Hot Rod Charlie Outduels Rich Strike in Lukas Classic, Senor Buscador Scores in Ack Ack

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Hot Rod Charlie (inside), runner-up in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, outfinished 2022 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike by a head to win the Lukas Classic Stakes Oct. 1 at Churchill Downs. (Coady Photography)

Two colts who previously brought cheers from the Churchill Downs faithful when competing in separate editions of Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve put on another show Oct. 1 beneath the Twin Spires in the $498,000, Grade 2 Lukas Classic Stakes.

This time, it was Hot Rod Charlie, beaten in the 2021 Derby, who came out narrowly on top over Rich Strike, whose name hangs in victorious Kentucky Derby signage above the Churchill Downs paddock. Hot Rod Charlie, eventual runner-up in the 2021 Derby after the disqualification of Medina Spirit, prevailed by a head over Rich Strike, who scored a stunning 80.80-1 upset in the run for the roses this spring.

That Derby victory no longer appears stunning after Rich Strike ran a very good fourth in the Runhappy Travers Stakes this summer at Saratoga Race Course and after fully testing Hot Rod Charlie, one of the top older horses in training, with his Saturday run.

But Hot Rod Charlie, who fell about a half-length behind Rich Strike with a sixteenth of a mile remaining after holding the lead in early stretch, battled back under Tyler Gaffalione to notch his first graded stakes win in the United States this year.

The winner, trained by Doug O’Neill, clocked 1 1/8 miles over a fast track in 1:49.77 for owners Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, Bill Strauss, and Gainesway Thoroughbreds. He pressed the pace of Art Collector, as that one set moderate fractions of :23.55, :47.94, and 1:11.77, before taking the lead early in the lane.

“Tyler gave him a great ride,” O’Neill said. “He’s one of those type of horses that I’d love to have blinkers on him for half the race and take them off for the other half. It was an incredible effort. Rich Strike ran a winning race as well. He ran huge.

“(Hot Rod Charlie) is a great horse and we’re so lucky to have him.”

Celebrating Gaffalione and O’Neill. (Coady Photography)

Starting late last year and into this one, Hot Rod Charlie, a 4-year-old son of Oxbow, came out on the short end of photo finishes, finishing second, beaten a nose, to Express Train in the San Antonio Stakes back in December, and runner-up once again when edged by a head in the Salvator Mile Stakes June 18 at Monmouth Park.

But this year has still been a highly profitable one, including a win in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 Presented By The Longines Record, a second in the Dubai World Cup Sponsored By Emirates Airline, and a third-place finish in the Whitney Stakes.

“Doug and his team really had him ready to run today,” Gaffalione said. “We broke well and he doesn’t really have to be asked to get into a good spot. He really never gave up on me. (Rich Strike) ran a huge effort and my horse just kept on fighting the entire way. He really didn’t want to get beat.”

In a race decided by inches, an outcome track announcer Travis Stone called “desperately close,” Rich Strike seemed to relax somewhat upon making the lead at the sixteenth pole. He could have also grown a bit fatigued after racing closer to the leaders than usual in a race with little speed. He was just two lengths off the early leaders after a half-mile in the Lukas Classic.

Jockey Sonny Leon, his silks partially filled with air, implored his mount to finish the race off with left-handed strikes in the closing yards. It was nearly enough in the colt’s first race against older horses.

Few of his 3-year-old counterparts among the divisional leaders have raced against their elders.

“It’s a tough beat, but we are so proud of the step forward our horse took today,” trainer Eric Reed said. “It was a big ask of him to run against these type of older horses, and he proved he is just as talented. He was a little bit closer to the pace today, but he was still able to fight hard to the wire.”

Longshot King Fury rallied up the rail to grab third, ahead of Happy Saver in fourth. Art Collector weakened to fifth, and Chess Chief was sixth.–Byron King

Senor Buscador Earns Breeders’ Cup Berth in Ack Ack

Senor Buscador breaks through. (Coady Photography)

One race earlier on Churchill’s Oct. 1 card, Senor Buscador rallied into a hot pace, took command in early stretch, and then held off a determined stretch challenge from Injunction to post a 1 ¼-length victory in the $300,000, Grade 3 Ack Ack Stakes.

With the effort, the lightly raced 4-year-old son of Mineshaft secured his first graded stakes win. Additionally, with the Ack Ack part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, Senor Buscador earned an automatic, paid berth in the Nov. 5 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland.

As a juvenile, Senor Buscador won the 2020 Remington Springboard Mile in his second career start but, derailed by ankle injury, was only able to race once in 2021. This season Senor Buscador has put some starts together for trainer Todd Fincher and owner Joe “Joey” Peacock Jr., who bred Senor Buscador with his late father Joe Sr.

In his third start of the 2022 season, Senor Buscador earned his first graded-stakes placing in the Aug. 27 Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar when he finished third, and he built on that effort with Saturday’s win. Fincher was thrilled to see the colt put it all together.

“He worked really well over this track the other week so we were confident he’d run a big effort,” Fincher said. “He’s shipped well in the past and handled it well coming here to Kentucky. He showed his talent today. We knew he was a talented horse by the way he won the Springboard Mile in 2020, and he’s now maturing, and I think is coming into his own.”

Senor Buscador completed the one-turn mile in 1:34.60 at odds of 6.18-1. He was followed home by Injunction, who launched a serious challenge inside of the eventual winner in the stretch before settling for second, 3 ½ lengths in front of third-place Three Technique. Grade 1 winner Speaker’s Corner, the 1.43-1 favorite, did not look comfortable racing inside when between horses down the backstretch and finished seventh under Junior Alvarado.

“I was able to get him into a really good rhythm down the backside,” Senor Buscador’s jockey Francisco Arrieta said. “He was traveling in a good position behind the speed in front of us. In the stretch he showed a lot of fight to him. It’s really exciting to win a race like this, and I’m so thankful for Joey and Todd for letting me ride him.”–Frank Angst

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