Barn Tour: O'Neill updates Hot Rod Charlie and more

Barn Tour: O'Neill updates Hot Rod Charlie and more
Photo: Taylor Ejdys/EQUI-PHOTO
Trainer Doug O’Neill and Hot Rod Charlie were back at their summer digs at Del Mar this week after a frustrating cross-country trip to the Atlantic shore to contest the Haskell Stakes (G1).

Instead of bagging the winner’s share of $600,000, O’Neill and the ownership group went home empty-handed when Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified for stretch interference of Midnight Bourbon after crossing the wire first. He was placed seventh in yet another near-miss in a Grade 1 for the son of Oxbow.

In three previous Grade 1 tries, Hot Rod Charlie was second, beaten three-quarters of a length in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; third, beaten one length in the Kentucky Derby; and second, beaten 1 1/4-lengths in the Belmont Stakes.

“It all just happened so quick,” O’Neill said of the Haskell DQ on Thursday. “It was very unfortunate, but it’s part of the sport. It’s part of all sports, right? Things don’t always go perfectly. I’m just so happy ‘Charlie’ is OK, Flavien (Prat) is OK, Midnight Bourbon is OK and Paco Lopez is OK.”

With the Haskell in the rear-view mirror, O’Neill spoke with Horse Racing Nation this week to see what’s next for Hot Rod Charlie and other notable runners in the stable. The list includes a newly-named 2-year-old colt by Practical Joke owned by Hot Rod Charlie co-owner Bill Strauss. His name? Haskelled.

Hot Rod Charlie. The day after the Haskell, Strauss indicated the $750,000 Pacific Classic (G1) against older on Aug. 21 at Del Mar would likely be next for the colt. While it is the No. 1 target, O’Neill indicated it was not a slam dunk Hot Rod Charlie would wheel back some 4 1/2 weeks after returning from New Jersey.

“We’re kind of playing it by ear,” O’Neill said. “It’s such a patient group with Bill Strauss, Greg Helm and Patrick, my nephew. They’re in no hurry to run him back. But the fact it’s in our own backyard, the Breeders’ Cup is here, and we get along with the management so well, it would be great to run him in the Pacific Classic.”

But, O'Neill added, “We’ll only run him if he just tells us he’s ready to rock and roll.”

The two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer said the connections have been “conscientious” of spacing Hot Rod Charlie’s races, most notably when skipping the Preakness. The Haskell was Hot Rod Charlie's fifth race of the season.

“The good spacing has worked well for him, so we’re going to keep that same approach,” O’Neill said.

Team Merchants. He earned his diploma last summer at Saratoga, and on opening day at Del Mar last Friday, was a sharp winner against allowance foes going 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track. A homebred for Paul Reddam, he is by Nyquist, who won the 2016 Kentucky Derby for Reddam and O’Neill.

The trainer said Team Merchants looked “fantastic” six days after the notable win.

“I’ve talked to the Reddams and it’s sky’s the limit for him,” O’Neill said. “He’s a 3-year-old, so we may look at something around the country for him.”

O’Neill did not rule out a trip to Saratoga for the seven-furlong Amsterdam (G2) for 3-year-olds on Aug. 1. The one-mile Shared Belief on Aug. 29 at Del Mar is another option.

“He’s won two sprints and hasn’t gone to turns, but he’s just another handsome son of Nyquist and out of a mare by Square Eddie, so he’s got team Reddam stamped all over him,” O’Neill said. “He’s always acted like a horse who should relish a mile or more. We won’t hesitate to stretch him out if something comes up.”

Hockey Dad. Breaking from the 12-hole in the one-mile Oceanside Stakes on opening day at Del Mar, the 4-year-old son of Nyquist was beaten a head, a nose and a neck when fourth in a blanket finish behind winner Flashiest. It was his first start since an off-the-board finish when trying the main track in April’s Lexington Stakes (G2). Prior to that, he was third on Tapeta in the Jeff Ruby (G3) at Turfway Park.

“He looks good, came out of it well,” O’Neill said. “But man, did he run his butt off breaking from the 12 hole. He was out in the parking lot. Mario (Gutierrez) did a wonderful job to save some ground on the turns. He almost had it, just got nailed there at the end.”

Next up in Del Mar’s 3-year-old turf series is the 1 1/16-miles La Jolla (G3) on Aug. 8, but O’Neill said that could be too soon. Instead, he may also leave town to try the $250,000 Virginia Derby (G3) going nine furlongs at Colonial Downs on Aug. 31.

Wipe the Slate. After flashing promise when earning his diploma at Santa Anita this winter, he tried the Kentucky Derby trail and failed to make an impact in either the Robert B. Lewis (G3) or Gotham (G3). He has since finished third in both the Lazaro Barrera (G3) and an allowance/optional claimer at Santa Anita.

“He’s been plagued with a bunch of immaturity and mental stuff,” O’Neill said. “It seems like sometimes things are going a bit too fast for him. So we’re just trying to calm him a little bit and get him a little more settled.”

The 5-year-old horse by Morning Line returned from a lengthy layoff to run a decent fourth in last month's Jaipur (G1) at Belmont Park. He had his first work back on Thursday.

“He’s doing fantastic and we’re looking for the Sept. 11 race at Kentucky Downs,” O’Neill said, referring to the $1 million Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint.

It would be Stubbins’ third trip to Franklin, Ky. As a 3-year-old, he was second in the Franklin-Simpson Stakes (G3) and last year was fourth in the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint.

“He seems to handle that unique layout,” O’Neill said.

Miss Bellatrix. A $145,000 auction purchase earlier this year, the 2-year-old Into Mischief filly was switched to turf and stretched to a mile for her second start and responded with an easy 2 1/2-length graduation win. 

“We were kind of excited about her even before she ran, and we sprinted her on the dirt and she didn’t like that at all at this point,” O’Neill said. “In her second start, she really ran professionally. She came out of it in great shape.”

A tilt in the $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf going a mile on Sept. 5 is likely next.

“She’s just a big, imposing filly that covers a lot of ground and is competitive,” O’Neill said. “In her debut, she just couldn’t keep up sprinting and then got the kickback and didn’t like it at all. But she works well on dirt, so somewhere down the road we may try it again.”

Unraced 2-year-olds. O’Neill has about 20 juveniles in the barn and that number could increase to as high as 25 as additional Reddam homebreds filter in. He expects to enter “a few” in Del Mar’s second condition book, including the aforementioned Haskelled.

“We just named him. Obviously it's a little pun on what happened at the Haskell,” O’Neill said.

Haskelled was purchased for $145,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida March sale of 2-year-olds by O’Neill’s brother, Dennis, as agent.

Also nearing starts are Haute Lady, a Mastery filly picked up at auction by Dennis O’Neill for $135,000 earlier this year; and No Limitation, a Cupid colt purchased for $100,000 at the OBS Spring Sale of 2-year-olds. 

“They both act like they’ve got some ability,” Doug O’Neill said.

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