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Jon White: Hot Rod Charlie - Breeders' Cup Classic Contender | Thursday, September 30

by Jon White

September 30, 2021

In light of his stellar performance in last Saturday’s $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, Hot Rod Charlie should be taken very seriously when he makes his next start in the Grade I, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar on Nov. 6.

Ridden by Flavien Prat and trained by Doug O’Neill, Hot Rod Charlie won the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby in front-running fashion by 2 1/4 lengths as the 9-10 favorite. The Kentucky-bred Oxbow colt completed his 1 1/8-mile trip in 1:48.63.

Midnight Bourbon, conditioned by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, ran second at odds of 7-2. Americanrevolution, off at 8-1, finished third, 4 1/2 lengths behind Midnight Bourbon. Speaker’s Corner, the only other contestant in the field of eight sent away at under 10-1, ended up sixth at 7-2.

This race was not without controversy. Turning into the stretch, Hot Rod Charlie carried out Midnight Bourbon quite wide. There was a stewards’ inquiry into the incident. Ricardo Santana Jr., the rider of Midnight Bourbon, also lodged an objection against the winner.

After the stewards deliberated for approximately seven minutes, the original result was allowed to stand.

This, I believe, was a difficult call for the stewards. In my opinion, it could have gone either way.

I do not know the rules of racing in Pennsylvania. But if they are similar to the rules in California, Washington and Idaho -- three states in which I have been a steward -- I believe that my vote would have been for no change to the original order of finish. That’s based on my opinion that the incident did not cost Midnight Bourbon the opportunity for a better placing based on the many replays that I saw.

On the other hand, I can understand why Asmussen and many others believe that Hot Rod Charlie should have had his number taken down.

“Flavien Prat almost drops Midnight Bourbon for the second time,” Asmussen said in Parx’s Pennsylvania Derby stakes quotes. “My horse ran well. He survived.”

Asmussen was alluding to what happened when Hot Rod Charlie and Midnight Bourbon met in the Grade I, $1 million Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 17.

In the Haskell, Hot Rod Charlie finished first by a nose. Mandaloun finished second, a whopping 18 3/4 lengths in front of Following Sea in third.

The stewards disqualified Hot Rod Charlie and placed him last “for causing Mandaloun to clip heels in midstretch,” as announced by Monmouth racecaller Frank Mirahmadi. When Midnight Bourbon clipped heels, he stumbled badly and unseated jockey Paco Lopez.

Mandaloun was elevated to first, Following Sea to second and Antigravity to third.

Hot Rod Charlie did not race between the Haskell and Pennsylvania Derby. Midnight Bourbon did.

Midnight Bourbon ran a heckuva race in defeat when he finished second, a neck behind Essential Quality, in the Grade I, $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 28.

According to Asmussen, there will be no Breeders’ Cup this year for Midnight Bourbon. The Kentucky-bred colt by two-time BC Classic winner Tiznow will be freshened for a possible start in the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 26 and/or a 4-year-old campaign.

As for Hot Rod Charlie, it is on to the BC Classic. Hopefully, he will do a better job of running straight in that race as opposed to the Haskell and Pennsylvania Derby.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Hot Rod Charlie’s inability to maintain a straight path in the Haskell and Pennsylvania Derby coincides with O’Neill’s decision to have the colt race without blinkers in these two races after he had worn blinkers in six straight starts.

“I could tell ‘Charlie’ did not corner as well as he could,” O’Neill was quoted as saying. “Flavien had mentioned maybe putting [blinkers] on him again. He said he got a little distracted being on the lead, kind of looking around and that might have caused him not to corner as well as he could have.”

After Hot Rod Charlie lost the Haskell via DQ, it was extra sweet for his connections for him to get the first Grade I victory of his career in the Pennsylvania Derby.

“He has had so many hard-fought races and to not have a Grade I on his resume seemed so unfortunate for a horse as good as he is,” O’Neill said. “It’s good to finally get it.”

In the Grade I, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on June 5, Hot Rod Charlie finished second, 1 1/4 lengths behind Essential Quality. Even though Hot Rod Charlie did not win the 1 1/2-mile classic, many recognized what a terrific race he ran that day to finish second despite running the first quarter-mile in :22.78. It was the fastest opening quarter in the history of the Belmont when contested at 1 1/2 miles. The Belmont was first run in 1867.

