If you have been out with any number of Virginia’s hunt clubs this season, you may have recognized the black horse that was the winner of Virginia steeplechasing’s richest purse on May 3. Although he flew under the radar at 10-1 odds, Hot Rize flew under the wire in the Virginia Gold Cup ¾ lengths to the good. He snared the win for a partnership made up entirely of fox hunters -- appropriate for a horse who might never have had a career if it hadn’t been for the hunt field.
Owned by Holston Hall, a partnership managed by The Plains resident Russell Haynes, Hot Rize struggled early in his career to settle. Always a talented horse, the son of Sultry Song would work like a stakes horse at the farm and then let his nerves get the better of him on race day. Despite showing ability, he couldn’t seem to win a race. Until Haynes, who also trains the horse, decided to send him to Tennessee-based Karen Gray.
Gray started fox hunting Hot Rize, and the horse found his feet. He broke his maiden at Aiken by close to 30 lengths in the fall of 2011, and was second in his timber debut at Callaway.
“Fox hunting was the biggest secret with him,” Haynes said. “It got a bottom in him and made him focus on other things. It really changed the kind of horse he was.”
Haynes hasn’t forgotten the lesson: Hot Rize has been based in Middleburg under the 26-year-old’s care since fall of 2012, and Haynes relies on hunting the horse to both build stamina in the winter, and keep his mind right.
In fact, the horse has almost as illustrious of a career in the hunt field as he does on the racetrack. Haynes has whipped in off him at Blue Ridge, Johnny Gray hunted hounds off of him in Tennessee, and this winter, under Haynes, Hot Rize followed both the Piedmont Fox Hounds and Loudoun-Fairfax Hunt through the bitter cold.
Hot Rize is one of two partnership horses Haynes currently manages, although he hopes that the Gold Cup win will help him propel the business forward. The other, a filly by First Samurai, is a ladies-only partnership in which shares are still available. The partnership is made up entirely of fox hunters, a move Haynes says is deliberate:
“Fox hunters make the perfect partners for Holston Hall,” Haynes said. “They know and understand that we are dealing with animals and they let me make the best decision for the horses. They know how to have fun and are sporting, win or lose.”
According to Haynes, he met all but one of the partners through fox hunting, and all are active in the hunt field currently: Brian Ferrell is MFH at Blue Ridge, Ryan Broyles hunts with Tennessee Valley, Charlie Nulsen with Blue Ridge, and Bobby Kirk, Rob Banner and Haynes all, as Haynes puts it, “hunt around.”
Hunt Rize is finished racing for the season and will enjoy a break until July. Haynes plans to take the horse cubbing and try to repeat the fox-hunting-and-race-training combination to prepare for the International Gold Cup and the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in the fall.
The goal, of course, is Timber Horse of the Year.