Twice in the last three years, the Belmont Stakes was won by a horse who was still eligible to a first-level allowance race. Neither Jazil in 2006, nor Da' Tara in 2008 had won anything other than a maiden race before capturing the Belmont, but both thrived over the 1 1/2 miles at Belmont Park.
That is in part what has given trainer Eoin Harty the hope that Mr. Hot Stuff can turn in a breakthrough performance in this year's Belmont Stakes on June 6. Mr. Hot Stuff has won just once in eight starts, and though he finished third in both the Sham Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby, he was 15th in the Kentucky Derby in his first start on dirt.
"I thought he did deplorably in the Derby," Harty, who is nothing if not candid, said Tuesday morning. "He was back early on, which I was quite happy about. He made a mild move, and that was it. I don't want to blame the track, but he had never been on an off track before."
Harty has decided to press on. Mr. Hot Stuff remained in Kentucky, and was taken to Keeneland to train over that track's synthetic surface. On Tuesday morning, he worked five furlongs in company at Keeneland in 1:01 with exercise rider Brian O'Leary aboard. Mr. Hot Stuff worked early in the morning, before the heat index began to rise.
"It's been so steamy here, but this morning it was beautiful for the first two or three hours," Harty's assistant, Brian Ange, said from Kentucky. "He finished up the work great. He came the final three-eighths in 35 seconds, in company, and finished up nice."
Mr. Hot Stuff is a full brother to Colonel John, who won last year's Santa Anita Derby and later in the year won the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Mr. Hot Stuff has taken longer to come to hand - "He's still a little behind the eight ball," Harty said - but the trainer said he believes the Belmont distance will suit him.
"It should not be a problem," Harty said. "He should relish that kind of distance."
Four times in the last six years, the Belmont has been won by a horse who came into the Belmont off a five-week layoff. Mr. Hot Stuff, like Birdstone, Empire Maker, and Jazil, bypassed the Preakness after running in the Derby to point for the Belmont. Rags to Riches had won the Kentucky Oaks in her start prior to the Belmont.
Mr. Hot Stuff is scheduled to work again on Monday at Keeneland, then fly to New York on June 3 on the same plane that brings Mine That Bird, the Derby winner and Preakness runner-up, to the Belmont.