By Richard Rosenblatt
For Hot Rod Charlie, there’s a lot of ground to cover next year: a trip to Dubai, a return home to California, and a race or two culminating in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 5.
But first, the popular colt trained by Doug O’Neill has to show he’s ready to roll into his 4-year-old campaign on Sunday in the San Antonio Stakes (G2) on opening day at Santa Anita Park.
Hot Rod Charlie became a fan favorite during the Triple Crown season, finishing third in the Kentucky Derby (maybe second if winner Medina Spirit is disqualified, decision pending), and running second in the Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 5.
He finished first in the Haskell Stakes (G1) but was disqualified to last for interference in the stretch, came back and won the Pennsylvania Derby (G1), and then ran fourth in the BC Classic.
“I think we have him ready to win,” O’Neill told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune this week. “He’s doing really well, he’s put in a lot of good, strong gallops, put in some really good, strong works. So, the (first) goal is Sunday and I know I feel, and I think the group feels, Charlie is ready to rock and roll and should be very tough in there.”
Hot Rod Charlie will race without blinkers when he takes on six rivals in the 1 1/16-mile San Antonio for 3-year-olds and up. He ran without blinkers in the Haskell and Pennsylvania Derby but with blinkers on in the Classic.
Purchased for $110,000 by Boat Racing, Gainesway Stable, Roadrunner Racing, and William Strauss, “Chuck” has earned $2.4 million in 12 career starts – three wins, two seconds, and three thirds.
“We are super excited and ready to rock and roll,” O’Neill, a two-time Kentucky Derby winner, said. “We truly are living a dream with this horse.”
Here’s a look at some of the races on Sunday:
$200,000 San Gabriel Stakes (G2), 1 1/8 miles, turf, 3-year-olds and up | Post time: 4:08 p.m. (race 5)
Grade 1 winner Hit the Road is the 8-5 favorite in a field of seven, as the 4-year-old colt looks for a return to the winner’s circle.
Hit the Road won the Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita back in the March, and since has run fifth, third, and third in the Maker’s Mark Mile Stakes (G1), Del Mar Mile Stakes (G2), and the City of Hope Miles Stakes (G2), respectively.
Hit the Road leaves from post 4 under Umberto Rispoli.
Friar’s Road is the second choice at 5-2 and will be ridden by Jose Ortiz out of post 2.
Hot Rod Charlie tops a field of seven for this one, a steppingstone for bigger and better things to come in 2022 for much of the field.
After running fourth in the BC Classic with blinkers on, trainer Doug O’Neill says it’s blinkers off this time.
The 3-year-old colt is the 6-5 favorite, with Express Train at 7-2, and Eight Rings at 4-1. Hot Rod Charlie leave from post 4 under Flavien Prat.
$200,000 Santa Anita Mathis Mile Stakes (G2), 1 mile, turf, 3-year-olds | Post time: 5:12 p.m. (race 7)
Beyond Brilliant is the slight 5-2 favorite over Du Jour (3-1) in a field of nine.
Trained by John Shirreffs, Beyond Brilliant comes into the race off a neck victory in the Hollywood Derby (G1).
Du Jour, trained by Bob Baffert, was eighth in the Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs in his previous start.
$300,000 La Brea Stakes (G1), 7 furlongs, 3-year-old fillies | Post time: 5:44 p.m. (race 8)
Bob Baffert-trained Private Mission is the 8-5 favorite in a field of seven. The Into Mischief filly is 3-of-4 in 2021, her only loss a last-place finish in the BC Distaff (G1) after having won the Zenyatta Stakes (G2) prior to that race.
Missy P. is the 5-2 second choice for trainer Richard Mandella.
$300,000 Runhappy Malibu Stakes (G1), 7 furlongs, 3-year-olds | Post time: 6:49 p.m. (race 10)
Flightline is the 4-5 favorite in a field of seven sprinters. A son of top sire Tapit, the colt is off to a 2-for-2 start in his late-developing career. He won by 13 ¼ lengths in his debut at Santa Anita on April 4, and then won a 6-furlong allowance optional claimer by 12 ¾ lengths at Del Mar on Sept. 5 for trainer John Sadler.
Dr. Schivel, a two-time Grade 1 winner who ran second in the BC Dirt Mile, is the 5-2 second choice for trainer Mark Glatt.
A field of 10 is set for this one, with Going Global the 9-5 favorite for trainer Phil D’Amato.
Fluffy Socks is the 3-1 second choice for trainer Chad Brown.
Going Global will be ridden by Flavien Prat out of post 5; Fluffy Socks starts from the rail under Mike Smith.
Going Global comes into the race off victories in the Del Mar Oaks (G1) and the Goldikova Stakes (G2), both at Del Mar. Fluffy Socks makes her first start since winning the Sands Point Stakes (G2) at Belmont on Oct. 16.
$100,000 Tropical Park Derby, 1 1/16 miles, turf, 3-year-olds | Post time: 4:32 p.m. (race 10)
Never Surprised is the 8-5 favorite in a field of 12, which also includes Yes This Time at 9-2 and Scarlett at 6-1.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Never Surprised has been first or second in all six of her starts, most recently a 6 ¼-length win in the Gio Ponti Stakes at Aqueduct on Nov. 26. She ran second in three races before that – the Hill Prince Stakes (G2), Saranac Stakes (G3), and the Kitten’s Joy Stakes (G3).
“I was very pleased with his last race, and he’s trained enthusiastically for this race,” Pletcher said.
Luis Saez rides Never Surprised leaving from post 2.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.