Leading up to the 153rd running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1) on Saturday (June 5), usracing.com is publishing profiles of each of the contenders. The 1 1/2-mile race at Belmont Park is the final leg of the Triple Crown. Profiles will be updated with post positions and odds following the draw on Tuesday (June 1).
By Lynne Snierson
As he heads into the Belmont Stakes (G1), Hot Rod Charlie is even bigger and better than he was when he crossed the wire third in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
That’s the word from trainer Doug O’Neill, who is brimming with confidence in this colt and certain that skipping the Preakness (G1) was the right move.
“Over these five weeks, he’s added weight and muscle, and he’s a stronger and more mature version of who he was in the Derby. He’s a super quality colt with a full tank,” said O’Neill, who missed a shot at the Triple Crown in 2012 when favorite I’ll Have Another was scratched on the eve of the Belmont due to injury.
Even better, Flavien Prat, who partnered with “Charlie” on Derby Day and then won the Preakness on Rombauer, had his choice of either mount in the Belmont and went with Team O’Neill.
“Having the continuity of Flavien Prat riding him back is a huge bonus. He’s breezed him at least a half-dozen times if not more. They get along great and there is nothing better than having a strong horse and rider connection going into the big races,” said the trainer. “I’m really optimistic they’re going to run big together. He (Prat) never wavered. It’s definitely a vote of confidence.”
None of the field has raced the 1 ½ miles of the “Test of the Champion” but O’Neill is undaunted. He believes his horse will get the trip.
“He won the Louisiana Derby (G2) at a-mile-and-three-sixteenths, and he wasn’t shortening any strides at the end. He shows us a tremendous amount of stamina on a daily basis,” said O’Neill.
Hot Rod Charlie, a half-brother to champion sprinter Mitole, gives O’Neill another chance to win his first Belmont. His two previous starters finished off the board, and he also had to pull Nyquist from contention in 2016 when the Derby winner spiked a fever two weeks before the race.
Post position: TBD
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Trainer: Doug O’Neill
Owners: Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing & William Strauss
Career record: 8-2-1-3
Career earnings: $1,305,700
Top Equibase speed figure: 109
Pedigree: Oxbow-Indian Miss by Indian Charlie
Color: Dark bay
Running style: Versatile
Notes: Hot Rod Charlie worked 5 furlongs before the first race at Santa Anita on May 28 in 1:00.48 and galloped out 6 furlongs in 1:13.62 as his final Belmont prep. O’Neill said, “This horse keeps getting more confident and he’s starting to separate himself from the others.” … The following day the colt was on a plane to New York accompanied by Hall of Famer and current O’Neill stable pony and pet Lava Man, who will take him to the post on Saturday …Roadrunner Racing is a partnership headed by Greg Helm, a former ad executive and current vice president of Desert Classic Charities. Patrick O’Neill is a 28-year-old Brown graduate and vice president for sales and strategic partnerships at Founder Sport Group. O’Neill, along with Brown University frat brothers and football teammates Eric Armagost, Dan Giovaccini, Reiley Higgins, and Alex Quoyeser, comprise Boat Racing. William Strauss was co-founder and CEO of Proflowers.com, an online floral boutique, and currently sits on the board of the Thoroughbred Owners of California.
Lynne Snierson, a former director of communications at Arlington Park and Rockingham Park, currently is a freelance writer and racing publicist. She covered thoroughbred racing as an award-winning sportswriter for newspapers In Boston, Miami, and St. Louis. She lives in New Hampshire. Secretariat remains her all-time favorite horse.