Have you ever felt that raw horsepower of a Hot Rod when the tires are smoking and the exhaust is rolling? The dual line double pumping carburetor and Edelbrock intake are throwing the gas down into those bored cylinders which translates into a ton of torque. As the rest of the crowd is left in the rear view a euphoric state engulfs your being. One Hot Rod in particular has supplied his team with that same feeling over the past twelve months, he just happens to be a fantastically fast four-legged Hot Rod.
Last November Hot Rod Charlie came into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland as an afterthought at best. Breaking from the gates at 94-1, this Doug O’Neill trained son of Oxbow gave us all a glimpse of things to come as he rolled to the lead at the top of the stretch and battled hard all the way home. Passed in deep stretch by a very talented Essential Quality, Charlie gave us an early glimpse of his horsepower with a game second place finish.
So here was this same Hot Rod in late September 2021 ready to burn up the PARX racing dirt in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby. Again running with the conviction of a real race horse, O’Neill’s charge took a talented field gate to wire with a passionate prance over the Pennsylvania dirt. Wining by a widening 2 ¼ lengths, Charlie was now a grade 1 winner after being the longest shot in the field at the Breeders’ Cup just 11 months earlier.
“This has been an amazing ride for all of us”, says O’Neill. “We all feel so blessed to have a horse like this in our lives. His heart is amazing and he has been so special to everyone connected from the ownership all the way to the people at the barn.”
After putting himself on the map with that huge Breeders’ Cup effort, the Hot Rod white smoked his tires with a gate to wire win in the Louisiana Derby. Exhibiting the speed and stamina it takes to win these classic distance races, Charlie led every step of the way in this mile and three sixteenths journey at the Fair Grounds on March 20.
“The great thing about this horse is he has the natural speed out of the gate to make the early lead and then the stamina to carry it all the way to the wire”, says O’Neill, who has won the Kentucky Derby twice (2012, 2016). “He has so much courage to go along with that natural talent he is 100% race horse for sure.”
A troubled trip perhaps prevented Charlie from delivering that storybook win in the Kentucky Derby as he finished a length from immortality in a closeup third. Next was one of the most amazing runner up finishes in any Triple Crown race ever. Breaking for the Lead at Belmont Park, Charlie threw down unbelievable opening fractions (22.79 opening quarter mile, 46.49 half mile) for a mile and a half race. Determined to be on the lead, the Hot Rod was still rolling out front deep into the stretch of this Belmont Stakes. As was the case in the Breeders’ Cup, Charlie was passed late by Essential Quality, but everyone knew what kind of a horse O’Neill had.
“I don’t think anyone can question the determination on display in the Belmont”, says his conditioner, who has won over 2,000 races. “My goodness that was such an impressive display even in defeat.”
A first place finish in the Haskell was negated with a disqualification following an incident in the stretch involving Midnight Bourbon. Unable to use his riding crop due to track rules, jockey Flavien Prat was unable to remind Charlie to stay straight so he drifted a bit after completely passing Midnight Bourbon. A heel clipping incident resulted in the DQ, but nevertheless, it was another Herculean effort from the Hot Rod.
With a grade 1 now in the saddle, this strapping three year old will return to the Breeders’ Cup with eyes on the Classic. Held this year in his own back yard at Del Mar, O’Neill is readying his Hot Rod for another big run.
“As long as he stays healthy we are targeting the Classic”, says O’Neill. “I made some mistakes with him early on but we have learned some things together and he has matured and continued to get better. We may adjust his equipment some and put some form of blinker back on because there is no margin for error in a race like the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He and Flavien have developed some great continuity together. This has been a fun chapter in the lives of all of us and we are eager to add some more pages to the story.”
The Breeders’ Cup Classic will be run at Del Mar on November 6.