One of the keys to a good Hot Rod is of course horsepower. One California based Thoroughbred trainer is hoping his has plenty when it comes to the Louisiana Derby on March 20.

Doug O’Neill has white-smoked tires all across the country during his tenure as a training icon. With over 2000 wins including the 2012 (I’ll Have Another) and 2016 (Nyquist)Kentucky Derby along with a Preakness victory (I’ll Have Another) and five Breeders’ Cup triumphs, the Michigan native is proven on the biggest of stages. Never afraid to ship and win, the California-based O’Neill sent a maiden to Keeneland in 2017 (Irap) and won the Bluegrass Stakes on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

Now in 2021, a horse named Hot Rod Charlie is motoring into the Louisiana Derby for team O’Neill as he hopes to have a live contender for the 2021 Run for the Roses. This son of Oxbow has one career win in six starts, but earned acclaim with a gutsy second place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Running strong throughout, this half-brother to Mitole finished just ¾ of length back of Juvenile champ Essential Quality at odds of 94 to 1.

His only start as a three year old came on January 30 when he was a well beaten third in the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. Even though the Lewis did not go as planned, O’Neill has plenty of reason to feel he could see his Hot Rod toast the tires in the Big Easy.

“I think we are seeing him develop as a race horse”, says O’Neill. “We have been doing some different things with him in training and he seems to be trying to get by horses with the same tenacity as he has when not letting horses pass him. He seems to ship well because he traveled to Keeneland like a Delta Airlines pilot. He was comfortable the  whole way and was not bothered by different surroundings.”

The $1 million Louisiana Derby also seems to be a good fit for Charlie for other reasons as well. First and foremost the spacing of the race fits the game plan. Also, the long stretch at the Fairgrounds and the mile and three sixteenths distance will allow the Hot Rod ample opportunity to hit the gas pedal.

“We really like the thought of that long Fairgrounds stretch”, says O’Neill. “We think it suits his running style and the added distance will also be good for him. He ran a tough race in the Lewis last out and we think he is ready to move forward. Another big plus for us is he will have Joel Rosario aboard and that means a lot.”

A win would guarantee a spot in the Kentucky Derby, but the race is coming up rather tough. Risen Star Stakes winner Mandaloun and LeComte winner Midnight Bourbon are the home town horses along with a tough running Proxy, who finished second in both of those races. Winning on the road is never easy in any sport and O’Neill understands his Hot Rod needs to be finely tuned.

“The Louisiana Derby is a great race and winning these types of events are never easy,” says O’Neill. “We think on any given day Charlie can compete with anybody and the Breeders’ Cup proved it. We are optimistic going in and we think he has a chance to be right there at the end.”

Carded as the final event of a blockbuster 14 race card that features eight stakes races on March 20, the Louisiana Derby has a projected post time of 5:44 pm.