Belmont Stakes Diary: Patrick O’Neill on Hot Rod Charlie’s Chances, Paying Good Fortune Forward

The Life
From left to right: Reiley Higgins, Eric Armagost, Patrick O’Neill, Dan Giovacchini and Alex Quoyeser of Boat Racing, LLC at Churchill Downs before Hot Rod Charlie ran third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Patrick O’Neill, nephew to two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill and bloodstock agent Dennis O’Neill, had a different interest from most college kids when he was an undergraduate student and a member of Brown University’s football team. He insisted on adding TVG to the fraternity house’s cable television package; he was the one who watched horse racing at every opportunity, including in class, and in film study prior to practice.

weekend TV schedule

Thursday, June 3: 3 p.m.-8:30 p.m. ET on FS2; post time varies on TVG

Friday, June 4:
12:30 p.m.-5 p.m. ET and 6 p.m.-7 p.m. on FS2; 5 p.m.-6 p.m. on NBCSN; post time varies on TVG

Saturday, June 5:
11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.-8:15 p.m. on FS2; 3 p.m.-5 p.m. on NBCSN; 5 p.m.-7 p.m. on NBC; post time varies on TVG

O’Neill’s infectious enthusiasm about the sport and “family business” eventually resulted in an interest being taken by his close friends who graduated with him in 2015. With their professional careers underway, they were looking for an activity that would keep them connected and add to the great times they had already enjoyed together.

O’Neill, now vice president for sales and strategic partnerships at Founder Sport Group in San Diego, joined former Brown teammates Eric Armagost, Dan Giovacchini, Reiley Higgins, and Alex Quoyeser in forming Boat Racing, LLC.

The partnership is named for a beer-chugging game they played as Theta Delta Chi fraternity brothers.

Boat Racing took a minor but still significant financial stake in Hot Rod Charlie (“Chuck”), the third horse they ever owned, joining Roadrunner Racing (Greg Helm) and William (“Bill”) Strauss. Hot Rod Charlie won the Louisiana Derby and cemented his status as one of the nation’s top 3-year-olds with a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.

O’Neill has written a diary with Tom Pedulla for America’s Best Racing since Hot Rod Charlie burst onto the scene by running second in the $2 million TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at 94-1. Here is their Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets installment:

No matter what the Belmont Stakes brings, we feel as though we have won before Chuck steps into the starting gate. The journey he has taken us on is the kind of thing you dream about when you buy a horse, but you never really expect it to ever happen.

We will always treasure our experience at the 147th Kentucky Derby. To be there with roughly 165 of our closest friends and family, to feel their love and support for us as well as Chuck, the emotional walkover from the barn to the paddock, which defined somewhat of a post-Covid coming out party for the nation, and then to have Chuck run his heart out ... it was simply incredible.

So much of winning these classic races is about getting the trip, and we got a fair trip, but it certainly wasn’t perfect. But just as he always has been, Chuck was incredibly courageous and battled hard all the way to the finish — a moment we will never forget. We could not have been prouder of him when the day was done, and to see him come out of the race bright-eyed and healthy made the experience perfect.

Soon after that, it was decision time. The team got together, led by Team O’Neill and Roadrunner Racing, and asked ourselves the following questions: Do we want him to make the quick two-week turnaround to the Preakness, knowing sharp horses often keep their form, or wait five weeks for the Belmont? His dad won the Preakness and the field will likely be easier than the Belmont, but will this severely impact him for future races in the fall? Ultimately, we chose the Belmont because the two-week turnaround from the gut-wrenching Derby to the Preakness can be tough on a horse, and if doing what is best by Chuck is to give him adequate time to recover, then easy decision. Plus, Chuck has signaled to us that he misses San Diego (hello Breeder’s Cup at Del Mar in November!) and wouldn’t mind a work vacation to Dubai sometime next spring! Thus, it was important to us to make sure our brother comes out of the Triple Crown series healthy and happy, and we are extremely confident we made the right decision.

Chuck worked really well at Santa Anita last Friday, going five furlongs in 1:00.40. His coat looks great, he’s more muscled than he has ever been, and he seems to love the Big Apple! It’s amazing how well he handles travel, and Doug continues to be amazed how easily he adapts to new environments. He truly is a wonder horse and carries a certain presence about him the special ones seem to always have.

Left to right of bottom: Dan, Patrick, Reiley, Alex, Eric (Patrick O’Neill photo)

The huge question for every Belmont horse is whether he can get the mile and a half, but we have every reason to believe Chuck can. He is a son of Oxbow, who won the Preakness at a distance of a mile and three-sixteenths in 2013. Chuck won the Louisiana Derby at a mile and three-sixteenths and was still trying hard at the end of the mile-and-a-quarter of the Kentucky Derby. In both, it seemed he was doing his best running at the very end. The farther the better is what we say!

With the unexpected fortune Chuck has blessed us with, we decided as a group that we have an opportunity to pay our good fortune forward by bringing awareness to something that is bigger than us, bigger than horse racing, and bigger than Hot Rod Charlie.

Starting with the Derby, Boat Racing decided as a team to donate a significant portion of Chuck’s earnings to the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA).

I lost my father [David] to melanoma when he was 57, and his brother lost his battle to the dreaded disease 17 years earlier at the young age of 38. My father was diagnosed after my sophomore year at Brown, where the doctors gave him six months to live. He fought and fought and it meant everything to both of us that he was there for my graduation. He died a month after I received my degree. More recently, this past year, Reiley Higgins, a Boat Racing brother, lost his dad’s best friend to melanoma in 2020. Thus, stimulating awareness for melanoma prevention and finding ways to combat this horrible cancer is something that we feel passionate about as a group. It only made this experience more special when Bill Strauss decided to match our donation to the MRA and Roadrunner Racing decided to do the same for a charity that hit home for them as well. It feels great for us all to be on this ride and doing it for more than ourselves. The outpouring of support has been infectious, and the three ownership groups and Chuck are so grateful for all the great people who have supported us along the way.

The Belmont is going to be a tough race. Rock Your World won the Santa Anita Derby and is much better than he showed when a rough start compromised him in the Kentucky Derby. Essential Quality beat us in the Juvenile and should be right there. Rombauer ran a huge Preakness. However, having Flavien Prat reunite with Chuck gives us a great deal of confidence — ala Lebron James deciding to play for your team during pick-up basketball. We expect Chuck to be right in the mix and give it his all, as he always does.

Whatever the Belmont brings, as long as Chuck comes out of it healthy and sound, we will have won the day. A historic race track, a Triple Crown race, good drinks, great people, and Chuck — you can’t make this stuff up! Pinch me because reality continues to be better than any of my dreams. Big Apple, here we come!

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