In the last year, Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IIT) contender Hoofit has experienced an earthquake, a tornado, and the aftermath of a hurricane. On his way to the United States from his native New Zealand last spring, he had layovers in Australia, China, Alaska, and New York.
The son of Mossman hasn’t let the harsh elements and world traveling hinder his racing game, however. In fact, they’ve had the opposite effect.
“He was on the plane for about 35 hours (to get to the U.S.), but he came off bucking and kicking, so I think he survived it pretty well,” said owner Gillian Johnston of the 4-year-old bay gelding, who won both of his first two stateside starts in impressive fashion. Hoofit will enter the Turf Sprint off a nose victory in the Oct. 7 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes (gr. III), a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race.
Johnston, a former steeplechase and show jumping rider from England, relocated to the U.S. in 1966. Over the years, she has raced several successful steeplechasers and has also raised and bred horses at her farm.
Johnston bought Hoofit privately last winter upon the advice of West Coast-based bloodstock agent Danny Boultinghouse, who was responsible for picking out another successful New-Zealand bred, grade I victor Black Mamba.
After buying Hoofit, Johnston had plans to send him to California to race in January, but his original flight got delayed due to an earthquake.
When Hoofit finally arrived in the U.S. last spring, he was vanned from New York to Johnston’s Bendabout Farm near Chattanooga, Tenn., soon after which he endured a tornado that destroyed half of the property. In another twist of fate, when Hoofit was first sent to trainer Graham Motion’s barn at Fair Hill in Maryland, he experienced some of the harsh aftermath storms of Hurricane Irene that ripped through the northeast coast last summer.
The gelding, who won a stakes in New Zealand in 2010, took all of those experiences in stride, however, and began thriving under Motion’s tutelage. In his first start on U.S. soil, Hoofit prevailed by 3 1/4 lengths in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion in a Sept. 2 allowance contest at Presque Isle Downs.
“I just couldn’t believe how he won that race at Presque Isle—it was extraordinary,” said Motion. “He literally just galloped around there. I liked him before I ran him, but not many horses win like he did that night.”
Even after that remarkable effort, however, Motion didn’t have the Breeders’ Cup on his mind. He planned to bring Hoofit to Keeneland to run him in another allowance race in October. On the day entries were due for the Phoenix, however, Motion received a call from his stable agent John Panagot.
“John thought the (Phoenix) was coming up a little light, so I called Mrs. Johnston and she was up for taking a shot,” Motion explained. “So that’s how we ended up in there—literally on the day of the race.”
Following Hoofit’s game nose victory over Aikenite in the Phoenix, the Breeders’ Cup seemed like the next logical step.
“I figured when else do you get a chance to do this?” said Johnston. “Graham was instrumental in saying, ‘You need to do it.’ ”
Hoofit has been installed at morning line odds of 15-1 in the Turf Sprint and will break from post seven under jockey Edgar Prado, who was aboard for the Phoenix. The gelding, who owns a career mark of 4-3-1 from 18 starts and earnings of $182,721, isn’t the only New Zealand-bred horse entered in this year’s Breeders’ Cup. Ballydoyle’s So You Think, who also hails from that country, is slated to contend in the Classic (gr. I).
“I’d love to get a photo of the two of them,” said Johnston of Hoofit and So You Think.
Hoofit, out of the Danehill mare Chuckle, was bred by Ra and Je Ferguson Partnership Syndicate. While it may seem like a stretch that the gelding could win the Turf Sprint over the likes of accomplished favorite Regally Ready and last year’s victor Chamberlain Bridge, Motion believes Hoofit deserves a chance. His endurance through other life experiences thus far certainly proves he’s resilient enough for the challenge.
“(The Breeders’ Cup) seems like an ambitious spot, but he’s done everything so nicely and you don’t get a lot of shots to run in this race,” said Motion. “He’s a fresh horse and is doing great and I don’t think there’s a lot of down side to it.”