Gentlemen…start your engines. Is that the phrase Thoroughbred trainer Doug O'Neill has beckoned to the last couple of years? Perhaps not, but he is tuning up a Hot Rod for what he hopes will be another big season of running.
Hot Rod Charlie has been a real bright spot in the talented trainer’s barn the past two years. The win total has not been exactly eye-popping, but the courage and determination have been off the charts. Three wins, two second place finishes, and three thirds in twelve lifetime starts speaks to his consistent will to win. His $2.4 million in earnings tells us the top company he runs in.
This year was the real unveiling of the Hot Rod and his horsepower. Five of his seven starts as a three-year-old came in grade 1 races. After an impressive gate-to-wire win in the Louisiana Derby this son of Oxbow finished just a little over a length away from Kentucky Derby immortality. One of the most courageous runs ever in the Belmont Stakes saw him run out of gas in deep stretch and finish a game second. The grade 1 Haskell saw him cross the finish line first but was disqualified for drifting out in the stretch. The grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby was all Charlie as he assumed command early in the race and never look back as he cruised to victory. The Breeders’ Cup Classic was another determined effort but he just couldn’t hang with the talented and older Knicks Go in the stretch and faded to fourth.
In a game where the breeding shed can offer huge money, these talented runners can often times have shorter careers. Right now, the Hot Rod Charlie ownership group has plans to race through 2022. That campaign is set to begin on opening day at Santa Anita. The mile and a sixteenth San Antonio Stakes on December 26 will serve as the springboard to his four-year-old roll.
“He’s a horse that just amazes us on a daily basis”, says O'Neill, who has won two Kentucky Derbies (2012,2016). “The physical maturity has really been present lately and he is a bigger, better version of a super talented colt.”
Likely to face some of the veteran older West Coast runners, Charlie will be challenged in this one for sure. Recent works have indicated this Hot Rod may have even more horsepower. Having leading rider Flavien Prat behind the steering wheel is also a positive.
“He had a really nice 7-furlong breeze last week”, says the conditioner who has registered over 2,000 wins. “His energy level has been extremely good and he looks ready for another challenge. Of course, having Flavien Prat aboard is always another major plus.”
The San Antonio is the starting line for what the Hot Rod team hopes will be a worldly campaign. The Dubai World Cup in March is the short-term goal with a likely prep race in Dubai before.
“We are super excited and ready to rock and roll”, says O'Neill. “We truly are living a dream with this horse.”