Analyzing the Louisiana Derby

Hot Rod Charlie with Joel Rosario aboard wins the 108th running of the #1,000,000 Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. Hodges Photography / Lou Hodgeds, Jr.

 

by Danny Brewer

So what really makes a Hot Rod run fast? Is it the dual line double pumping quadrajet carburetor? Maybe the bored 40 over cylinders with an Edelbrock intake manifold does the trick. Perhaps the positive traction rear end with the turbo 400 transmission and the Muncie shift kit plays a factor. Could it also be that Big Daddy Don Garlits is sitting behind the wheel?

All those can play a part, but how in the hillbilly does that relate to the Louisiana Derby? We are going to take a moment and break it down for those scoring at home.

Coming into this $1 million dollar edition of the Louisiana Derby some questions were bouncing around about the West Coast invader named Hot Rod Charlie. Running out of the Doug O’Neill barn, some wondered why he was shipping to the Big Easy. Of course the short answer is there was a million good reasons…but in reality it was a lot more than that. The grade 2 centerpiece of the Fairgrounds race course offers 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner and a likely spot in the world’s most famous race. Also the spacing of the race between his last start and the first Saturday in May were very attractive to the Hot Rod team.

So here it was March 20 and Charlie stepped into the starting gates facing a group of beastly boys that had been hanging on Bourbon Street the past few months. The highly regarded Mandaloun had won the Risen Star Stakes last out at these Fairgrounds. Midnight Bourbon had displayed an intoxicating run while winning the LeComte over this same dirt and Proxy had been a strong second in both of those events. How would this Hot Rod run over this challenging mile and three sixteenths? The gates opened and we discovered O’Neill and his pit crew were bringing a finely tuned machine to town.

First up, we found out about the posi-trac rear differential. The key to a good start is being able to get out of the hole without spinning the tires. Too much gas too early means you get sideways or maybe even redline and burn a valve. Breaking alertly when the gates opened, Charlie motored to the front with authority. Well within himself, this son of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow was off and running without any slip of his racing slicks.

Moving through the first turn, we found out a little about the fuel intake this Hot Rod has under his hood. Pressured throughout, the dual line double pumper was in full force as he cruised down the back stretch with two of the local boys just off the front fender. Race favorite Mandaloun was just outside while Midnight Bourbon was virtually on even terms through solid opening fractions (23.1 quarter, 47.04 half mile). As the fuel ignited and the visiting race team rolled to the top of the stretch, Mandaloun was the first to taste the exhaust fumes from a revved up Hot Rod.

Powering down the long home stretch of the famous Fairgrounds, the benefit of a strong transmission came to the forefront. The ability to maintain a certain RPM level is always important, but the ability to wind out and then shift into another gear makes for a winner. Only a half length in front in the race’s final furlong, you had to wonder if the wire would come quick enough. Bourbon was the hometown boy and he was still right there. And then it happened. At the sixteenth pole, Charlie rose to the challenge and made the most of that Muncie. Finding even more, he sped ahead and left Midnight Bourbon drinking dust. Winning by a convincing two lengths Hot Rod Charlie left little doubt as to who was the most finely tuned runner in this race.

And finally, the Don Garlits of the day was jockey Joel Rosario. An expert at his trade, this was vintage Rosario. Understanding the wheels beneath him, this winner of over 3,000 races guided his mount to the checkered flag in a fashion that would make Big Daddy proud.

“We are very fortunate to have some real grade 1 talents with the runner and the rider,” says a proud O’Neill. “We are so proud and grateful for this colt.”

The kicker for the Hot Rod in this one is he did a burnout in some other boys backyard and in a track record time (1:55.06) to boot. That means his runner up finish in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at odds of 94-1 was not a fluke and Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing LLC, and William Strauss will all be sitting in the owner’s box at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

There are many components that make a Hot Rod run. If they all come together at the right time, watch out for the white smoke.