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Hot Rod Charlie hopes to follow in Curlin and California Chrome's footsteps

Curlin in 2008 and California Chrome in 2016 arrived in Dubai early to acclimatise and had the benefit of prep races before going on to claim emphatic victories in the 2,000 metre contest



Hot Rod Charlie with assistant trainer Leandro Mora. — Jacquie Doyle
Hot Rod Charlie with assistant trainer Leandro Mora. — Jacquie Doyle

By Leslie Wilson Jr

Published: Sun 13 Mar 2022, 11:46 PM

Last updated: Sun 13 Mar 2022, 11:47 PM

It is a strategy that has worked for two former Dubai World Cup winners and now the connections of top contender Hot Rod Charlie are hoping that it will for their stable star as they plot another American success in the $12 million showpiece on March 26.

Curlin in 2008 and California Chrome in 2016 arrived in Dubai early to acclimatise and had the benefit of prep races before going on to claim emphatic victories in the 2,000 metre contest.

Both horses were given light assignments, with Curlin’s handler Steve Asmussen sending the son of Smart Strike to win a handicap over course and distance at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse, while Art Sherman followed suit for California Chrome.

In contrast, Hot Rod Charlie was given a much tougher test when asked to contest the second leg of the Al Maktoum Challenge (G2), a race where he needed to be closer to his best before seeing off the stubborn Al Nefud by five and a half lengths.

Leandro Mora, a long-serving assistant to Hot Rod Charlie’s trainer Doug O’Neill, admitted that it’s not rocket science and that the plan was always to use a tried and tested formula.

“We’re trying to follow the path of California Chrome and Curlin,” said Mora, following Hot Rod Charlie’s victory in the Al Maktoum Challenge, on February 4.

“If they did it, why not try it as well? They came here early, ran in a race, and then won the World Cup, so that’s just what we’re trying to do.

“We came here for the Dubai World Cup Carnival two years ago and by the end, the horses thought the place was home, so that’s what we’re trying to do with Charlie. He left the US on January 17 and has adapted really well,” Mora said in the Racing Post.

“We didn’t expect him to win his first run here, we just wanted to give him a race, but he won. We’re more confident now. [Runner-up] Al Nefud gave him a test, which was good for our horse.”

Mora, who has been using the services of Dubai-based Antonio Fresu during Hot Rod Charlie’s preparation also saluted the Italian for his commitment.

“Antonio has played a vital role for us,” acknowledged Mora. “He rides him out in the morning and has provided important feedback. Every little detail of information is crucial when you are preparing for a race like the Dubai World Cup and Antonio has been a big, big help.”

Mora also believes that this year’s Dubai World Cup is one of the strongest renewals in recent years.

“It’s strong this year than last with the Pegasus winner [Life Is Good] coming and the second and third from the Saudi Cup [Country Grammar and Midnight Bourbon],” he said. “But, having run here already, that gives us an advantage.”

But Mora was willing to challenge the Saudi Cup form and said: “ Life Is Good is a super, super horse but how he won it in Florida [in the Pegasus], he ruled the speed, which was slower than the Breeders’ Cup. When the races are longer there’s so much rein work to do. When the races are shorter it’s a different story.

“That’s a different track [Riyadh] — some horses like it and some don’t. This track is way different and they have to like both tracks, otherwise, you’re in trouble. Whatever they did there, I’m not really worried about it.

“What I like over here is that Charlie can come from off the pace. He doesn’t have a super turn of foot but he’s got natural speed, so he’s likely to break on top and he can stay with that horse [Life Is Good] and then I think we can work with [that].”

More importantly, Mora is happy with the way Hot Rod Charlie has acclimatised in Dubai.

“He’s really doing great,” said Mora. “He obviously loves it out here.”

DID YOU KNOW?

>> Of the 25 Dubai World Cup champions, 12 have been North American-born with the first being the great Cigar (1996) and Mystic Guide the most recent, when successful in 2021.

>> Dual Kentucky Derby-winning handler Doug O’Neill, who saddles joint-favourite Hot Rod Charlie in this year’s race, has yet to win the showpiece.

>> However, O’Neill has sampled success in Dubai when he won the 2007 Godolphin Mile with Spring At Last.


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