The excellence of Hot Rod Charlie’s Pennsylvania Derby performance is demonstrated by his 111 Beyer Speed Figure. It’s the highest Beyer of his career so far. Moreover, the 111 ranks as the top 2021 Beyer Speed Figure to date by a 3-year-old in a race at one mile or longer:

Below are the Beyers of 105 or higher by a 3-year-old this year at one mile or longer:

BSF Horse (Finish, Race, Track, Date)

111 Hot Rod Charlie (Won, Pennsylvania Derby, Prx, Sept. 25)
109 Essential Quality (Won, Belmont, Bel, June 5)
108 Hot Rod Charlie (2nd, Belmont, Bel, June 5)
107 Essential Quality (Won, Travers, Sar, Aug. 28)
107 Life Is Good (Won, San Felipe, SA, March 6)
107 Midnight Bourbon (2nd, Pennsylvania Derby, Prx, Sept. 25)
107 Midnight Bourbon (2nd, Travers, Sar, Aug. 28)

The only horse to record a higher Beyer Speed Figure than 111 in a race at a mile or longer this year is 5-year-old Knicks Go, who was credited with a 113 when he won the Grade III Cornhusker Handicap by 10 1/4 lengths at Prairie Meadows on July 2.


I mentioned earlier that Hot Rod Charlie should be taken very seriously in the BC Classic. Keep in mind that the 111 Beyer that he was credited with in the Pennsylvania Derby is equal to or higher than the figure for the winner of the last three BC Classics, as shown below:

Year BC Classic winner (BSF)

2020 Authentic (111)
2019 Vino Rosso (111)
2018 Accelerate (105)


Hot Rod Charlie’s 111 Beyer last Saturday was the highest in the Pennsylvania Derby since Love of Money posted a 112 in 2004.

When Bayern won the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby by 5 3/4 lengths at odds of 7-2, he recorded a 110 Beyer. California Chrome finished sixth as the 9-10 favorite.

Bayern subsequently won the Grade I BC Classic that year.

Below are the Beyers for Pennsylvania Derby winners going back to 1992 (the figures are listed in the 2021 American Racing Manual, which is now digital only and available for free on The Jockey Club’s website):

2021 Hot Rod Charlie (111)
2020 not run
2019 Math Wizard (99)
2018 McKinzie (107)
2017 West Coast (107)
2016 Connect (103)
2015 Frosted (106)
2014 Bayern (110)
2013 Will Take Charge (105)
2012 Handsome Mike (93)
2011 To Honor and Serve (105)
2010 Morning Line (103)
2009 Gone Astray (104)
2008 Anak Nakal (100)
2007 Timber Reserve (105)
2006 not run
2005 Sun King (103)
2004 Love of Money (112)
2003 Grand Hombre (108)
2002 Harlan’s Holiday (96)
2001 Macho Uno (104)
2000 Pine Dance (105)
1999 Smart Guy (109)
1998 Rock and Roll (110)
1997 Frisk Me Now (114)
1996 Devil’s Honor (114)
1995 Pineing Patty (108)
1994 Meadow Flight (106)
1993 Wallenda (100)
1992 Thelastcrusade (107)


It was announced on Sept. 22 that two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl, who played a significant role in trainer Brad Cox building a powerful stable, has been retired from racing.

The decision to retire Monomoy Girl was made after it was discovered the 6-year-old Kentucky-bred Tapizar mare had sustained an injury when training Sept 21 at Churchill Downs.

“She’s simply a remarkable mare and has meant the world to my career,” said Cox.

Monomoy Girl was voted a 2018 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly and another Eclipse Award in 2020 as champion older female.

According to Cox, Monomoy Girl came back a little off in her right foreleg following a routine gallop at Churchill on Sept. 20.

“We had it X-rayed and found a non-displaced fracture of the sesamoid,” BloodHorse quoted Cox as saying.

Cox added that the injury would not require surgery.

“She’s an unbelievable mare and will always hold a special place in my heart as our first [Kentucky] Oaks winner, Breeders’ Cup winner and champion,” Cox said. “She will go to Spendthrift to start her breeding career and I’m sure she’ll be an awesome mom.”

