in attendance who took the time to consider the past performances, those big-money earners paid off at the betting windows.  Fair Hill is only steeplechase meet where pari-mutuel wagering is offered.  Mr. Hot Stuff, Staying On and Sharps Island all won their races.
     Events like the Fair Hill Races, or the Virginia Gold Cup, Willowdale Hunt or any of the many National Steeplechase Association sanctioned races are somewhat of a well-kept secret.  Racegoers get to see fantastic athletes, the riders and the horses, partake in a sport with a history that dates back to the 18th century.  Most attendees dress for the occasion, bring the party with them, tailgate all day long, enjoy dog races, stick pony races, bar-b-ques and whatever else they can add to the festivities.  It is a day outside with friends.  It is a social gathering to celebrate horses and horsemanship that also benefits the communities where the races are run.  To find out more about steeplechasing, its history, its participants and dates and locations for future events please visit the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) website at the following web address.

...and one more look at Mr. Hot Stuff...

May 22, 2011

In Pursuit Of The Crown

Story by Scott Serio
Photos by Scott Serio unless otherwise noted

     On any other day, at any other track, in any other $1million race, the result would have been more than acceptable for trainer Graham Motion. With a chance at notching a victory in the second leg of the elusive Triple Crown for thoroughbred racing in the balance, Animal Kindgom’s furious stretch drive to finish second, beaten ½-length, was tough to stomach.
     Motion didn’t want the pressure that came with pursuing the Crown and never expected such an opportunity to enter his life. When the chestnut colt he trains powered to a win in the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby all the wheels were set in motion.
     What ensued was a journey that drew in the entire Motion family.  Having made the decision to train Animal Kingdom at his home base at the Fair Hill Training Center instead of Pimlico Race Course, the host track for the Preakness, the energy and distraction soon made its way to Cecil County in the Northeastern tip of Maryland.
     Not only did the media make it to Fair Hill, but stars, politicians, pony clubs and Stride LIVE made the trip.  The team of trainer Graham Motion and Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin did their best to accommodate every request for an interview in the midst of trying to keep the strapping son of Leroidesanimeaux on regular schedule.
     The homebred Animal Kingdom would only be making the sixth start of his young career at Pimlico.   To win the Triple Crown, he would need that win and another win in the Belmont Stakes three weeks later. Animal Kingdom had already made history as the first horse since Exterminator in 1918 to win the Derby with only four previous starts. No horse with such a light resume has ever won the Triple Crown.
     Graham Motion and Barry Irwin knew they had their work cut out for them.  Below enjoy a behind the scenes look at the preparations for Animal Kingdom’s quest for Triple Crown glory and the moments that involved all those connected to him.
Animal Kingdom arrives at his new home at the Fair Hill Training Center

Graham Motion walks the barn with his son Chappy before Animal Kingdom arrives.

Team Valor Assistant Megan Jones spends time with Thursby, a 1/2 brother to Animal Kingdom by the same dam Dalicia.

Graham Motion greets the media, before the media throng grows.

Graham Motion talks with Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid.

Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin fields a 50-minute phone call with turf writer Andy Beyer, one of hundreds of interviews.

The sign at the entrance to Fair Hill shows the local impact and interest in Animal Kingdom.

Barry and Kathleen Irwin watch one of the 2yo runners in South Africa via the internet during the media frenzy.

The Waredaca Pony Club came to visit Kentucky Derby winning Animal Kingdom.

John Mitchell is an exercise rider for Graham Motion, but he brought his son Eoin to see Animal Kingdom.

Kathleen and Barry Irwin watch Animal Kingdom exercise.

The media frenzy gathers steam.

Graham Motion throws out the first pitch at the Orioles game on the Thursday before the Preakness.(photo Eric Kalet)

Graham practices throwing with his son Chappy.(photo Eric Kalet)

The group of onlookers at Clocker's Tower grows to include fans, media and Barry Irwin.

Graham Motion and his son Chappy arrive at Pimlico on Preakness Day.

Animal Kingdom waits in Stall 40 for his shot at the Triple Crown.

Anita Motion fixes the jacket of her son Chappy before heading to the track on Preakness Day.

Anita Motion meets with Martin O'Malley, the Governor of the State of Maryland, before the Preakness.

Graham Motion speaks with Martin O'Malley, the Governor of the State of Maryland
Assistant Trainers Dave Rock and Adrian Rolls lead Animal Kingdom to the paddock for the Preakness.
In the post parade before the Preakness.

After a troublesome break in the Preakness, Animal Kingdom is far back sitting 13th out of 14 horses.

By the clubhouse turn, Animal Kingdom is still far back and his hopes of capturing the Second Jewel of the Triple Crown slip.

John Velazquez urged Animal Kingdom forward and he unleashed a roaring stretch drive in front of more than 107,000 fans.

The surge was not enough and Animal Kingdom was defeated by Shackleford, thus ending the Derby winner's Triple Crown hopes.

Still A Star - Former VISA CEO, Team Valor investor and Animal Kingdom Partner Carl Pascarella and his wife Yurie visited the Derby winner at his home in Fair Hill the day after his second place finish in the Preakness.

Hopes for the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978 are now on hold, but if you are looking for a prospect maybe you can look to the Team Valor barn. Across shed row from Animal Kingdom is Thursby. He is the Derby winner's 1/2 brother by Mr. Greeley, he is two-years-old and is awaiting the first start of his racing career. Triple Crown in 2012 anyone?
 Special Thanks To:
Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin and his wife Kathleen, Graham Motion, Anita Motion, Dave Rock, Megan Jones, Jane Motion and Chappy Motion for letting Eclipse Sportswire be a fly on the wall and document this trip. ALL PHOTOS COPYRIGHT ECLIPSE SPORTSWIRE.