Edited NYRA Release — West Coast-based Hot Rod Charlie and Rock Your World, along with a number of talented stablemates, arrived in New York Saturday night to begin final preparations for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 5.
The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival runs from Thursday, June 3, through Saturday, June 5, and is headlined by the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes. The festival will encompass 17 total stakes, including eight Grade 1s on Belmont Stakes Day, capped by the “Test of the Champion” for 3-year-olds in the 1 1/2-mile final leg of the Triple Crown.
Trainer Doug O’Neill shipped Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, Strauss Bros Racing and Gainesway Thoroughbreds’ Hot Rod Charlie along with McShane Racing’s Stubbins, a contender for the G1, $400,000 Jackpocket Jaipur. Also along for the trip is the popular Hall of Famer Lava Man, a multiple G1 winner with more than $5.2 million in purse earnings now employed as a pony.
The trio arrived on the grounds at Belmont Park just before 8 p.m. Eastern on a wet Saturday evening.
O’Neill said all three have settled in well, in particular Hot Rod Charlie, who finished a strong third last out in the G1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
“They all look in good shape. It’s a big hurdle cleared,” said O’Neill. “I think he’s [Hot Rod Charlie] put on weight. He looks phenomenal. He’s training well and doing well.”
A dark bay son of Oxbow, Hot Rod Charlie closed out his 2-year-old campaign with a closing second to Belmont Stakes-rival Essential Quality in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 6 at Keeneland.
Bred in Kentucky by Edward A. Cox, Hot Rod Charlie launched his sophomore season with a third in the G3 Robert B. Lewis, just a neck behind eventual Kentucky Derby-winner Medina Spirit in the 1 1/16-mile test on January 30 at Santa Anita.
He followed with a two-length score in the 1 3/16-mile G2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 20 ahead of his Derby effort.
On Friday, Hot Rod Charlie breezed five-eighths in 1:00.40 in company during an afternoon workout on the Santa Anita main track, easily pulling away from his workmate in a strong gallop out.
O’Neill said the breeze is an indication of a horse developing an understanding of his role.
“I think early on in his career he was more comfortable as a pack horse and running with the group. He’d never get tired, but he just kept hanging with the other horses,” said O’Neill. “Recently, he’s very comfortable separating himself from other horses and I think that’s a great trait that he’s added and it’s necessary to win big races. That’s what I saw when he pulled away from his work mate.”
Flavien Prat, who piloted Belmont Stakes-rival Rombauer to victory in the G1 Preakness, has chosen to ride Hot Rod Charlie on Saturday. O’Neill said he’s delighted to have retained Prat’s services for the grueling 1 1/2-mile event.
“Generally, the pace is a lot slower going 12 furlongs but that’s where having Prat helps. Not only is he a phenomenal rider, but he’s riding with so much confidence right now, and he has so much confidence in this colt,” said O’Neill. “If he breaks clean, he should be forwardly placed. If they’re flying, he’ll back off it. If not, he should be pretty close the whole way around.”
O’Neill said Hot Rod Charlie will likely jog on the training track on Monday before some light gallops on the main track later in the week.
Stubbins, a 5-year-old son of Morning Line, boasts a record of 14-4-2-3 with purse earnings of $528,051. The dark bay finished a prominent fourth to returning rival Oleksandra in last year’s Jaipur, a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In event offering a berth in the G1 Turf Sprint.
Stubbins will make his seasonal debut off a trio of sharp works at Santa Anita, including a six-furlong effort in 1:14.80 Friday on the main track.
“He’s fresh and he’s been working well,” said O’Neill. “He’ll probably jog the whole week to keep him fresh and happy.”
The 20-year-old Lava Man was calm, cool and collected Sunday morning taking in his new surroundings.
“He’s such a cool horse. He really seems to like it here,” said O’Neill.
Also arriving on Saturday evening was a trio of Belmont Stakes Racing Festival contenders conditioned by John Sadler led by Hronis Racing and David Michael Talla’s G1 Santa Anita Derby-winner Rock Your World, who will look to make amends after a tough break from the gate last out when 17th in the Kentucky Derby.
He was joined on the journey by Hronis Racing and Lane’s End Racing’s multiple graded stakes winner Flagstaff, who is pointed to Friday’s G2, $300,000 True North; and Woodford Racing’s Campaign, who will start in the G2, $400,000 Brooklyn presented by Northwell Health on Belmont Stakes Day.
“Everybody has settled in really well,” said Miranda. “Rock Your World will head out to the track tomorrow. Today, we just walked him a little bit and tomorrow they’ll all begin training.”
Sadler’s travelling assistant Enrique Miranda said the trio are in good order.