Monomoy Girl’s 2018 campaign was highlighted by victories in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-olds and Grade I Breeders’ Cup Distaff for 3-year-olds and up.

In my fantasy league, I had the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft. Game Winner was taken at No. 1. I took Monomoy Girl at No. 2. Unfortunately, Monomoy Girl missed the entire 2019 racing season due to various issues.

When Monomoy Girl returned to competition in 2020, she won all four of her starts that year, capped by a second victory in the Grade I BC Distaff.

Monomoy Girl made two starts this year, both at Oaklawn Park. She won the Grade III Bayakoa Stakes by two lengths as a 1-5 favorite on Feb. 29. Monomoy Girl then finished second as a 7-10 favorite when she lost the Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap by a scant nose to Letruska on April 17.

Since the Apple Blossom, Letruska has reeled off three more graded stakes wins in succession. She took the Grade I Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park on June 5, the Grade II Fleur de Lis Stakes at Churchill on June 26, then the Grade I Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 28.

Letruska is scheduled to make her next start in Keeneland’s Grade I Spinster Stakes on Oct. 10.

Monomoy Girl won 14 of 17 lifetime starts while never finishing worse than second.

One of Monomoy Girl’s three career defeats came when she was disqualified from first and placed second in the Grade I Cotillion in 2018. Midnight Bisou was moved up to first in the 2018 Cotillion.

In all, Monomoy Girl and Midnight Bisou ran against each other four times. Monomoy Girl crossed the finish line first each time she competed against Midnight Bisou.

According to BloodHorse, Monomoy Girl’s total bankroll of $4,776,818 ranks her “as the fifth highest-earning dirt female of all time.” The five top dirt females of all time in earnings are listed below:

$7,471,520 Midnight Bisou
$7,304,580 Zenyatta
$6,156,600 Beholder
$4,811,126 Royal Delta
$4,776,818 Monomoy Girl


Years ago for Xpressbet.com, I came up with my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries. I have tweaked the list from time to time. The inspiration was BloodHorse’s Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century.

Because we now are in the 21st year of this century, it’s become increasingly difficult to continually make room on my list of 100 to include racehorses from this century. Consequently, I now have two lists, one for the 20st century and another for the 21st century so far.

With Monomoy Girl having exited the racing stage for good, I decided to add her to my list of Top 25 Racehorses of the 21st Century so far. She is No. 25, replacing Xtra Heat.

I feel bad about taking Xtra Heat off the list. Xtra Heat was truly an outstanding sprinter, but I just believe Monomoy Girl is more deserving of being in the Top 25. One of the reasons I decided to add Monomoy Girl to the list at the expense of Xtra Heat is Monomoy Girl was able to win races on both dirt and turf. The first two victories of Monomoy Girl’s career came on the grass.

Below is my list of the Top 25 Racehorses of the 21st Century so far:

 1. American Pharoah*
 2. Zenyatta
 3. Justify*
 4. Curlin
 5. Arrogate
 6. Shared Belief
 7. California Chrome
 8. Rachel Alexandra
 9. Barbaro
10. Tiznow
11. Wise Dan
12. Ghostzapper
13. Point Given
14. Invasor
15. Gun Runner
16. Beholder
17. Smarty Jones
18. Azeri
19. Lava Man
20. Goldikova
21. Bernardini
22. Rags to Riches
23. Candy Ride
24. Kona Gold
25. Monomoy Girl

*Triple Crown winner

Below is my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century (in parentheses, when applicable, is where the horse ranked on BloodHorse’s list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century):

