The thrills of the Thoroughbred game can be immeasurable. The excitement generated is off the charts and the adrenaline rush is like no other. Competing triggers all that and more, but winning takes it to another level.
Hot Rod Charlie has been one of those thrilling Thoroughbreds that has brought tons of excitement and enthusiasm to the game. Trained by west coast mastermind Doug O’Neill and owned by the fun-loving folks at Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, Strauss Brothers Racing, and Gainesway Stables, this hard-knocking son of Oxbow has defined Race Horse. Running hard every time he toes the track, this Hot Rod has been all about offering excitement.
“He shows up every race and always runs hard”, says O’Neill. “He doesn’t know where the wire is but he always wants to be in front. He makes it a lot of fun and there will always be excitement when he runs.”
Coming into the Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs on October 1, the Chuck team was hoping for the best. In 17 previous career starts, Hot Rod had finished in the top three on the track 14 times. One of those was a race he won (grade 1 Haskell) but was disqualified for an unfortunate incident in the stretch. Needless to say, he had provided tons of excitement while thundering down the stretch, but few trips to the winner’s circle. As one of four grade 1 winners in a field of six, this race looked to be another barn-burner, the Hot Rod team just hoped for enough horsepower at the end.
The gates opened for the ninth running of this mile and an eighth race and the excitement began immediately. Breaking alertly and moving forward at a rapid rate, the winning plan for Charlie is to get in the mix early and make the others earn their keep. Running just behind a front-running Art Collector, Hot Rod was in cruising gear through solid early fractions (23.55 opening quarter, 47.94 half-mile). Turning for home, jockey Tyler Gafflione downshifted and accelerated to the lead. Rolling toward the wire, Hot Rod Charlie was headed towards some Twin Spire satisfaction.
As alluded to earlier, this was a solid field and things don’t always come easily. After putting away Art Collector, Chuck faced another challenge as Kentucky Derby hero Rich Strike began closing with great strides. At the eighth pole they were side by side. At the sixteenth pole, Rich Strike had a nose in front. As knuckles got white and stomachs knotted up in the Hot Rod camp, the wire drew ever closer.
This is where the heart of a real racehorse took over. Refusing to go down without a fight, Hot Rod found a little more nitrous and rallied. Sticking his head in front at the finish line, the fan-favorite rewarded his backers with more than just a thrilling stretch run.
“I wish we could run the race with blinkers on in the first half and take them off for the last half”, smiles O’Neill. “Tyler did a great job of rallying him and the comeback was incredible. Rich Strike ran a winning race and we feel lucky to come out on the winning end in this one.”
Hot Rod Charlie has always toted the mail. In the Lukas Classic, he delivered a ticket to the winner’s circle.