All American: Hot to Trot - and Run

Hotstepper has a second try at All American glory.

AQHA Media

Hotstepper and trainer Sleepy Gilbreath. PHOTO: Richard Chamberlain

Hotstepper is getting his second step toward an All American score. The bay gelding by One Famous Eagle is one of two horses that ran in last year’s All American Futurity (G1) and return this year in the All American Derby (G1).

“I was real pleased with him in the Derby trials,” says trainer C. Dwayne “Sleepy” Gilbreath. “He’s kind of a funny little horse. He has to have everything just right. But if he gets it right, he’s tough, a tough little horse.”

Tough is as tough does. Hotstepper sometimes makes things tough for his people.

“When he’s outside, he’s just like an old roping horse,” Gilbreath said. “But he gets stirred up in his stall and he’s funny in the gate. He doesn’t want to get real still – he’ll whip his head just at the wrong time. That’s been the problem all year – his whole life, really, his whole racing career.”

Let’s not knock his career. Hotstepper comes into American Quarter Horse racing’s richest Derby with a record of 12-4-2-4 and earnings of $566,421. As a 2-year-old, Hotstepper ran third in the All American Futurity, was second in the Texas Classic Futurity (G1) and also raced in the Rainbow Futurity (G1). Coming back as a 3-year-old, Hotstepper was third in the Mr Jess Perry Derby (consolation for the Grade 1 Ruidoso Derby) and was fourth in the Rainbow Derby (G1).

To qualify for the All American Derby, Hotstepper on August 19 won the 11th trial by a length over last year’s All American Futurity winner, Fly Baby Fly. Hotstepper posted the third-fastest time at :21.384, while Fly Baby Fly enters with the 10th-fastest :21.534.

Hotstepper is one of 348 winners by champion One Famous Eagle, who from seven crops to race has sired the earners of more than $25 million. Already ranked among the top-25 all-time-leading sires by money earned, the stallion hit the ground running as a sire with 2012 All American Futurity winner One Dashing Eagle in his first crop, and repeated as well with 2016 winner Imperial Eagle and 2017 winner Fly Baby Fly. Owned by a syndicate, the 13-year-old son of third-all-time leading sire Mr Jess Perry stands at the Four Sixes Ranch at Guthrie, Texas.

Hotstepper is the first starter from three named foals out of the stakes-winning Tres Seis mare Pandorum ($70,437). Pandorum is one of four winners out of the Strawfly Special mare Daring Diversion, whose dam, the Grade 1-winning Victory Dash mare Daring Difference ($329,000), ran in Noblesse Six’s 1994 All American Futurity and produced the earners of more than $450,000. Daring Difference was a half-sister to the stakes-winning and track-record-setting Dash For Cash stallion Mr Eye Opener, who earned $202,978 on the track and has sired the earners of more than $28 million.

That’s a lot of blue blood. Hotstepper was bred by the Fulton Quien Sabe Ranches LP of Lubbock, Texas, from a dam line that has been cultivated for more than 30 years. The Quien Sabe race-breds are but a continuation of a program that has been developed for more than six decades by late American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer Joe Kirk Fulton. Horses in Joe Kirk’s name have won more than $18.8 million on the track, including world champions Dashs Dream and Special Leader. Fulton Quien Sabe has itself has bred the earners of more than $980,000. Beyond racing, however, Joe Kirk was an all-around horseman who early in his career bred top-quality halter horses and later performance horses such as Peppy San Badger, the legendary cutting horse “Little Peppy” now also enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Hotstepper races for R.D. Hubbard, Butch Southway, Johnny Cope and Ray Willis, who bought him for $63,000 at the Ruidoso Select Yearling Sale. Hubbard is the former owner of Ruidoso Downs, which he sold last year to the current owners. The well-established partnership is based at Hubbard’s ranch at Tularosa, New Mexico, and has also raced such horses as champion A Revenant.

Hotstepper was ridden in the Derby trials by Cody Jensen, who also rode him in the Rainbow Derby, All American Futurity and Texas Classic Futurity. The two-time AQHA champion jockey has twice won the All American Futurity – in 2005 with champion Teller Cartel and 2006 with No Secrets Here – and in 2009 won the All American Derby with champion Inseperable. In his 25-year career, Jensen has ridden the earners of more than $38.4 million. The jockey is known for his toughness in overcoming many injuries, and took home the peer-elected Sam Thompson Memorial Award in 2014.

A living legend in American Quarter Horse racing, “Sleepy” Gilbreath has conditioned the earners of more than $29 million. Those include current and former all-time leading earners Ochoa and Refrigerator, both of which he sent out to win the All American Futurity, as he also did with On A High. Gilbreath also trained world champion Cold Cash 123 and champions Foxy Moonflash, but reduced his training program at the end of 2015 and now trains only a few select horses.

Hotstepper is select. Gilbreath was holding his breath when the gelding went in the gate for his Derby trial.

“Yeah, you always do that with him,” he said. “He pulled up good, really good, as good as he has all year. Since the trials, we’ve ponied him a couple times and stood him in the gate. What we need now is a good break in the final. If he can get away good, he can win the race.”