   1. Man o’ War (1)
   2. Secretariat* (2)
   3. Citation* (3)
   4. Kelso (4)
   5. Spectacular Bid (10)
   6. Native Dancer (7)
   7. Dr. Fager (6)
   8. Seattle Slew* (9)
   9. Count Fleet* (5)
 10. Affirmed* (12)
 11. Ruffian (35)
 12. Swaps (20)
 13. Forego (8)
 14. Phar Lap (22)
 15. Buckpasser (14)
 16. Damascus (16)
 17. Round Table (17)
 18. Seabiscuit (25)
 19. War Admiral* (13)
 20. Tom Fool (11)
 21. Colin (15)
 22. John Henry (23)
 23. Regret (71)
 24. Exterminator (29)
 25. Whirlaway* (26)
 26. Sunday Silence (31)
 27. Cigar (18)
 28. Nashua (24)
 29. Alydar (27)
 30. Easy Goer (34)
 31. Alysheba (42)
 32. Bold Ruler (19)
 33. Personal Ensign (48)
 34. All Along (68)
 35. Equipoise (21)
 36. Gallant Fox* (28)
 37. Sysonby (30)
 38. Gallant Man (36)
 39. Assault* (33)
 40. Armed (39)
 41. Sir Barton* (49)
 42. Northern Dancer (43)
 43. Omaha* (61)
 44. Ack Ack (44)
 45. Discovery (37)
 46. Majestic Prince (46)
 47. Arts and Letters (67)
 48. Stymie (41)
 49. Challedon (38)
 50. Pan Zareta
 51. Noor (69)
 52. Busher (40)
 53. Gallorette (45)
 54. Coaltown (47)
 55. Sword Dancer (53)
 56. Grey Lag (54)
 57. Devil Diver (55)
 58. Dahlia (50)
 59. Zev (56)
 60. Ta Wee (80)
 61. Twilight Tear (59)
 62. Riva Ridge (57)
 63. Native Diver (60)
 64. Holy Bull (64)
 65. Precisionist
 66. Inside Information
 67. Shuvee (70)
 68. Twenty Grand (52)
 69. Skip Away (32)
 70. Sham
 71. Alsab (65)
 72. Lady’s Secret (76)
 73. Genuine Risk (91)
 74. A.P. Indy
 75. Landaluce
 76. Silver Charm (63)
 77. Susan’s Girl (51)
 78. Cicada (62)
 79. Go for Wand (72)
 80. Slew o’ Gold (58)
 81. Bald Eagle (74)
 82. Exceller (96)
 83. Tim Tam
 84. Top Flight (66)
 85. Manila
 86. Johnstown (73)
 87. Lure (85)
 88. Princess Rooney
 89. Two Lea (77)
 90. Gallant Bloom (79)
 91. Miesque (82)
 92. Eight Thirty (78)
 93. Fort Marcy (86)
 94. Hoist the Flag
 95. Cougar II
 96. Gamely (87)
 97. Carry Back (83)
 98. Ancient Title
 99. Bayakoa (95)
100. Formal Gold

*Triple Crown winner


My late father told me many times that his favorite season was the fall. One of the main reasons for this is it’s when the most important races of the year would be run at Playfair Race Course in Spokane, Wash.

When I was growing up, I too very much looked much looked forward to the time of year when the Spokane Futurity, Spokane Derby and Playfair Mile would be contested.

I look back fondly as to those races of my youth. It’s hard for me to believe, but it was 50 years ago when those three races were won by Charity Line, Dynamite Pat and Fleet Ahead.

Charity Line, ridden by Richard Wright, won the 1971 Spokane Futurity. Wright passed away not too long ago. Wright’s son Blaine is a successful trainer in Northern California. Blaine also finished third in the final trainer standings at this year’s Emerald Downs meeting that was adjourned last Sunday.

Charity Line, I still recall, was a half-brother to Hope Line, who won the 1968 Spokane Futurity. I was on hand to see both Hope Line and Charity Line win the Spokane Futurity. Charity Line went on to win the 1972 Spokane Derby under Ken Doll, one of the three stewards at this year’s Emerald meet.

Ronald Chapple rode Candy’s Tuff Stuff to his victory in the 1971 Spokane Derby. Chapple later won a race at Playfair for the Media Madness Stable aboard Candy’s Tuff Stuff on July 23, 1978. Media Madness was the stable group I formed in 1977 consisting of eight members of the Spokane media. How do I recall the exact date of that win by Candy’s Tuff Stuff? I still have the winner’s circle photo from that race.

Fleet Ahead, piloted by Johnnie Hathaway, won the 1971 Playfair Mile as a filly outrunning males. Ruler’s Whirl finished second. The year before, Ruler’s Whirl carried 121 pounds and won the Playfair Mile by a neck over Pacific Northwest superstar Turbulator, who was burdened with 138 pounds. To this day, no horse has ever carried as much as 138 pounds in a non-restricted stakes race at a track in Washington.

