The road to his first Grade 1 victory was certainly an adventure for Hot Rod Charlie.
He had several near misses, finishing second in the Grade 1 TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
In his previous race, he even hit the wire first by a nose in the Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes but was disqualified and placed last for drifting in during the stretch and causing Midnight Bourbon to stumble and unseat his rider.
The son of Oxbow finally broke through Sept. 25 in the $1 million Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby, but not before providing his connections with some nervous moments and bad memories.
After Hot Rod Charlie prevailed by 2 1/4 lengths over the aforementioned Midnight Bourbon in the 1 1/8-mile stakes for 3-year-olds at Parx Racing, once again the inquiry sign went up on the toteboard and Hot Rod Charlie's number began to blink after a claim of foul involving Midnight Bourbon.
As in the Haskell, it was the stewards checking into whether Hot Rod Charlie fouled Winchell Thoroughbreds' Midnight Bourbon. Only this time, the evidence was not as graphic.
Much like the infamous Codex-Genuine Risk clash in the 1980 Preakness Stakes, as the two rivals wheeled around late on the final turn, Hot Rod Charlie and Flavien Prat seemed to carry Midnight Bourbon and Ricardo Santana Jr. out. But numerous replays did not show conclusive proof of a foul so the result stood.
Hot Rod Charlie finally had his Grade 1 victory.
"'Charlie' is a rock star. I'm just a roadie but I am a pumped roadie, that's for sure," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "It's so big. It still hasn't sunk in. He has had so many hard fought races and to not have a Grade 1 on his resume seemed so unfortunate for a horse as good as he is. It's good to finally get it."
From O'Neill's viewpoint, there was no reason for a disqualification.
"I could tell Charlie did not corner as well as he could. But it didn't seem like he affected (Midnight Bourbon) at all, thank God. He seemed like he was clear," O'Neill said. "Flavien had mentioned maybe putting a set of cheaters on him again. He said he got a little distracted being on the lead, kind of looking around and that might have caused him not to corner as well as he could have. This one did not seem as dramatic as (the Haskell). For this to come on top of his last race, this was definitely exaggerated and had a long inquiry as well. I was pretty confident they were not going to take him down."
Steve Asmussen, who trains Midnight Bourbon, had a different take on the incident.
"Flavien Prat almost drops Midnight Bourbon for the second time. My horse ran well. He survived," Asmussen said.
Owned by Boat Racing, Gainesway Stable, Roadrunner Racing, and William Strauss, Hot Rod Charlie posted just his third win in 11 career starts and second in six 2021 tries.
Yet if anyone can deny Essential Quality of the 3-year-old championship it would seem to be O'Neill's newly minted Grade 1 winner. With the Nov. 6 Grade 1 Longines Breeders' Cup Classic next for Hot Rod Charlie, a victory there over Essential Quality would give him a 2-1 edge (in terms of who finished ahead) in three 2021 meetings with the 2-year-old champ. That may not be enough, but it at least adds another element of drama to the World Championships.
"If we can come back and run well in the Classic and all of us show up on that day, then the Classic should be the scorecard for any kind of honors," O'Neill said prior to the Pennsylvania Derby. "The Breeders' Cup is the Super Bowl of racing and it's going to tell us a lot about end-of-year awards."
Though newcomers to the Grade 1 level Speaker's Corner (7-2) and Americanrevolution (8-1) were painted as threats to 4-5 favorite Hot Rod Charlie ($3.80) and 7-2 third choice Midnight Bourbon in the field of eight, throughout the year the cream of the 3-year-old division had distanced themselves from the rest of the runners in the division and the 41st Pennsylvania Derby was no exception.
After a quarter-mile in :23.52, they were 1-2 and they were that way at the finish in 1:48.63, with China Horse Club and WinStar Farm's Americanrevolution, a New York-bred son of Constitution trained by Todd Pletcher, 4 1/2 lengths behind Midnight Bourbon in third.
Hot Rod Charlie was racing in about the two path on the backstretch with Midnight Bourbon roughly a length outside, but after the two navigated the final turn, Hot Rod Charlie came out of it in about the five to six path with Midnight Bourbon outside of him.
When they straightened into the stretch, Prat snatched Hot Rod Charlie and moved in a few paths as the 3-year-old accelerated and pulled away from Midnight Bourbon to draw clear at the wire.
Bred by Edward A. Cox Jr. out of the Indian Charlie mare Indian Miss, Hot Rod Charlie was bought for $110,000 by Dennis O'Neill from the Small Batch Sales consignment at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale. Saturday's win moved his earnings to $2,171,200.
A half brother to the champion sprinter Mitole, he is the fifth foal from Indian Miss and her second Grade 1 winner. She also has a 2-year-old filly and weanling colt by Into Mischief.
For Grade 3 winner Midnight Bourbon, the Pennsylvania Derby once again proved his mettle against the best 3-year-olds. He has now finished second in a trio of Grade 1 tests after taking runner-up honors in the Preakness and Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes.
The son of Tiznow was also second to Hot Rod Charlie in the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby.
Total wagering on the 13-race card was $13.2 million, smashing the old track record of $10.3 million set in 2014.
2021 Pennsylvania Derby
September 25th, 2021
- Owner / Boat Racing, LLC, Gainesway Stable (Antony Beck), Roadrunner Racing and Strauss, William
- Breeder / Edward A. Cox Jr.
- Owner / Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC
- Breeder / Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC
- Owner / WinStar Farm LLC and CHC INC.
- Breeder / Fred W. Hertrich lll & John D. Fielding
- Owner / Juddmonte
- Breeder / Juddmonte Farms Inc
- Owner / Calumet Farm
- Breeder / Calumet Farm
- Owner / Godolphin, LLC
- Breeder / Godolphin
- Breeder / Dr. Lawrence Anthony Rebbecchi Jr.