If ever a colt deserved to score at the top level it is Hot Rod Charlie and he finally gained his first grade 1 win in the 2021 $1 million Pennsylvania Derby run over a mile and a furlong at Parx on September 25.
Partnered by Flavien Prat, this super-consistent son of Oxbow was the 9/10 favorite and had to survive a stewards’ inquiry and a complaint from another jockey before the win was confirmed.
His trainer Doug O’Neill and owners, Road Runner Racing and Boat Racing, had a worrying wait after the inquiry was announced. Hot Rod Charlie had crossed the line two and a quarter lengths ahead of Steve Asmussen’s Midnight Bourbon, the 4/1 third favorite, ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr but he did not take the shortest route to the wire, hanging to the right turning into the stretch.
The winner’s sideways maneuver did not affect Todd Pletcher’s Americanrevolution (84/10) who was beaten almost seven lengths into third or Brad Cox’s Fulsome (21/1) who took fourth. Pletcher also saddled the fifth-placed Bourbonic (33/1) who finished well ahead of the disappointing 7/2 second favorite, Bill Mott’s Speaker’s Corner who crossed the wire 20 lengths behind the winner.
Hot Rod Charlie’s connections have become accustomed to drama when their star colt hits the track. Last time out he crossed the wire first in the Haskell Stakes, beating Cox’s Mandaloun a nose. He swerved to the right under pressure causing Midnight Bourbon to clip heels and unseat Paco Lopez. He was subsequently disqualified and placed last.
Only Cox’s top trainee, Essential Quality, was too good for him in the Belmont Stakes in June. Hot Rod Charlie finished a length and a quarter behind him in second place. In the Kentucky Derby, Hot Rod Charlie took third behind Bob Baffert’s controversial winner, Medina Spirit, and Mandaloun, beaten a length. The Run for the Roses favorite, Essential Quality, had experienced serious traffic problems and finished fourth.
Essential Quality was the only colt to finish ahead of Hot Rod Charlie in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile too. His second placing was a massive surprise to most: He was sent off at odds of 100/1, totally overlooked by bettors. It was his first experience of graded company and he had only scored once before but was beaten less than a length at the top level by Godolphin’s most impressive juvenile.
Hot Rod Charlie started at the much shorter price of 5/2 in the grade 3 Robert B Lewis Stakes next time out in his first start as a three-year-old in January at Santa Anita. He was beaten a neck by Medina Spirit, the favorite, and took third place. He went on to win the grade 2 Louisiana Derby in March, beating Midnight Bourbon by two lengths. This colt always tries his best and has never disappointed.
Bred by Edward A Cox Jr out of Indian Miss, a daughter of Indian Charlie, Hot Rod Charlie did not make him a fortune. He went through the sales ring for just $17,000 as a foal and achieved a price tag of $110,000 as a yearling for Small Batch Sales when purchased by Dennis O’Neill.
Indian Miss also produced the multiple grade 1 winner Mitole by Eskendereya in 2015. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he was retired to stud after winning the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Sprint as a four-year-old. Mitole was a $20,000 purchase as a yearling.
Indian Miss is also the dam of Tipperary Jack, a colt by Violence, who realized $100,000 as a yearling in 2017 and was subsequently bought as a two-year-old for twice that sum at Goffs London Horses-In-Training Sale in England in June 2018 by little-known UK trainer John Best for owners Curtis and Tomkins. Tipperary Jack did not hit the track as a juvenile but managed to win two small races as a three-year-old. He has repaid just 10% of his purchase price to date and was most recently seen finishing last in a handicap in September at Kempton, a less than prestigious flat racing venue in south east England.
What happened in the 2021 Pennsylvania Derby?
Hot Rod Charlie broke well from gate six and took the lead approaching the first turn from Speaker’s Corner who jumped sharply from gate two. Midnight Bourbon was also drawn wide in the field of eight and was pushed forward by Santana to pursue him. He rounded the turn at his shoulder in second place, closely followed by Americanrevolution, Speaker’s Corner, James Jerkens’ 155/10 shot Weyburn and the Penny Pearce trainee, I Am Redeemed (33/1). Fulsome and Bourbonic were more patiently ridden and rounded the turn four lengths behind the leading sextet.
Prat set sensible fractions of 23.2 and 47.0 on the pace, closely pursued by Midnight Bourbon who continued to run at his side. Approaching the far turn it was Weyburn who raced in third behind them with Americanrevolution positioned at his quarters by Luis Saez. Speaker’s Corner’s effort had come to nothing despite Jose Ortiz’s urgings and he dropped back along with I Am Redeemed.
With a quarter mile left to run it was obvious that the race would be won by one of the leading pair. Hot Rod Charlie drifted significantly to the right rounding the turn into the stretch, forcing Midnight Bourbon to run wide on his outside. Americanrevolution saved valuable yards staying close to the rail in third, two lengths ahead of the pursuing pack.
Hot Rod Charlie asserted his superiority in the stretch, running clear of Midnight Bourbon and posting a winning time of 1.48.3. His number soon flashed on the board indicating the result was being challenged as he was adorned with the winner’s garland.
The Pennsylvania Derby win took his total earning to $2,171,200. O’Neill was delighted that his outstandingly consistent colt had finally gained the grade 1 win that he so richly deserved. Hot Rod Charlie is the third favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, with only Knicks Go and Essential Quality more popular with bettors.