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By Nicholas Godfrey
8-1 (price for the Kentucky Derby) Hot Rod Charlie (Leandro Mora/Joel Rosario)
Fair Grounds (March 20): Louisiana Derby G2 $1m, 1m1½f, dirt
Owner: Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing and Bill Strauss
All change on the Kentucky Derby trail. Ante-post favourite Life Is Good was ruled out through injury on Saturday, only a few hours before Hot Rod Charlie – also trained in California – shipped cross country to put down his own marker with an on-the-pace triumph in the $1m Louisiana Derby.
Although favoured Mandaloun flopped, betting suggested the winner wasn’t entirely unexpected. Beaten only three-quarters of a length at odds of 94-1 in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the son of Preakness winner Oxbow was sent off 2.9-1 second choice after a promising seasonal return at Santa Anita at the end of January.
Hot Rod Charlie finally got the better of a battle with stubborn front-end rival Midnight Bourbon in the stretch before drawing away for a two-length victory. In contrast, Mandaloun’s Derby dreams are surely over after he raced four wide and had nothing to offer in the stretch.
Identifying Hot Rod Charlie’s trainer looks a bit like a game of pass the parcel. Dual-Derby winner Doug O’Neill will be on the racecard at Churchill Downs, but as he is currently serving a suspension for a medication violation, the colt ran in the name of his top assistant Leandro Mora while the boss serves his time in the sinbin.
However, Mora is in Dubai overseeing preparations for the World Cup card so Sabas Rivera did the honours in New Orleans.
Joel Rosario (Hot Rod Charlie’s jockey): “I wanted to get a little position as it didn’t look like there was much speed in the race. He broke well and in the first turn I found myself on the lead. It worked out really well and he handled the distance very well. Very impressive. He doesn”t have to be on the lead. He can do anything. He can be a little bit off the pace and will run the same way.”
Brad Cox (Mandaloun’s trainer): “He was flat and we’re disappointed. There’s no other way to say it. I don’t know. I was happy with the trip; he was three-wide and stalking the winner but at the half-mile pole it looked like we were in trouble. I have no excuse right now, we’ll just have to see. I can’t ask him to train any better and I don’t think I would have done anything different. We’ll just regroup.”
Kentucky Derby betting (Bet365): 7-2 Concert Tour, 6 Essential Quality, 8 Greatest Honour, Hot Rod Charlie, 12 Risk Taking, 14 Medina Spirit, 16 Helium, Prevalence, Weyburn, 20 bar.