Kentucky Derby veterans put on a great show in Saturday’s $500,000 Lukas Classic (G2) at Churchill Downs. Hot Rod Charlie, runner-up in the 2021 Derby, fought back after being headed by Rich Strike in deep stretch, re-rallying to edge this year’s Derby upsetter by a head on the wire.
Both runners appear headed to the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 5.
Hot Rod Charlie, the 1.33-1 favorite among six runners following a third in the Aug. 6 Whitney (G1) at Saratoga, showed speed from the break, tracking pacesetter Art Collector in second through splits in :23.55, :47.94, and 1:11.77. The classy four-year-old engaged the pacesetter on the far turn and powered his way to a short lead in upper stretch.
Rich Strike, the 4.86-1 fourth choice, rated in fourth along the backstretch but was always within striking range. He found his best stride after straightening for home, advancing along the outside, and appeared on his way to victory when striking the front inside the final eighth of a mile. But Hot Rod Charlie had more to offer along the inside, courageously battling back to re-engage his rival, and the gray colt got the upper hand in the final strides.
Tyler Gaffalione picked up the mount on the earner of more than $5.5 million, and the Doug O’Neill trainee earned his third stakes win after completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.77.
“Doug and his team really had him ready to run today,” Gaffalione said. “We broke well and he doesn’t really have to be asked to get into a good spot. He really never gave up on me. (Rich Strike) ran a huge effort and my horse just kept on fighting the entire way. He really didn’t want to get beat.”
“Tyler gave him a great ride,” O’Neill added. “He’s one of those type of horses that I’d love to have blinkers on him for half the race and take them off for the other half. It was an incredible effort. Rich Strike ran a winning race as well. He ran huge. (Hot Rod Charlie) is a great horse and we’re so lucky to have him.”
Hot Rod Charlie, who notched his first U.S. stakes tally since the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) 12 months ago, has placed in eight graded stakes, including seconds in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenuile (G1), the 2021 Belmont S. (G1), and this year’s Dubai World Cup (G1). He’s campaigned by Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, Strauss Bros Racing, and Gainesway Thoroughbreds.
Rich Strike, who just missed second when finishing fourth in the Aug 27 Travers (G1), continued to back up his 80-1 Kentucky Derby upset, recording a top-class performance against older horses. He was 4 1/4 lengths clear of King Fury in third, and Happy Saver, Art Collector, and Chess Chief followed.
“It’s a tough beat but we are so proud of the step forward our horse took today,” said Eric Reed, trainer of Rich Strike. “It was a big ask of him to run against these type of older horses and he proved he is just as talented. He was a little bit closer to the pace today but he was still able to fight hard to the wire.”
Hot Rod Charlie was bred in Kentucky by Edward Cox Jr. By Oxbow, he’s a half-brother to Mitole, the champion sprinter in 2019, and both are out of the Indian Charlie mare Indian Miss.