Hot Rod Charlie Caps 3-Year-Old Season in San Antonio Stakes

The season is not over yet for fan favorite Hot Rod Charlie.

The Grade 1-winning 3-year-old was last seen finishing fourth in the Nov. 6 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar. But he’ll take another shot at older foes Dec. 26 in the $200,000 San Antonio Stakes on Santa Anita Park’s opening-day card.

A son of Oxbow, Hot Rod Charlie was never worse than third across the wire in his first six starts of 2021, which included a third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, a gutsy second in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, and a victory in the Pennsylvania Derby. He also finished first in the Haskell Stakes but was disqualified and placed seventh for interference.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic was the first time Hot Rod Charlie faced older horses. After being outbroken by others leaving the starting gate, he settled mid-field  and moved into second with a quarter-mile to run and into the stretch behind eventual winner Knicks Go. He was then passed to finish fourth behind runner-up Medina Spirit and show finisher Essential Quality.

“He ran a gutsy race. I’m super proud of ‘Charlie,'” trainer Doug O’Neill said after the Classic.

Hot Rod Charlie is owned by Boat Racing, Gainesway Stable, Roadrunner Racing, and Bill Strauss. He will break from post 4 Sunday with Flavien Prat, his regular pilot since the Kentucky Derby.

The 1 1/16-mile San Antonio could serve as a prep for an overseas trip to Meydan Racecourse, where Hot Rod Charlie could race in the March 26 Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline.

The colt is one of 11 entries for O’Neill on the first day of the winter/spring meet at Santa Anita.

“If it’s not a personal high, it’s got to be right up there,” the trainer said, “The condition book had a lot of races that fit our horses. They’re training well so we’ll see how it goes.”

The lone entry in the seven-horse San Antonio to enter off a win is Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman’s Azul Coast, trained by Bob Baffert. The 4-year-old Super Saver colt rallied to win the Nov. 20 Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar by a half-length over Kiss Today Goodbye (winner of the 2020 San Antonio) and stablemate Eight Rings. Juan Hernandez picks up the mount from Prat on Azul Coast, who will break from the outside post 7.

The Native Diver result was the best finish for Kiss Today Goodbye, trained by Eric Kruljac for John Sondereker, since his upset win in the San Antonio a year ago.

Coolmore Stud, Golconda Stable, Madaket Stables, SF Racing, and Starlight Racing’s Eight Rings will have blinkers removed for the San Antonio after a third in the Native Diver. Now a 4-year-old, the Empire Maker colt’s last stakes victory was the 2019 American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita. The Baffert trainee is one of the two principal frontrunners in the lineup, the other being Hot Rod Charlie.

C R K Stable’s Express Train will try to add a third Grade 2 score to his rèsumè in the San Antonio. Back in July, the 4-year-old Union Rags colt won the San Diego Handicap. In two starts since, he was sixth in the Aug. 21 TVG Pacific Classic and third in the Oct. 2 Awesome Again Stakes. He was scratched from the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic due to a hock injury.

Also entered are 2020 Native Diver winner Extra Hope and O’Neill-trained Go On, who makes his stakes debut.