In 1972, Fleet Ahead came within a whisker of spoiling a very important bet that I had made.

I had waited and waited and waited to find what I considered to be the right race to make my first $100 wager. I did not care about how low the odds might be. I just did not want to lose my first $100 bet.

I decided to put $100 to win on Turn to Fire in the Fashion Handicap at Longacres on May 28, 1972.

Turn to Fire had been a star at Longacres in 1971 as a 3-year-old filly when she won a number of stakes races outside her division. She captured both the Fashion Handicap and Belle Roberts Handicap against her elders. She also won the Tacoma Handicap when beating the boys.

Many had hoped to see Turn to Fire take on the top 3-year-old male at Longacres in 1971, Rock Bath, in the Longacres Derby. But “leg ailments” forced Turn to Fire out of action in mid-summer of 1971, “negating hope for an encounter with Rock Bath in the Derby,” according to a story on the filly in the February 1972 edition of The Washington Horse magazine.

Turn to Fire went back into training in the spring of 1972 at Golden Gate Fields.

“Trainer Troy Taylor started his chestnut charge four times at Golden Gate,” The Washington Horse story continued. “Though racing with such speedy distaffers as Ribula and Veneke, Turn to Fire returned to the winner’s circle twice and finished second and third in her other two starts.

“So there was very little genuine surprise when, on May 28, Turn to Fire and stablemate Batita Princess jumped off the tote board at 3-10 odds. The occasion was the 25th running of the Fashion Handicap.”

Fleet Ahead was who I feared the most. But based on Turn to Fire’s 1971 record and spring form at Golden Gate, I did not think she would have any problem defeating Fleet Ahead and everyone else in the 1972 Fashion.

Though the race took place 49 years ago, I still vividly recall how sweaty my palms were as the fillies and mares reached the starting gate. I watched the race while standing in front of the grandstand near the winner’s circle with my father.

As expected, Batita Princess and jockey Richard “Tex” Hollingsworth took the early lead. Fleet Ahead, with Jack Leonard in the saddle, stalked in third on the backstretch. Turn to Fire, with regular rider Larry Pierce in the irons, raced in fourth early.

Batita Princess zipped the opening quarter in :21 4/5 and half in :44 4/5. Entering the stretch, she led by 1 1/2 lengths. Turn to Fire still was fourth and had yet to begin rallying. I was starting to get very concerned.

At the eighth pole, Batita Princess had a 1 1/2-length advantage, but Fleet Ahead now was closing in on the leader. Turn to Fire? She was still fourth. It was beginning to look like maybe Turn to Fire was not going to fire on this day. I suddenly realized that probably my best hope to cash my first $100 wager would be if Batita Princess could stay in front all the way to the finish to save the day for me.

Out of pure desperation, during the stretch run, I started rooting for Batita Princess to bail me out. But even that backup plan went down the drain when Fleet Ahead came on to take the lead in the final furlong. My heart sank. I thought my $100 wager was dead for sure.

But then Turn to Fire unleashed a furious late charge. Somehow, she turned what had seemed certain defeat into being involved in a photo finish for the win with Fleet Ahead.

I looked at my dad.

“Who won?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders, saying, “I don’t know.”

It was that close. We both thought it might even be a dead heat.

Turn to Fire was No. 1A. Fleet Ahead was No. 2. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, the “photo” sign came down. And then the numbers were posted on the tote board:

1st   1A
2nd  2
3rd   1
4th   6

Thank goodness, Turn to Fire had eked out a nose victory. For my $100 wager, I made just a $30 profit. But, again, the most important thing to me was not losing my first $100 bet. For me to win this important wager, especially in such dramatic fashion, is a memory that I cherish to this day.


The order of the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is unchanged from last week. The Top 10 is listed below:

Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)

 1. 333 Knicks Go (20)
 2. 312 Letruska (6)
 3. 304 Essential Quality (10)
 4. 166 Gamine
 5. 152 Maxfield
 6. 133 Max Player
 7. 112 Domestic Spending
 8. 105 Jackie’s Warrior
 9.   85 Malathaat
10.   58 Silver State