Local Partnership Wins Virginia Gold Cup

Hot Rize, managed by local syndicate Holston Hall, roared to victory in the 2014 Virginia Gold Cup on Saturday. Photo courtesy Douglas Lees.

Hot Rize, managed by local syndicate Holston Hall, roared to victory in the 2014 Virginia Gold Cup on Saturday. Photo courtesy Douglas Lees.

Sometime in April, at a three-stall barn off the Plains Road, a 10-year-old timber horse cropped grass and ignored completely the tender weight of expectation resting on his withers. Hot Rize, one of only two partnership horses managed by Bristol native Russell Haynes, was supposed to win the 2014 Gold Cup.

He had been supposed to win the Virginia Gold Cup last year, but he tied up the Tuesday before the race and finished a creditable sixth. Haynes had been touting him to his partners as a Gold Cup horse since he syndicated the homebred in fall of 2012.

“We sold the Gold Cup from day one,” Haynes said. “I always thought he had a Gold Cup win in him. But [selling shares] was a hard sell. Luckily, we had some people that knew me and believed in me as a person, and the horse was an afterthought.”

That afterthought did what he was supposed to do in the end, paying $23 to win when he swept under the wire at Great Meadow on Saturday. The winner’s circle was packed with a motley crew of loved ones — partners, locals and friends Rob and Julie Banner were early supporters of the horse — but the real family took the end of a long, cold winter more quietly. Haynes’ mother Anne returned to the barn immediately with the horse. Haynes stuck around long enough to soak up the biggest day of his career to date — but the other two stalls off the Plains Road hung over his head.

“Nothing like having to go back to the barn and muck stalls at 10 o’clock after winning the Gold Cup to keep you humble,” he shrugged.

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Hot Rize gave every indication of being a stakes horse early on. Almost stone-coal black, with the archaic wither and deep girth of a timber horse, the son of Sultry Song ran over hurdles at the Colonial Cup in his debut — one of three young horses the Haynes family ran that day — and was easily the most talented of the three. Shortly thereafter, however, the Haynes family lost its captain. Haynes’ father Bruce, who had started the horse, passed away unexpectedly. For the next few years, Hot Rize bounced around in maiden special weights, rudderless and adrift, racking up a series of DNFs.

“He was one of those horses that needed my dad’s influence,” Haynes said, “and I think he got lost in the shuffle a little bit.”

Haynes and his mother Anne tried to manage the horse on the family farm in Bristol, but Hot Rize struggled.

“He’d work really well on the farm, but he would hold his breath and get nervous and he wouldn’t show up on race day the way you would want him to,” Haynes recalled. “You’d be sitting on a stakes winner at the farm, and then race day would roll around and it wouldn’t pan out.”

They sent the horse to Tennessee-based Karen Gray, however, and everything changed. Gray foxhunted the horse, and suddenly, Hot Rize relaxed. He broke his maiden at Aiken by close to 30 lengths in fall of 2011. He was second in his timber debut at Callaway, and finally seemed to find his feet.

“The way he jumped, he never really hurdled a hurdle, he’d leave two feet between the brush and him, and he’d always scream ‘I want to be a timber horse,’ Haynes said.

Haynes had found his feet, too. In fall of 2012, he moved to Millwood, Virginia and took on Hot Rize full time. He sold shares and partnered up with Teddy Mulligan to train the horse. Haynes rode him to a third-placed finish in the Piedmont Point-to-Point the next spring, and the horse won his first sanctioned race of the year, a timber allowance at Middleburg. They were dreaming Gold Cup until Hot Rize tied up. He finished the year credibly, with a photo-finish second in the Radnor Hunt Cup and later, a third in the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup — but still short of the real goal.

So, next year, Haynes figured. Until, of course, the worst winter in recent memory hit.

Haynes on Hot Rize, who found his feet in the hunting field. Photo courtesy Russell Haynes.

Haynes on Hot Rize, who found his feet in the hunting field. Photo courtesy Russell Haynes.

“There was a lot of cold and a lot of shivering and a lot of jogging in circles,” Haynes said of preparing the horse for his 2014 bid. Mulligan had left, and Haynes had taken on training Hot Rize by himself. “It was definitely nerve-wracking. There was a lot of missed days and a lot of times where I honestly didn’t believe that we were going to even get to the races this spring.”

But Haynes persevered, often alone in the barn (that is, besides a menagerie of animals ranging from a opinionated Jack Russell that travels with him everywhere, to a micropig named Hank). Fox-hunting and one flat race put a bottom on Hot Rize, then Haynes rode him to deceptively-strong sixth-place finish in the Grand National in April. The horse was fit. On the first Saturday in May, he would either do it — or he wouldn’t.

The rest is a fairytale ending. With leading rider Willie McCarthy in the irons, Hot Rize loped along in the back of the pack for the majority of the 4-mile race, jumping conservatively. At the second-to-last, however, the old campaigner jumped like a deer past half the field, and mowed down the rest before the final fence. McCarthy laid him down in the stretch, and Hot Rize roared past a screaming crowd, out-finishing Organisateur by ¾ lengths at the wire.

“For it to be the first partnership horse that I’ve done, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, it really means a lot,” Haynes said. “And to have the partnership running in my family’s silks… and the fact that I’m the only one getting on him every day and the only one in the barn every day… it’s just been really surreal, I guess. It’s not something that you would believe could happen. I can’t even begin to describe the joy that he has brought.”

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Haynes will not be resting on his laurels, however. He hopes that the successful management of Hot Rize will propel his partnership business forward, although he is frank in saying that he is still determining the best course of action. He has one other partnership horse currently, a First Samurai filly purchased at Keeneland November, who has not yet entered training. She is a ladies-only partnership, and although Haynes has some partners involved, he still has a few shares to sell.

“As far as partners, I look for sporting people,” Haynes said. “I want people to know that I’m going to make a decision that’s best for the horse, and we’re going to go out there and have fun, win or lose. I operate it as a business, as far as making it pay for itself, but at the end of the day I want people that invest in the sport for the love of the game.”

His first consideration in putting together partnerships, however, is the animal itself:

“First and foremost, I focus on the horse,” Haynes said. “I want a horse that I believe has the potential to win the big races. I want to give people a shot to be in the winner’s circle on days like Gold Cup.”

Hot Rize is done for the year, and is back to cropping grass with his pasture buddy off the Plains Road. The Virginia Gold Cup, at $75,000, is Virginia jump racing’s biggest purse. In one day, Hot Rize nearly doubled his lifetime earnings — he has earned the break.

Haynes looks to the future.

“There will definitely continue to be horses in training in Virginia, whether it’s with me or someone else,” he says. “It’s all still sinking in and I’m still figuring out how to move forward and make it grow in the best way for the horses, the partners, and myself.”