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Hot Rod Charlie sprints to triumph in the $1-million Pennsylvania Derby

·3 min read

Hot Rod Charlie added his name to the short list of best 3-year-olds with a convincing win in the $1-million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx race course outside of Philadelphia on Saturday.

The Southern California-based horse, trained by Doug O’Neill, had to survive a stewards’ decision on interference, something he didn’t overcome in his last race after seemingly winning the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park, N.J. He was placed last for getting into the path of Midnight Bourbon, causing the horses to clip heels and Midnight Bourbon to fall.

Flavien Prat, the leading rider at both Santa Anita and Del Mar, was aboard the colt Saturday when he went wide into the turn leading to the stretch. Once again, Midnight Bourbon was forced to alter course and went about three paths wider than he was planning. This time there was no disqualification because it was clear even with the forced change of course that Hot Rod Charlie would win.

“I could tell Charlie did not corner as well as he could,” O’Neill said. “But it did not seem like he affected [Midnight] Bourbon at all. He seemed like he was clear. … This one did not seem as dramatic as the Monmouth race. For this to come on top of his last race, this was definitely exaggerated and had a long inquiry as well.”

Hot Rod Charlie, the odds-on favorite, paid $3.80, $2.60 and $2.10. Midnight Bourbon was second, beaten by 2¼ lengths. Americanrevolution was third followed by Fulsome, Bourbonic, Speaker’s Corner, I Am Redeemed and Weyburn.

Prat took the colt to the front and led all the way around the 1-1/8-mile race.

“He broke well and we got ourselves the lead,” Prat said. “When it was time to go, he kind of messed around and switched leads. I thought I was on the best horse. I was under control for the whole race.”

It was the first Grade 1 victory for Hot Rod Charlie.

“It’s so big,” O’Neill said. “It still hasn’t sunk in. He had so many hard-fought races and to not have a Grade 1 resume seemed so unfortunate for a horse as good as he is. It’s good to finally get it.”

The race lost a lot of cache when Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Derby winner facing a medication positive, scratched early in the week, and Essential Quality, winner of the Belmont Stakes, decided to skip the race. Medina Spirit is scheduled to race in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita next Saturday. Essential Quality will train for the Breeders’ Cup.

Hot Rod Charlie burst onto the 3-year-old scene after winning the Louisiana Derby. His backstory features a collection of owners that included Boat Racing, a group of former Brown football players who named their ownership group after a beer drinking game. Hot Rod Charlie went on to finish third in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Belmont Stakes, a race that he lost to Essential Quality.

These top 3-year-olds are expected to be in one of the Breeders’ Cup races at Del Mar on Nov. 5-6.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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