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Contact: Joe Kristufek
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Hot Rod Charlie Full Throttle in TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby Win
Fights Off Lecomte Winner Midnight Bourbon to Earn 100 Kentucky Derby Qualifying Points
New Orleans (March 20, 2021) – In a battle with Lecomte (G3) winner Midnight Bourbon from the word go, Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing and Will Strauss’ Hot Rod Charlie put that stubborn rival away in the deep stretch to post a 2-length win in the 108th running of the $1 million TwinSpires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. He earned 100 qualifying points for the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) in the process.
Sent off as the 2.90-1 second choice under jockey Joel Rosario, Hot Rod Charlie broke alertly but in slightly at the start and flashed good speed into the first turn with Midnight Bourbon right at his neck, carving out fractions of 23.10, 47.04 and 1:11.25. Asked to go on the far turn, he continued his battle with Midnight Bourbon into deep stretch before hitting the wire on top in a track record time of 1:55.06 for the seldomly used 1 3/16th mile distance for trainer of record Leandro Mora. It was a half-length back to O Besos, who closed from last in the field-of-8 to be third. Local Risen Star (G2) winner Mandaloun finished a disappointing sixth as the 1.30-1 favorite.
“I wanted to get a little position,” Rosario said of Hot Rod Charlie. “It didn’t look like there was much speed in the race. He broke well and in the first turn I found myself on the lead. Working with him in the morning. He relaxes and you don’t have to get him in the race. It worked out really well. He handled the distance very well. Very impressive. With the horse coming on his outside (Midnight Bourbon) he really fought back. He doesn’t have to be on the lead. He can do anything. He can be a little bit off the pace and will run the same way.”
Prior to Saturday, Hot Rod Charlie’s claim to fame was a runner-up performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland at 94-1. He was third, beaten a neck, in the January 30 Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita in what was his 3-year-old debut. With the win, Hot Rod Charlie is now the overall leading in the Kentucky Derby points standings with 110.
“We are so extremely blessed,” said Patrick O’Neill, the nephew of two-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Doug O’Neill, on behalf of Boat Racing. “I just missed a phone call from Doug and Dennis (O’Neill) my uncles. It’s a family affair, but we added friends and we couldn’t be more fortunate. What an amazing horse. An amazing sport. We’re going to the Kentucky Derby, hopefully, ya know.”
A son of Oxbow, Hot Rod Charlie is a half-brother to 2019 Sprint champion Mitole. With his Louisiana Derby win he boosted his record to 7-2-1-2 and bankroll to $1,005,700.
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon, who earned 40 points on Saturday for trainer Steve Asmussen, is now second in the Kentucky Derby points standings with 66. First in the Lecomte earlier in the Fair Grounds meet, the son of Tiznow would return to finish a game third in the Risen Star.
“We got a perfect trip and turning for home I had a lot of horse and I thought we had it,” Midnight Bourbon’s jockey Joe Talamo said. “We just got outfinished. Hats off to the winner, he ran huge and fought back on me. I think this distance suits this horse and I think he will be fine (going forward).”
Off a pair of sharp sprint wins earlier in the meet, Bernard Racing, Tagg Team Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds’ O Besos finished a non-threatening fourth in what was his two-turn debut in the Risen Star. On Saturday he closed from last under Marcelino Pedroza to be third in for trainer Greg Foley at 28.80-1. In earning 20 points, he increased his Kentucky Derby total to 25.
“He answered that distance question today,” Foley said. “He galloped out in front. It would have been nice to finish second. We sure have to think about it (the Kentucky Derby). The biggest thing was would he go that far, and I think he answered the ground question as good or better than any of them in there.”
A game second in the Lecomte, Godolphin’s Proxy was a spotty runner-up in the Risen Star as well. With the hope of increasing the son of Tapit’s level of focus, trainer Mike Stidham added blinkers for the Louisiana Derby, but following a somewhat compromised start, he finished a non-threatening fourth under John Velazquez.
“He kind of ran the same race (as the Risen Star),” Velazquez said. “I thought he would be more aggressive but by the time I got to the backstretch I had to ride him again. He took me to the first turn like he was going to go really good and we got to the backstretch, he got off the bridle. You have to ride him. He came to the quarter-pole and then kind of flattened down the lane.”
Proxy earned 10 Kentucky Derby points on Saturday, and his total now stands at 34.
“Very confusing,” Stidham added. “We’ll go back to the barn and take a look at him. The blinkers did not improve him. You could see Johnny getting after him at the half-mile pole, the same as last time (in the Risen Star), when he had to remind him ‘let’s go.’ This time, he made a little bit of run but seemed to flatten out the last part of it.”
Risen Star winner Mandaloun failed to pose a serious threat in the Louisiana Derby, finishing a dull sixth following a wide trip. He failed to earn a Kentucky Derby point, but is still in good shape to make the race with 52. 2020 Eclipse Award winning trainer Brad Cox, who also has the undefeated Essential Quality in his barn, has yet to start a horse in the Kentucky Derby.
“He was flat and we’re disappointed,” Cox admitted. “There’s no other way to say it. I don’t know. Obviously, this is a nice horse that won the race and he backed up Essential Quality’s form pretty good. I was happy with the trip. He was 3-wide and stalking the winner but at the half-mile pole it looked like we were in trouble. I have no excuse right now, we’ll just have to see. It’s frustrating but it’s part of it. I can’t ask him to train any better and I don’t think I would have done anything different. We’ll just regroup.”
Jockey Florent Geroux agreed with Cox’s assessment.
“He was a little flat today and I ran out of gas late,” Geroux said. “I’m disappointed. I had the same trip I had the first two times (in the Lecomte and Risen Star). I was tracking the horses that ran 1-2 and, for some reason, just came up really empty when it was time to run. It’s disappointing. That’s why these preps are made, to see where you are at for the Derby. Off that effort I really don’t know what he’ll do. He’s already in (the Kentucky Derby), but I don’t know. He was traveling great on the backside, I almost thought I had to slow him down because he was doing so good. But when it was time to run, he just didn’t have it.”
About Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots: Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, one of the nation’s oldest racetracks, has been in operation since 1872. Located in New Orleans, LA, Fair Grounds is owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN); it also operates a slot-machine gaming facility and 13 off-track betting parlors throughout southeast Louisiana. The 149th Thoroughbred Racing Season – highlighted by the 108th running of the Louisiana Derby – will run from November 26, 2020 through March 28, 2021. More information can be found online at www.FairGroundsRaceCourse.com.
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