Hot Rod Charlie had never set the pace in any of his six starts prior to Saturday’s $1 million TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2), but proved unbeatable when leading most of the way in the 1 3/16-mile Kentucky Derby (G1) prep at Fair Grounds under Joel Rosario.
“He can do anything,” Rosario said. “He can run from anywhere.”
Seizing control from Midnight Bourbon after that rival led by a head after a quarter-mile, Hot Rod Charlie maintained a lead that alternated between a half-length and a length through a half-mile in :47.04 and six furlongs in 1:11.25. Midnight Bourbon took one more run at Hot Rod Charlie in deep stretch, but the latter found more and extended his lead to two lengths at the wire.
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Owned by Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, and William Strauss, Hot Rod Charlie paid $7.80 after lowering the 1 3/16-mile track record to 1:55.06 over a fast track. The Louisiana Derby was extended from 1 1/8 miles to 1 3/16 miles last year. His trainer of record Saturday was Leandro Mora, a fill-in for two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neill, who is currently serving a suspension.
Midnight Bourbon just held off 28-1 O Besos for second by a head, with Proxy 1 3/4 lengths behind in fourth. Starrininmydreams finished fifth and was followed by 13-10 favorite Mandaloun, who failed to respond when asked approaching the quarter pole, Rightandjust, and Run Classic.
“He was traveling great on the backside, I almost thought I had to slow him down because he was doing so good. But when it was time to run he just didn’t have it,” said jockey Florent Geroux of Mandaloun.
Hot Rod Charlie punched his ticket to the May 1 Kentucky Derby with the win, garnering 100 qualifying points and boosting his total to 110. Midnight Bourbon earned 40 points, increasing his total to 66, while O Besos earned 20 points, boosting his total to 25. Proxy earned 10 points and now has 34.
Unplaced in two of his first three starts, Hot Rod Charlie finally broke through in start four, but only by a neck in a one-mile maiden at Santa Anita. Dismissed at 94-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland, Hot Rod Charlie ran a tremendous race to finish second to champion Essential Quality by three parts of a length.
Hot Rod Charlie returned to action in the Jan. 30 Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita, finishing third to Medina Spirit by a neck. His record now stands at 7-2-1-2, $1,005,700.
An Oxbow half-brother to sprint champion Mitole, Hot Rod Charlie was bred in Kentucky by Edward Cox Jr. Produced by the Indian Charlie mare Indian Miss, he was a $110,000 Fasig-Tipton October yearling.