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Trainer Eoin Harty from Kildare is back for his second successive Kentucky Derby when Mr. Hot Stuff John goes to post this Saturday.
Sired by Tinzow, a double winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Mr. Hot Stuff is a full brother of Harty’s first Derby starter Colonel John, who won the 2008 Santa Anita Derby and came sixth in last year’s race.
Despite his strong pedigree, the Winstar Farm-owned horse has had a mixed return in his seven races to date, winning just the one (the Maiden Special Weight at Santa Anita on February 1) and earning a total of $114,000.
However, he did come third in the (G1) Santa Anita Derby Stakes with as Harty himself says “a lot better company,” and also placed third in the Sham Stakes
“Everything has gone well. So far we haven’t had any hiccups, and I hope it remains that way,” Harty told IrishCentral.
“The weather had been a bit touch and go. It’s been wet and it has been dry and it has been wet again, but everything has been pretty smooth and I have no reason to complain.”
Racing is in the blood for Harty, who has a horse-training lineage that can be traced back to his great-great grandfather, Michael J. "Boss" Harty, who started training horses in 1880.
Harty's grandfather rode and trained Knight's Crest to win the 1944 Irish Grand National, and his father Eddie won the Grand National and competed at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
Whatever happens on Saturday, Harty has had a year to remember. The 46-year-old trained Well Armed to win the $6 million Dubai World Cup – the richest prize in horse racing – and it is something that he does not take for granted.
“To win the biggest race in the world, that achievement speaks for itself.”
The hype that surrounded Harty last year with Colonel John has not been a factor this time out.
“There is not as much pressure on me, as last year I had one of the favorites and this year I have a long shot, so there is no massive expectation on me.”
Harty does think that his horse might turn a head or two. “I think he might surprise a few people. The distance certainly won’t be a problem and it is just a matter of whether he has the God-given talent to pull it off or not.”
Harty left Ireland in the 80's and spent 14 years as assistant to John Russell and Bob Baffert, helping the latter lead Silver Charm to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes double in 1997 and repeat the same feat in 1998 with Real Quiet. He decided to go out his own in 2000.
Harty draws an interesting comparison between Colonel John and his brother Mr. Hot Stuff.
“They are just like humans, they are like two brothers with totally different personalities. They look similar but their approach to everything is very different.
"Colonel John, if he were a human being, he would be very conservative and very intellectual, where this guy (Mr. Hot Stuff) would be very outgoing and pretty reckless.”
So how does Harty think his horse can do?
“Realistically I would be very happy if he hit the board,” said the trainer, who is married and has one son.
“The game plan is to be competitive. If I thought he was going to run last or finish among the stragglers, I certainly would not have brought him here.”
John Velazquez will ride Mr. Hot Stuff for the Derby and the horse is currently a 30-1 shot.