Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘I’ve Not Experienced Or Felt Anything Like I Do Now’

William Strauss owns one-quarter of Kentucky Derby contender Hot Rod Charlie, last-out winner of the Louisiana Derby, and garnered instant social-media fame due to an ecstatic TVG interview filmed after the 3-year-old colt’s front-running victory at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

“I’m an incredibly even-keel, non-emotional guy,” Strauss told the KHBPA’s Jennie Rees earlier this week. “”I have a son that’s 33 and a daughter that’s 30, and even they were impressed by how I was ‘trending’ on Twitter from that interview. I don’t know where that came from. I had no idea I even had that in me. People are always telling me, ‘Oh, we’ve never seen you like that.’ Well, I’ve never been like that.”

The co-founder and CEO of, an online flower company, Strauss has owned a share in two Breeders’ Cup winners and a total of seven Grade 1 winners. There’s something entirely different about having a horse headed for the first Saturday in May.

“Before I got involved in ProFlowers, I didn’t know the difference between a flower and tulip, except for the first Saturday in May,” Strauss quipped. “I knew those were roses.”

He’d attended the Kentucky Derby before, as a guest of Chris McCarron in the year 2000, but said that experience pales in comparison to this year beneath the Twin Spires in Louisville, Ky.

“It was fun to come to the Derby, and it was a good life experience,” Strauss said. “But to have a horse in it, it’s a completely different level of probably anything I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve not experienced or felt anything like I do now, having a horse in the Kentucky Derby.”

The other owners in Hot Rod Charlie include Gainesway Thoroughbreds; Roadrunner Racing, operated by the retired Silicon Valley advertising executive who worked with Steve Jobs on the Apple account three days a week, Greg Helm; and Boat Racing, operated by trainer Doug O’Neill’s nephew, Patrick O’Neill, a 26-year-old Brown graduate and vice president for sales and strategic partnerships at Founder Sport Group.

Roadrunner Racing is comprised of a half-dozen retired country club members and their wives from Palm Springs, Calif., and led by Helm.

Boat Racing is comprised of a group of five fraternity brothers of Theta Delta Chi at Brown University who were also teammates on the football team: Eric Armagost, Dan Giovacchini, Reiley Higgins, Patrick O’Neill, and Alex Quoyeser. The syndicate was named for a drinking game they played in college.

At Tuesday’s post-position draw, in which Hot Rod Charlie drew the nine-hole, Boat Racing led the chorus of cheers after the position was announced.

“We (the trainer and his sizable contingent of owners, including five former college football players who are in their 20s) decided we were going to give it a pump no matter what post we drew,” O’Neill told Churchill publicity. “But we’re delighted with the nine. It’s a real good post. And the way they load this field, it means we won’t be standing in the gate very long. They’ll put us in, then one other and we’re gone. We’re really happy with it.”

Owners of Hot Rod Charlie cheer at Tuesday’s post position draw

Hot Rod Charlie is a half-brother to Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Mitole, so early expectations for the son of Oxbow were for him to enjoy shorter distances. He sold for just $17,000 as a short yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky February Mixed Sale, and was pinhooked through the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling sale, at which he brought a final bid of $110,000 from bloodstock agent Dennis O’Neill, the trainer’s brother.

Though it took him several starts to break his maiden for two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill, Hot Rod Charlie did so in impressive enough fashion in his fourth race that O’Neill sent him straight to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Sent off as the longest shot in the field at 94-1, Hot Rod Charlie finished second, beaten just three-quarters of a length by Champion Essential Quality.

“We were so happy to finish second, which I’ve never been happy to finish second at anything in my life, but it’s what it symbolizes,” Strauss explained. “It symbolized that we were a legitimate horse on the Derby trail. That’s when we realized we had something there, and he could really be good, and he’s continued to get better and better, and he’s a happy horse.

“I tell people that it’s like the first time that you’re in love. It’s the first thing that you think about when you wake up, it’s the last thing you think about when you go to sleep, and you think about it every minute in between. Literally it’s been like that since the Breeders’ Cup race.”

This year, Hot Rod Charlie had a bit of a rough trip when finishing third, beaten just a neck for the victory, in the G3 Bob Lewis Stakes at his home track of Santa Anita Park in late January. O’Neill sent the colt to Fair Grounds to contest the G2 Louisiana Derby in March, and Hot Rod Charlie grabbed the lead shortly after the start and held it all the way through to the wire, earning himself the coveted spot in the starting gate for this Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

Hot Rod Charlie will get a new pilot for the Run for the Roses, Flavien Prat, who was awarded victory in the 2019 Kentucky Derby when the horse first across the wire, Maximum Security, was disqualified.

Strauss is feeling confident that Hot Rod Charlie and Team O’Neill, including Hall of Fame racehorse-turned-stable-pony Lava Man, who shipped to Louisville with the colt, are up to the task.

The “Coach,” Hall of Famer Lava Man, ponies Kentucky Derby contender Hot Rod Charlie at Churchill Downs

“If we cross that finish line first, if we’re fortunate enough and lucky enough, and the horse is good enough, stay tuned,” said Strauss. “I just don’t know; I’ve never showed that kind of emotion before, and I don’t know what’s ahead of me.

“I was fortunate enough to open Wall Street one time when we took our company public, and that was pretty exciting. It’s far more exciting to have a $20,000 claimer cross the finish line first. It’s that adrenaline rush, it’s the competition… and just to be around the horses in the mornings. They all have such different personalities, and you can come feed them a carrot. There’s just something very, very special about this whole game.”

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘I’ve Not Experienced Or Felt Anything Like I Do Now’ appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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