Hot Rod Charlie
Hot Rod Charlie finally got his Grade 1 in the Pennsylvania Derby. Photo Bill Denver /EQUI-PHOTO.

There was widespread agreement in racing that the Doug O’Neill-trained Hot Rod Charlie was due to win a Grade 1 race.

In Saturday’s $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, he finally got it. That capped a day of “at long lasts” at Parx Racing.

Hot Rod Charlie, a son of Oxbow, led throughout to take the nine-furlong contest by over two lengths, survived an objection by the runner-up, and finally gave his connections the win they believed he deserved.

“We should have had it at the Haskell, but we got it today,” said co-owner Antony Beck. “So thankful that he did this.”

Beck, who races as Gainesway Stable, is part of an ownership group that also includes Boat Racing LLC, Roadrunner Racing, and Bill Strauss.

Hot Rod Charlie’s near-misses in Grade 1 company had become, well, a thing: well-known to folks who follow racing and a subject of much curiosity. His prior Grade 1 tries resulted in:

  • Runner-up (at 94-1) by less than a length in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile;
  • Third by one length in the Kentucky Derby;
  • Second after a lengthy duel with Essential Quality in the Belmont; and
  • First past the post, but disqualified to seventh, in the Haskell.

In that last, Hot Rod Charlie had come over on Midnight Bourbon, causing that rival to clip heels and lose his rider.

Saturday’s race – while a dominant win for Hot Rod Charlie – contained its own drama involving the same duo. Hot Rod Charlie drifted out badly turning for home, affecting the momentum of Midnight Bourbon to his outside.

This time, however, after an inquiry and objection, the stewards let the result stand.

The win gave Hot Rod Charlie, who was ridden by Flavien Prat, his third win from 11 starts and pushed his earnings to nearly $1.8 million. His next start is expected to come in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“When you have speed and stamina and class, you can do some crazy, cool things,” trainer Doug O’Neill said. “He displayed today that he has got some special qualities that, if he stays injury free, could lead to big stuff in November. I think he can be a big force in the Breeders’ Cup.”

Beyond Hot Rod Charlie, the day’s other big star might have been jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. The rider, who piloted Midnight Bourbon to a runner-up finish in the Derby, won the $1 million Cotillion, for three-year-old fillies aboard 5-2 favorite Clairiere, and he also took the Grade 3 Turf Monster aboard 108-1 outsider Hollywood Talent.

Hollywood Talent, trained by Juan Vazquez, was toward the rear of the field before rallying to win by 1 ¼ lengths in 59.51 seconds for five furlongs over good turf.

“He was travelling beautiful, and I was really happy with him,” Santana said. “When we turned for home and when I asked him the horse really responded well.”

Hollywood Talent, a 10-year-old Talent Search gelding, won his first graded stake in the 52nd start of his career. His most recent win had come last September, when he scored in an $8,000 claimer at Delaware Park.

“I am not surprised,” said winning trainer Vazquez. “I have been waiting for this race all year. He was third in the Monster (in 2019) and I knew I could win this race.”

Santana exults as Hollywood Talent wins the Turf Monster. Photo Joe Labozzetta/EQUI-PHOTO.

Of course, if he wasn’t surprised, he was about the only one.

The same was not the case for Clairiere, however.

Away as the favorite under Santana, Clairiere bided her time in sixth through the opening half-mile before beginning to advance while wide on the final turn, surged into the lead nearing the furlong marker, and drew away to win by more than two lengths.

It was her third win from nine starts and first in Grade 1 company. Worse than third only once in nine starts, she’s now earned nearly $1.2 million.

“I can’t tell you what it means for Clairiere and Stonestreet and that family that she comes from,” winning trainer Steve Asmussen said, adding, “She’s kept herself in great company all year and getting good when it matters most.”

Asmussen also sent out Jackie’s Warrior, ridden by Joel Rosario, to a win in the Grade 2 Gallant Bob, a six-furlong test for three-year-olds, by nearly seven lengths. Jackie’s Warrior was off at 1-20.

“What a very special horse he’s been,” Asmussen said. “He’s run some game races and obviously we’re hoping it’s the ideal prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.”