LOUISVILLE, Ky.— Saturday’s $500,000 Lukas Classic (GII) at Churchill Downs didn’t deserve a loser. But following a thrilling stretch run in the ninth running of the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds and up, it was a determined Hot Rod Charlie who re-rallied along the inside rail to hang a head defeat on this year’s Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Rich Strike, who briefly took the lead inside the final sixteenth of a mile and looked as if he’d continue his success beneath the Twin Spires.
Hot Rod Charlie, ridden by Tyler Gaffalione and trained by Doug O’Neill, clocked 1 1/8 miles over a fast track in 1:49.77 for owners Roadrunner Racing (Greg Helm), Boat Racing (Patrick O’Neill), William Strauss and Gainesway Thoroughbreds (Anthony Beck).
“Tyler (Gaffalione) 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.”
Added Rich Strike’s trainer Eric Reed: “It’s a tough beat but we are so proud of the step forward our horse took today. 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.”
Sent to post as the 6-5 favorite, Grade I-winner Hot Rod Charlie sat just off the right hip of Charles Town Classic (GII) winner Art Collector, who led the field of six through fractions :23.55, :47.94 and 1:11.77. Happy Saver, winner of the 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI), tracked in third and Rich Strike was closer than usual in fourth.
Around the final turn, Hot Rod Charlie engaged Art Collector and the two ran head and head as jockey Sonny Leon urged Rick Strike to make his move. The Derby winner responded from the outside and loomed boldly with a furlong to run. Rich Strike gained a head advantage from Hot Rod Charlie inside the sixteenth pole and looked as if he might become the first Derby winner since 1997 champion Silver Charm to return to Churchill Downs victorious. However, Hot Rod Charlie never wavered and fought on gamely to re-rally and prevail in a tight photo finish.
“Doug (O’Neill) 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.”
Overall, Hot Rod Charlie has won five of 18 starts with six seconds and three thirds. The $305,520 first prize boosted his career earnings to $5,556,720.
This was Hot Rod Charlie’s fourth stakes win. At 3, he won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (GI) and $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII). Earlier this year, Hot Rod Charlie won the $350,000 Al Maktoum Challenge at Meydan Racecourse before finishing second to Country Grammer in the $12 million Dubai World Cup (GI).
His next target is the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on Nov. 5 at Keeneland.
“I couldn’t tell live if we won and had to look up at the screen,” said co-owner Bill Strauss. “He’s a game horse and Doug (O’Neill) and his team did a great job. He’s based over at Keeneland and we’re excited to go down the road for the Breeders’ Cup. The Breeders’ Cup is setting up to be a great race as a fan and as an owner it’s great to have a game horse like this.”
Hot Rod Charlie returned $4.66, $3.20 and $2.32. Rich Strike, at odds of 9-2, paid $4.68 and $3.22. It was another 4 ¼ lengths back to King Fury in third under Brian Hernandez Jr. who paid $4.20 to show at odds of 16-1.
Happy Saver, Art Collector and Chess Chief completed the order of finish.
Hot Rod Charlie, a dark bay or brown son of Oxbow out of the Indian Charlie mare Indian Miss, was bred in Kentucky by Edward A. Cox Jr.
The Lukas Classic honors the iconic 87-year-old Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The four-time winner of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks and conditioner of 26 Eclipse Award-winning champions has been based at Churchill Downs’ Barn 44 since 1989. He was on hand to present the trophy.
Churchill Downs Press Release
Photo: Hot Rod Charlie wins the Lukas Classic over a very game Rich Strike (Coady Photography)
For information on Past The Wire’s annual Breeders’ Cup Seminar, the very best in the game CLICK HERE