Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Louisiana Derby Winners
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.
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, Calif., 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, the third horse they ever owned, joining Roadrunner Racing and Bill Strauss. Hot Rod Charlie won the 2021 Twinspires.com 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 and a solid second after he laid down torrid fractions in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRABets.
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 installment ahead of the $12 million Dubai World Cup on Saturday at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The journey Hot Rod Charlie has taken us on in the last 16 months is absolutely incredible.
We were not sure what we had or did not have when he entered the starting gate for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November 2020 at Keeneland. He provided us with great hope and a glimpse of the thrills to come when he defied long odds to finish second to eventual 2-year-old champion Essential Quality in the Juvenile.
Charlie captured the public’s imagination with the heart and determination he displayed throughout his 3-year-old season. He won the Louisiana Derby and the Pennsylvania Derby and crossed the wire first in the Haskell only to suffer a heart-wrenching disqualification after clipping heels with another horse. He finished a solid third in the Kentucky Derby and tore through an opening quarter-mile while somehow still finishing strong to be second in the Belmont Stakes.
The buzz he created on Twitter and social media showed what one consistent, strong-willed horse can come to mean to fans. He received the coveted Vox Populi Award, founded by Penny Chenery, Secretariat’s owner, to annually salute a horse that earns popularity through racing excellence.
And now, incredibly, we’re going international with Charlie. We chose the Dubai World Cup when we huddled as a team after the Breeders’ Cup and mapped out a plan that we believe gives us the best possible shot.
The Dubai World Cup was chosen for a number of reasons. My uncle, Doug, and his world-class assistant, Leandro Mora, have successfully sent many horses to Dubai to compete over the last 15 years or so. In addition, the Dubai Racing Club is such a top-notch organization with facilities that are an absolutely heaven for a horse. Lastly, we figured the long stretch run would be something that Charlie relishes given what seems like his endless stamina.
With this decision made, our plan revolved around doing everything possible to give Charlie the best chance to be successful. For that reason, Charlie arrived at Dubai in mid-January, giving him plenty of time to acclimate. We also thought he would welcome the less hectic atmosphere at Meydan compared to his home base in California. The Southern California circuit is wonderful, but it houses many more horses than Meydan, creating quite a hustle and bustle during training hours.
Another key element of our plan was to make certain Charlie got a race over the track. He overcame a bit of a tough trip on Feb. 4 to win the Al Maxtoum Challenge R2, a Group 2 race that reassured us that our horse handled the shipping well and is primed for a huge effort. Based on the feedback from the team and the naked eye, it seems Charlie has never looked better and is training spectacular.
The whole idea behind forming Boat Racing was to enjoy experiences with each other and our loved ones. In keeping with that, we are helping more than 40 family members and friends come to Dubai to watch Charlie. We basically said, ‘Whoever can get here, we’ll get you a ticket.’
There are some who say we are running for second, which is very much possible. Life Is Good looked like Pegasus himself when he won the Pegasus at Gulfstream Park at the end of January, which was after he completely dominated the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. I have so much respect for his trainer, Todd Pletcher – great horseman but seemingly even better person. It is great for this sport we all love that these two horses, as well as Hypothetical, Midnight Bourbon, Country Grammer, and the rest of the field, will meet on the grandest of stages.
We would never say that our horse is better than Life Is Good, nor that we are going to beat him Saturday. We are saying that we have an incredible equine friend in Hot Rod Charlie who has brought us and our closest loved ones to a country we never even fathomed having the opportunity to visit. And because of that, we’ve won the race well before those gates ever opened.
We look forward to a safe race to all and hope that all horses have the opportunity lay everything on the line for the world to see. As always, thank you, Charlie. You’re incredible.