Hot Rod Charlie will make its first start from Dubai in Monmouth’s Salvator Mile – Reuters

Hot Rod Charlie and William Buick win the G2 Maktoum Challenge Round 2 in Dubai

Coach Doug O’Neill’s ultimate goal for Hot Rod Charlie is a return to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. His immediate aim is to get the 4-year-old colt on the right track – which he will do on Saturday’s Grade 3 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park.

Not seen since finishing second at the World Cup in Dubai on March 26, Hot Rod Charlie will mark his return to racing as part of the first day of the TVG.com Haskell Stakes preview from Monmouth Park.

In addition to the $150,000 Salvator Mile, the Saturday card will include the Grade 3 Eatontown Stakes, Grade 3 Monmouth Stakes, and the $150,000 TVG.com Pegasus Stakes for 3-year-olds, Haskell Prep Race of the track.

“He’s doing really, really well,” said O’Neill, who will fly in from California on Thursday ahead of the Salvator Mile. “He trained with a lot of energy and endurance. It just looks like he’s ready to get back to racing.

“We were looking at the schedule across the country and the Salvator Mile seemed to fit perfectly with the fact that it was ready right now.”

Son of Oxbow-Indian Miss by Indian Charlie, Hot Road Charlie has banked $5,121,200 over his 15-race career, which includes wins in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, as well as second places in the Dubai World Cup, the Belmont Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Last year he also finished third in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“The big race we’re aiming for with him will be the Breeders’ Cup Classic (November 5 at Keeneland),” said O’Neill, who won the Kentucky Derby with I’ll Have Another and Nyquist. “We circled that and Saturday’s race as well. Other than the Classic and the Salvator Mile, we haven’t really decided on anything else.

“Saturday will tell us a lot. What we do after that will depend on his performance and how he comes out of the race.

When Hot Rod Charlie ships east from California — minus his pony companion Lava Man, who skips the trip, according to O’Neill — he’ll return to the scene of one of the most memorable moments of his career.

During last year’s Haskell Stakes, Hot Rod Charlie fought valiantly for a nose win over Mandaloun only to be disqualified to last for drifting to Midnight Bourbon, which caused that horse’s heels to be cut.

“It was a great effort on his part,” O’Neill said of last year’s Haskell Stakes. “I’m just thankful that no horse or human got hurt. My mindset with this race is that I was proud of his effort and grateful that no one got hurt.

O’Neill said he was more curious than concerned about the nearly three-month layoff and how it will affect Hot Rod Charlie.

“I’m not worried because of the way he worked,” O’Neill said. “In this game, you always have concerns before you enter a race. But it’s been a breeze as if it’s bridged where it was last time.

“We intentionally gave him that time off on his way back from Dubai. We are enthusiastic and optimistic. Saturday will tell us a lot about where he is right now.

O’Neill said it was also intentional to shorten Hot Rod Charlie after the layoff. Owned by Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, Strauss Brothers Racing and Gainesway Thoroughbreds, Hot Rod Charlie hasn’t run less than a mile since breaking his maiden at Santa Anita on October 2, 2020.

“I expect a really solid performance, but I also want something he can build on,” O’Neill said. “I want him to run well and come out of it in good shape and give us something to build on to have him at the top of his game come November.”

In addition to the Salvator Mile, Saturday’s interest will focus on the Pegasus Stakes, which should produce one or two Haskell Stakes starters. The $150,000 Monmouth Stakes for children ages 3 and up at a mile and an eighth on turf, and the $150,000 Eatontown Stakes for fillies and mares, ages 3 and up, at a mile and a sixteenth on the grass, rounding out the lineup for the day’s Haskell Stakes preview.

The July 23 Grade 1 Haskell Stakes features a map that features four other graded stakes races, including the Grade 1 United Nations.

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