Kentucky Derby Context: Hot Rod Charlie

April 16th, 2021 horse racing analyst James Scully attended his first Kentucky Derby in 1981. Along with a brief profile of this year’s contenders, he is providing some historical context.

With a convincing win in the Louisiana Derby (G2), Hot Rod Charlie became a serious Kentucky Derby contender.

The dark bay colt performed commendably in his first two stakes attempts, finishing a second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and a neck third in the Robert B. Lewis S. (G3).

The improving son of Oxbow showed nice versatility in the final prep, switching to frontrunning tactics to win the Louisiana Derby by two lengths, and he easily handled the 1 3/16-mile distance at Fair Grounds.

Conditioned by two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neill, Hot Rod Charlie is campaigned by Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, and William Strauss. He will receive a jockey switch to Flavien Prat, who won the 2019 Kentucky Derby with Country House.

Hot Rod Charlie, who netted a career-best 100 Brisnet Speed rating in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, received a 96 figure in the Louisiana Derby.

O’Neill shipped his second Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquist, to the 2016 Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park for his final prep. However, that decision was made to collect a $1 million bonus for winning.

Arriving at Churchill Downs with an unbeaten record, Nyquist left the Kentucky Derby starting gate as the 2.30-1 favorite.

O’Neill’s first Kentucky Derby winner, I’ll Have Another, was less-heralded in 2012.

I’ll Have Another lost a pair of juvenile stakes appearances, heading the sidelines for a five-month vacation after a well-beaten sixth in the Hopeful S. (G1) at Saratoga, and he received little-to-no Kentucky Derby attention over the winter.

Overlooked at 43-1 when returning in the Robert B. Lewis in early February, the chestnut colt sprung a massive upset, drawing off to a 2 3/4-length decision in his first two-turn start.

I’ll Have Another came back two months later to gut out a nose win in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Despite his successes on the West Coast, I’ll Have Another was dismissed at 15-1 by Kentucky Derby bettors.

The O’Neill trainee rallied to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths as an overlay.

Only six trainers have won the Kentucky Derby more than twice, and O'Neill will try to join the select company with Hot Rod Charlie.