Hot Rod Charlie switched tactics to record his initial stakes win, posting a front-running triumph in Saturday’s $1 million TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds. He earned a 100-point prize for winning the first of eight major Kentucky Derby qualifiers.
Based in Southern California, Hot Rod Charlie also showed an affinity for longer distances on the stretch out to 1 3/16 miles.
The Kentucky Derby unfortunately lost a major player over the weekend when early favorite Life Is Good was declared due to a minor injury. The exciting speedster had been favored in the first four pools of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW).
Pool 5 of the KDFW opens its three-day run on Friday, providing bettors with a final opportunity to get early pari-mutuel action on the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 1.
Hot Rod Charlie broke through after placing in his first two stakes attempts.
The dark bay needed four starts to notch his first win, narrowly capturing a five-horse maiden special weight at Santa Anita in early October, and he outran his 94-1 odds when finishing a close second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland next out.
His three-year-old campaign began with another solid showing from off the pace, closing to finish a neck third in the Jan. 30 Robert B. Lewis S. (G3) at Santa Anita. Nobody expected the stalker to be showing the way in the Louisiana Derby.
Hot Rod Charlie didn’t get away cleanly from the starting gate, but Joel Rosario quickly got him straightened out and aimed his mount straight for the lead, taking a short advantage into the first turn.
I liked the improved speed displayed in the Louisiana Derby, it’s a favorable trait for an up-and-coming sophomore.
Midnight Bourbon pressured the pacesetter from the start and loomed a serious threat when drawing alongside at the head of the stretch. Winner of the Lecomte S. (G3) and third in the Risen Star S. (G2), Midnight Bourbon appeared to have plenty left for the final furlongs, but Hot Rod Charlie had more in reserve as well, turning back the challenge to win going away by two lengths under the wire.
Off as the 29-10 second choice, Hot Rod Charlie registered a 96 Brisnet Speed rating at the seldom-used distance. The Oxbow colt did earn a triple-digit number for his runner-up effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Hot Rod Charlie won’t be able to dictate terms in the Kentucky Derby, but the dark bay is versatile enough to make his own trip during the early stages. He’s owned by Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, and William Strauss.
Midnight Bourbon weakened slightly in the latter stages of his last two outings, but the hard-knocking type has been in a prime spot to win turning for home in three stakes appearances this season. He’s never finished out of the money from seven career outings, and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen can get a longshot ready for the Kentucky Derby, finishing second with Lookin at Lee at 33-1 in 2017.
O Besos didn’t make an impact when making his first stakes attempt in the Risen Star, but the Orb colt got on track in the Louisiana Derby stretch, rallying to miss second by a head. The late runner has some upside for Greg Foley.
Proxy lost ground through the latter stages, checking in fourth as the 3-1 third choice. Risen Star winner Mandaloun was in position to challenge before coming up empty in the stretch, giving way to be a well-beaten sixth. Brad Cox and Florent Geroux had no explanation for the puzzling performance, both being optimistic that it’s a one-off performance, and the 13-10 favorite will try to rebound at Churchill Downs.
One of three major qualifiers this weekend, Saturday’s $800,000 Florida Derby (G1) will feature Greatest Honour, who will seek a sweep of Gulfstream Park’s qualifiers after taking the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) and Holy Bull S. (G3).
Greatest Honour didn’t corner well in the Fountain of Youth, failing to advance until being guided into the clear at the conclusion of the far turn, and it will be interesting to see how Jose Ortiz rides him on Saturday.
A full field of 12 has been entered for Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park, which has been added as a 170-point qualifier this season. The top four finishers from the Feb. 26 John Battaglia Memorial S. – Hush of a Storm, Like the King, Gretzky the Great, and Hard Rye Guy – are all back for the 1 1/8-mile Tapeta test.
Horses shipping in for the Jeff Ruby include Sainthood, who will jump straight to stakes competition for Todd Pletcher after a Fair Grounds maiden win; Holy Bull runner-up Tarantino; and last-out Santa Anita turf allowance winner Hockey Dad.
Fourteen runners are set for the $750,000 UAE Derby (G2), which is part of the Saturday’s Dubai World Cup program at Meydan.