Oxbow had a thing for 1 3/16 miles, winning the 2013 Grade 1 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course at the unique distance, and at least one of his progeny, Hot Rod Charlie, has now shown he enjoys racing it as well.
The 3-year-old son of Oxbow, a half brother to 2019 champion sprinter Mitole, was gunned from the start in the 1 3/16-mile Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby by Joel Rosario and turned back all challengers to win the $1 million race by two lengths over Midnight Bourbon.
His victory, in track record time, earned him 100 qualifying points toward the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, catapulting him into first on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 110 overall points.
The Louisiana Derby, run March 20 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in New Orleans, was the first 170-point qualifier of the spring.
The victory got Hot Rod Charlie over the stakes hump after close losses in major stakes when he was runner-up in the Grade 1 TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Nov. 6 at Keeneland and when third in the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes Jan. 30 at Santa Anita Park.
In each of those races, he raced in midpack early before moving into contention in the second halves of those races. Rosario chose another tact Saturday, sending his mount immediately forward, even after the colt had his hind end bumped leaving the starting gate.
With little pace in the Louisiana Derby, flashing speed proved an advantage, as both he and Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes winner Midnight Bourbon raced 1-2 mostly from start to finish. O Besos, a 28-1 longshot, rallied from last for third, a head behind the runner up. He was followed by Proxy, who again raced inconsistently, even racing first time with blinkers. He was another 1 3/4 lengths back in fourth.
Mandaloun, the 6-5 favorite, ran a wide sixth, weakening down the stretch.
It was the second straight week that Rosario, North America's leading jockey by earnings, used send-early tactics to win a $1 million Derby prep. On March 13 he rode Concert Tour to a wire-to-wire victory in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
"That's why that guy is the best in the business. There is nobody better than Joel Rosario," Bill Strauss, one of Hot Rod Charlie's winning owners, excitedly told TVG's Scott Hazelton in a winner's circle interview.
Hot Rod Charlie ($7.80) set splits of :47.04, 1:11.25, and 1:36.38 on his way to finishing 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.06 on a fast track. That time lowered the track record of 1:56.20, set by Half Magic in 1977, over an infrequently used distance.
The winner's time was also much faster than last year's running of the Louisiana Derby, the first year the race was contested at 1 3/16 miles. Wells Bayou won the 2020 renewal in 1:56.47.
Only two Louisiana Derby winners have repeated in the Kentucky Derby: Black Gold in 1924 and Grindstone in 1996. Two other Louisiana Derby participants, Funny Cide (2013) and Country House (2019), won the Kentucky Derby after running second and fourth, respectively, two starts before their success in Louisville.
Leandro Mora, assistant to trainer Doug O'Neill, was Hot Rod Charlie's trainer of record for the Louisiana Derby, owing to O'Neill serving a 10-day suspension this month after another one of his runners tested positive for lidocaine after a race at Santa Anita last fall.
His suspension complete, O'Neill can train Hot Rod Charlie toward the Kentucky Derby—a race he has won twice, first with I'll Have Another in 2012 and followed by Nyquist in 2016.
Those colts carried the colors of Paul Reddam, but Hot Rod Charlie is owned by the partnership of Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, and Strauss.
Boat Racing is comprised of five Brown University football teammates and fraternity brothers, one of whom is Patrick O'Neill, nephew of Doug O'Neill and bloodstock agent Dennis O'Neill. The latter bought the colt for $110,000 from the Small Batch Sales consignment at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearlings Sale.
"We're just so extremely blessed," said Patrick O'Neill from the winner's circle. "I just missed a phone call from Doug and Dennis, my uncles. It's a family affair but we added friends. My friends are a part of Boat Racing and we couldn't be more fortunate. What an amazing horse, an amazing sport, and we're going to the Kentucky Derby, hopefully."
In winning the Louisiana Derby, Hot Rod Charlie, who was bred in Kentucky by Edward Cox Jr., followed Mitole to become the second graded stakes winner from his dam, the Indian Charlie mare Indian Miss, from her five foals (all winners) to race. The dam also has an unnamed 2-year-old filly by Into Mischief and foaled an Into Mischief colt this year.
Strauss is excitedly looking forward to Hot Rod Charlie's Derby participation at Churchill Downs May 1.
"It's the first time I'm going to Kentucky, the first Saturday in May with a horse," Strauss continued in his TVG interview. "I've won two Breeders' Cups, seven grade 1s, but the Kentucky Derby is what it's all about, and we're on our way to Kentucky. There is nothing like it, having been there for the first time. It's unbelievable. This is what you get in the game for—to go to Kentucky the first Saturday in May. We're on our way."
Asked by Hazelton how he would stay on the ground in the lead up until Derby Day, Strauss said, "Why would I stay on the ground? I'm gonna float the whole time until the first Saturday of May."