PHOTO: Hodges Photography
HOW HE GOT HERE
The first few races for Hot Rod Charlie were a bit discouraging, as he was a beaten favorite in his first three races, with one race sprinting on the dirt and two races on the turf. However, once Doug O’Neill got him going around two turns on the main track, he has been a completely different horse.
He broke his maiden on October 2nd at Santa Anita, when he tracked the 2-5 favorite, Parnelli, for the first 6 Furlongs through fractions that were on the slower side. He made his move on the turn, and dueled with from the quarter pole through the length of the stretch, inching away to get his first win.
He caught the general public’s eye when he nearly pulled off the 94-1 shocker in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, beaten ¾ of a length by Essential Quality that day. He had the better trip, sitting midpack off the strong early tempo, and then getting first run on the two year old champion, before yielding late to finish second. Despite the loss, he showed that day that there’s not a lot separating him and the best two year old in his class.
He made his three year old debut in the Robert Lewis at Santa Anita, where he took the worst of a three horse photo, with Medina Spirit and Roman Centurion finishing narrowly in front of him. He didn’t get the best trip, after bobbling a bit at the break. He sat off the early speed again, moved up in between horses on the turn. He took a decent bump at the top of the stretch, while fighting on gamely in between horses, which is not an easy place for a young horse to be.
For his final start before the Derby, Hot Rod Charlie took his show on the road to Louisiana, where he was entered in the Louisiana Derby at 1 Mile and 3/16. Rosario changed tactics that day and surprisingly put him on the lead, where he led pretty much gate to wire, beating a solid field on their home course.
HOW HE FITS HERE
Hot Rod Charlie is sired by Preakness winner, Oxbow, out of an Indian Charlie mare, Indian Miss, who is best known as the dam of Met Mile and Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner, Mitole. There’s a good mix of speed and stamina there, and he seemed to relish the 1 Mile and 3/16 distance of the Louisiana Derby. I don’t have distance concerns with him like I do with some of the other contenders. I think he’s versatile, winning races near the front end and from off the pace and his speed figures stack up with the top horses.
HOW IT FIGURES TO GO HERE
It was announced this week that Doug O’Neill will have Flavien Plat take the mount on Hot Rod Charlie, which will be a change from Joel Rosario, who rode him in both starts this year. I would think that with the possibility of a faster pace in this year’s Derby, Prat may try to orchestrate a similar trip to the one he gave Country House when finishing second in the 2019 Derby, only to win via disqualification. He had him in the second flight of horses, sitting off the early pace set by Maximum Security. When he had the opening, he challenged the leader that day, and came up a little short, but held off the rest of the field. Hot Rod Charlie had a similar trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and I’m sure O’Neill would be thrilled if that was able to materialize on May 1st.
I like Hot Rod Charlie’s chances quite a bit in the Derby. Right now, he’s being projected as the fourth choice in the wagering behind Essential Quality, Rock Your World, and Known Agenda. To me, that would be ideal, as I think he’s better than Rock Your World and Known Agenda and he came within less than a length of defeating Essential Quality in their only meeting. Doug O’Neill has two Derby wins with I’ll Have Another and Nyquist, both of whom had prep race schedules that were a little bit against the grain at time, but they were perfect for both horses. I’ll Have Another won the Bob Lewis and waited until the Santa Anita Derby to make his next start. That move is more commonplace now, but that was a little unusual in 2012. Nyquist won the 7 Furlong San Vicente before traveling to South Florida to win the Florida Derby en route to his Kentucky Derby victory in 2016. Despite beefing up their Derby preps over the past several years, Louisiana has not been a hot bed for Derby success. You have to go back to Grindstone in 1996 to find the last Louisiana Derby winner that won the Kentucky Derby. Both Funny Cide and Country House used the Louisiana Derby as their second to last Derby prep in 2003 and 2019, on their way to winning the Kentucky Derby. I think O’Neill liked the timing and longer distance of the Louisiana Derby for Hot Rod Charlie. If he looks like he’s working well leading up to the Derby, I can see him being my top pick, especially at odds of 8-1 or greater. I see him as one of the most likely winners in the field and a horse that I’m projecting to use an A horse.