Hot Rod Charlie likely got just what trainer Doug O’Neill wanted from his Dubai World Cup (G1) prep in Friday’s $350,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2). Aside from getting a race over the Meydan track, the odds-on favorite stands to benefit fitness-wise, for it wasn’t a cakewalk. Al Nefud served up a challenge until Hot Rod Charlie’s class came through in a 5 1/4-length victory.
“We took a little different approach with him,” O’Neill said postrace. “We didn’t train him too hard going into this. However he ran, we knew we had plenty of time to get him ready for the Dubai World Cup (on Mar. 26).”
Breaking from post 3 with jockey William Buick, the Grade 1 money-spinner secured forward position. But he had plenty of company into the first turn, and Al Nefud soon emerged as his pace rival. Hot Rod Charlie, traveling kindly on the inside, let Al Nefud grab a slim lead for the duration of the backstretch. Re-engaging rounding the far turn, Hot Rod Charlie had to work a bit to get away from a stubborn Al Nefud. The favorite achieved separation by midstretch and drew off to complete about 1 3/16 miles in 1:57.41.
Al Nefud was easily best of the rest in his stakes debut, crossing the wire 7 1/2 lengths clear of Everfast. Next came For the Top, Thegreatcollection, Hot Rod Charlie’s stablemate Go On, New Trails, Eastern World, Roman Rosso, Fire Group, Quip, and Kafoo, who was virtually eased by the far turn.
“He’s a horse who’s just loaded with class,” O’Neill said. “It was a strong field tonight. William rode him with a ton of class and a ton of confidence.
“He wasn’t really expecting to go to the front but he said he (Hot Rod Charlie) ‘just pulled me there’ and he was comfortable doing it. The pace wasn’t overly hot and he kicked on when he needed to.”
Buick, in a sign of his regard for Hot Rod Charlie, jested that maybe regular rider Flavien Prat wouldn’t make the trip for Mar. 26. The Godolphin jockey returned to serious mode when complimenting the colt in his recap:
“He’s a real joy to ride and he’s a very intelligent horse. He really responds to the message you give him.
“From where we were drawn in 3, I thought we would be on the pace and if something wanted to go crazy then we’d let them go. But it was smooth – he ran hard and I was very happy with what he did. He’s adapted very well to coming over here and obviously, the team had him in great shape.
“I was confident that he would respond for me but obviously when Al Nefud put the pressure on we turned it on. In these good dirt races you never get them handed to you. That’s why you need a good horse like this.”
Hot Rod Charlie boosted his bankroll to $2,721,200 from a 13-4-3-3 line. Last year’s Pennsylvania Derby (G1) and Louisiana Derby (G2) hero would have another major on his resume, if not for his disqualification for interference in the Haskell (G1). The Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 marked his first stakes score over elders, following a fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and near-miss in the Dec. 26 San Antonio (G2). Hot Rod Charlie’s high-profile placings include the Kentucky Derby (G1), Belmont (G1), and the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
Bred by the late Edward A. Cox Jr. in Kentucky and sold for $110,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling, Hot Rod Charlie races for Boat Racing, Gainesway Stable, Roadrunner Racing, and William Strauss. The Oxbow colt is out of the Indian Charlie mare Indian Miss, making him a half-brother to champion sprinter Mitole.
O’Neill had a productive evening with another winner and two seconds. Get Back Goldie, also with Buick aboard, closed in time to take the about six-furlong conditions race for three-year-olds. A son of the O’Neill-trained Goldencents, Get Back Goldie is now on course for the Mar. 26 UAE Derby (G2) on Dubai World Cup night.
“We’re dreaming big time here,” O’Neill said. “As long as the horse stays injury-free the UAE Derby is definitely a dream target for him. It’s a little bit ambitious but he’s built that way. Goldencents was a wonder racehorse and we were lucky to have him, but the distance shouldn’t be a problem.”
Another O’Neill sophomore, Khantaro d’Oro, was just passed late by Withering in the Al Bastakiya Trial, a tune-up for the UAE classic of that name on Super Saturday Mar. 5. Held over the same distance as Round 2, the Al Bastakiya Trial took more than four seconds longer (2:01.93). Fellow O’Neill trainee Strongconstitution was runner-up to front-running Hypothetical in the $150,000 Firebreak (G3) over a metric mile. Hypothetical, fourth in the 2021 World Cup, could try again depending upon his Super Saturday performance.
Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby captured the other two Thoroughbred events on the card, both on turf. In the Jumeirah Classic for sophomores, race-fit Sovereign Prince upstaged favored stablemate New Science who wound up a ring-rusty third. With Buick on New Science, James Doyle picked up the winning ride. Creative Flair justified favoritism with a gutsy comeback in the $180,000 Balanchine (G2). Attending the pace throughout the about nine-furlong affair, the Dubawi filly dug in to see off Pevensey Bay and Dubai Love and hand Buick his third winner of the night.