Hot Rod Charlie Returning To Monmouth Park Saturday For Salvator Mile

No hard feelings, it seems. That’s how Hot Rod Charlie, momentarily a Haskell Stakes winner last summer before being disqualified, will wind up racing again at Monmouth Park on Saturday in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile.

The now-4-year-old horse seemingly beat Mandaloun by a nose in the Haskell before being knocked down to last place for drifting into Midnight Bourbon, causing that horse to clip heels. Mandaloun was then declared the winner.

“It was a great effort on his part,” Hot Rod Charlies’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, said of that race. “My mindset with that race is I was proud of his effort, and grateful no one got hurt. … He’s doing really, really well. He’s trained with a lot of energy and stamina. It just seems like he is ready to get back to the races.”

Hot Rod Charlie is helping to highlight Monmouth Park’s first Haskell Stakes Preview Day on Saturday. Also on the card is the Grade 3 Eatontown Stakes, the Grade 3 Monmouth Stakes, and the Pegasus Stakes for 3-year-olds, which is the track’s Haskell prep race.

An eye toward The Breeders’ Cup

Having not raced since placing second at the World Cup in Dubai in late March, the Monmouth race will help O’Neill determine Hot Rod Charlie’s next steps.

“We were looking at the calendar around the country, and the Salvator Mile just seemed to fit perfectly with him being ready right now,” said O’Neill, whose main target is The Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5. “Aside from the Classic and the Salvator Mile, we haven’t really decided on anything else. We intentionally gave him this time off coming back from Dubai. Saturday will tell us a lot. What we do after this depends on his performance and how he comes out of the race.”

In 15 career races, Hot Rod Charlie has earned $5.1 million, including victories in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby and the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, and second-place finishes in the Dubai World Cup, the Belmont Stakes, and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Last year, the horse also finished third in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The Pegasus Stakes on Saturday is expected to produce one or more starters for The Haskell Stakes on July 23. The Monmouth Stakes is for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the turf, while the Eatontown Stakes is for fillies and mares, age 3 and up, at 1 1/16th miles on the turf.

The host of wins and near-misses for Hot Rod Charlie last year — as well as the horse’s heartfelt connection to a 16-year-old boy, Jake Panus, who was killed in a car crash — earned him the Secretariat Vox Populi Award, also known as the “Voice of the People” award, which “recognizes the horse whose popularity and racing excellence best resounded with the American public and gained recognition for thoroughbred racing.”

Previous winners since 2010 have included Haskell Stakes winners Authentic (2020), American Pharoah (2015), and Paynter (2012).

The 2021 Haskell controversy

Hot Rod Charlie’s disqualification brought a complaint from his jockey, Flavien Prat, about the since-dismissed riding crop rules that were unique to New Jersey horse racing.

Prat told Bloodhorse , “Yes, the lack of a crop came into play. I was trying to correct him as much as I could. If I could have hit him just one time left-handed, we would have been just fine, but it is what it is.”

But Dennis Drazin, who operates the track for the state’s thoroughbred horsemen, told NJ Online Gambling that such comments were “contrived.”

“If he had to hit the horse once, nothing would have happened,” Drazin said. “It was just his error in judgment.”

Paco Lopez, the jockey for Midnight Bourbon, was unseated in the collision, but was fortunate to suffer only mild soft tissue injuries to his knee and ankle.

Photo: Peter Ackerman/Imagn Content Services

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