OCEANPORT, N.J. – Trainer Doug O’Neill’s ultimate goal for Hot Rod Charlie is a return to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His immediate one is getting the 4-year-old colt started on the road toward that – which is what he will do in Saturday’s Grade 3 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park.
Unraced since finishing second in the World Cup in Dubai on March 26, Hot Rod Charlie will mark his racing return as part of Monmouth Park’s inaugural TVG.com Haskell Stakes preview day.
In addition to the $150,000 Salvator Mile, the Saturday card will feature the Grade 3 Eatontown Stakes, the Grade 3 Monmouth Stakes and the $150,000 TVG.com Pegasus Stakes for 3-year-olds, the track’s Haskell prep race.
“He’s doing really, really well,” said O’Neill, who will be flying in from California on Thursday in advance of the Salvator Mile. “He’s trained with a lot of energy and stamina. It just seems like he is ready to get back to the races.
“We were looking at the calendar around the country and the Salvator Mile just seemed to fit perfectly with him being ready right now.”
A son of Oxbow-Indian Miss by Indian Charlie, Hot Road Charlie has banked $5,121,200 from his 15-race career, which includes victories in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby and the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, as well as second-place finishes in the Dubai World Cup, the Belmont Stakes, and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Last year he also finished third in the Kentucky Derby and was fourth in Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“The big race we’re aiming for with him will be the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Nov. 5 at Keeneland),” said O’Neill, who has won the Kentucky Derby with I’ll Have Another and Nyquist. “We’ve got that circled and Saturday’s race circled as well. Aside from the Classic and the Salvator Mile we haven’t really decided on anything else.
“Saturday will tell us a lot. What we do after this depends on his performance and how he comes out of the race.”
When Hot Rod Charlie does ship East from California – without his companion pony Lava Man, who is skipping the trip, according to O’Neill – he will be returning to the scene of one of the more memorable moments of his career.
During last year’s Haskell Stakes, Hot Rod Charlie fought gamely for a nose victory over Mandaloun only to be disqualified to last for drifting into Midnight Bourbon, causing that horse to clip heels.
“It was a great effort on his part,” O’Neill said of last year’s Haskell Stakes. “I’m just grateful no horses or humans got hurt. My mindset with that race is I was proud of his effort and grateful no one got hurt.”
O’Neill said he is more curious than concerned about the nearly three-month layoff and how it will affect Hot Rod Charlie.
“I’m not worried about it because of the way he has been working,” said O’Neill. “In this game you always have concerns going into a race. But he has been breezing like he has been bridging where he was last time out.
“We intentionally gave him this time off coming back from Dubai. We’re excited and optimistic. Saturday will tell us a lot about where he is right now.”
O’Neill said it was also intentional to shorten up Hot Rod Charlie following the layoff. Owned by Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, Strauss Brothers Racing and Gainesway Thoroughbreds, Hot Rod Charlie has not run as short as a mile since breaking his maiden at Santa Anita on Oct. 2, 2020.
“I’m expecting a real solid performance, but I also want something he can build on,” said O’Neill. “I want him to run well and come out of it in good shape and give us something to build on to have him at the top of his game come November.”
In addition to the Salvator Mile, interest Saturday will be focused on the Pegasus Stakes, which is likely to produce a Haskell Stakes starter or two. The $150,000 Monmouth Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at a mile and an eighth on the turf, and the $150,000 Eatontown Stakes for fillies and mares, 3 and up, at a mile and sixteenth on the turf, complete the lineup for Haskell Stakes preview day.
The Grade 1 Haskell Stakes on July 23 headlines a card that features four other graded stakes races, including the Grade 1 United Nations.
Tom Lucci/Monmouth Park
Hot Rod Charlie with Flavien Prat riding won the $1,000,000 Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing on September 25, 2021. Photo By Nikki Sherman/EQUI-PHOTO