Louisiana Derby Preview: Hot Rod Charlie an imposing invader

The California-based Doug O'Neill's Hot Rod Rod Charlie looks to get the money in the Louisiana Derby
The California-based Doug O'Neill's Hot Rod Rod Charlie looks to get the money in the Louisiana Derby

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Saturday's mammoth 14 race card ends with the $1,000,000 Grade II Louisiana Derby. A key race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, a win here may well vault a horse such as Mandaloun, Proxy or Hot Rod Charlie into Derby intrigue. Our in-house handicapper previews the race in full below.

The Louisiana Derby Race Card with all your M/L Odds is embedded below.

The G2 Louisiana Derby essentially boils down to the local contingent — chiefly Proxy (#4), Mandaloun (#6), and Midnight Bourbon (#7) — vs. the California invader Hot Rod Charlie (#5). While I do believe the G2 Risen Star won by Mandaloun was a legitimately fast race, I’m staying true to my Kentucky Derby Top 10 list and picking Hot Rod Charlie.

The big three Fair Grounds runners have traded decisions so far at the meet, with Midnight Bourbon winning the G3 Lecomte and Mandaloun most recently taking the Risen Star, while Proxy finished second both times. I’m expecting this merry-go-round to continue here, and the horse I like most of this trio is actually Proxy. I can’t say he’s gotten poor trips in either the Risen Star or the Lecomte, but he feels like the horse with the most upside still, and the addition of blinkers could be enough for him to close the gap on his rivals.

Although all three of these horses are coming off Beyer Speed Figures in the high 90’s, I have some nagging doubts about the true quality of these runners since going into the year I didn’t think much of any of them. Obviously they’ve improved over the winter, but to what extent is debatable. That’s why I’m sticking with Hot Rod Charlie, currently No. 5 on my list of Derby contenders. He’s coming off what appears to be the slowest race of all the main players in this spot, a third-place finish behind Medina Spirit in the G3 Robert B. Lewis that netted him a 91 Beyer, however I think there’s reason to believe he’s much better than that number suggests. For starters, the Robert B. Lewis was his first start of the year, so it was just a race to set him up for bigger and better things, and I thought he battled gamely to the wire between horses, missing by just a neck to Medina Spirit (currently No. 2 on my Derby list). While it’s certainly an advantage to be based at Fair Grounds, part of the reason I’m so high on Hot Rod Charlie is because of how well he ran in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year when he shipped to Keeneland and ran a lights-out race to just get beat by Essential Quality, another elite 3-year-old. The numbers may not bear it out yet, but I believe Hot Rod Charlie is better than his competition in the Louisiana Derby, and if he moves forward in his second start of the year as I’m anticipating he should win.

Main:  4,5     Backup (priority):  6

Order of preference:  5-4-6-7

 

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