2023 Kentucky Derby Hopeful Snapshots: Two Phil’s
Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on Saturday at Parx Racing and other major developments this past weekend:
FORTUNES REVERSED: Although steward’s inquiries are uncommon, that is not the case when Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon clash. Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified and placed last when he clipped heels with Midnight Bourbon in the July 17 TVG.com Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park. He and regular rider Flavien Prat then survived an inquiry and a claim of foul by Ricardo Santana, Jr., who was aboard Midnight Bourbon, for alleged interference in the Pennsylvania Derby. There is no disputing that Hot Rod Charlie drifted in front of Midnight Bourbon as they headed into the stretch run at Parx. Whether interference occurred depends on point of view. “For this to come on top of his last race, this was definitely exaggerated. Thank God he was clear and didn’t cause any interference,” said winning trainer Doug O’Neill. Not surprisingly, Steve Asmussen, who trains Midnight Bourbon, saw it differently. “Flavien Prat almost drops Midnight Bourbon for the second time,” Asmussen said. “My horse ran well. He survived.”
FULL SPEED AHEAD: As soon as Hot Rod Charlie’s first Grade 1 victory became official, O’Neill began thinking about his prospects in the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 6. “When you have speed and stamina and class, you can do some crazy, cool things,” the trainer said. “He displayed [Saturday] that he has some special qualities that, if he stays injury free, could lead to some big stuff in November.” The son of Oxbow ran third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and second in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets among six starts this season. Assuming he goes on to the Classic, he would be running out of his West Coast base for the first time since January, when he took third in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
BREAKING THROUGH: Clairiere, third in the Coaching Club American Oaks and second in the Alabama Stakes, secured her first Grade 1 victory for Stonestreet Stables when she rallied to win the $1 million Cotillion Stakes on Saturday at Parx. The daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin bested Obligatory by 2 ½ lengths for Asmussen and Santana. Asmussen registered his fourth Cotillion victory. Might the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff be next for Clairiere? Asmussen was non-committal immediately after the race but noted, “With the numbers she’s got, she’s consistently getting faster at the right time.” Clairiere stopped the clock in 1:44.31 for the 1 1/16 miles.
DOMINANT: Asmussen was looking for an easy spot for Jackie’s Warrior ahead of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. He got it in the Grade 3 Gallant Bob Stakes on Saturday at Parx. Jockey Joel Rosario glanced in vain for competition as his mount rolled by 6 ¾ lengths in 1:08.64 for the six furlongs. “He goes fast and he goes faster. I didn’t have to ask him for much, maybe in the beginning a little bit,” Rosario said. “Things are easy when you are on a horse like him. He was not tired at all.” Jackie’s Warrior narrowly prevailed in his previous start, a neck victory against come-backing Life Is Good (see below) in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes, so a cakewalk in the Gallant Bob was most welcome ahead of the Breeders' Cup acid test.
LIFE IS VERY GOOD: Life Is Good was bet down to 1-20 ahead of the $300,000, Grade 2 Kelso Handicap on Saturday at Belmont Park. His backers were not wrong. Despite facing older horses for the first time, he led at every point of call in the one-turn mile and recorded a commanding 5 ½-length victory for Irad Ortiz, Jr. He was geared down by the final furlong and completed the mile in 1:34.37. “What we were focused on was getting him to settle a little bit, stay on the rail and relax,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “I thought he did that beautifully.” Ortiz noted: “He did everything smooth and easy. As soon as I asked him, he took off.” Up next: A projected start in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.