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Brown football alums’ racehorse Hot Rod Charlie places second in Belmont Stakes

Hot Rod Charlie makes fastest start in Belmont history, places second behind crowd favorite Essential Quality

Hot Rod Charlie, the thoroughbred racehorse part-owned by Boat Racing LLC, placed second in the Belmont Stakes June 5, the third and final leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown. Boat Racing LLC was founded by five Brown football alums — Patrick O’Neill ’15, Alex Quoyeser ’15, Reiley Higgins ’15, Eric Armagost ’15 and Dan Giovacchini ’15 — as a way to maintain their bond after graduating from Brown. 

The Belmont Stakes features a 1.5 mile race track, longer than most other horse races. Higgins referred to it as the “test of a champion.” Hot Rod Charlie got out to an aggressive start in the Belmont, running the fastest first quarter mile in Belmont Stakes history and the fastest half mile at the Belmont since Secretariat in 1973. This aggressive start was part of the plan, according to Higgins. “The game plan was to go to the front,” he said. “I knew it was gonna be really hard to watch just given that it's hard to hang on to the lead.”

Though the plan was to get off to a fast start, the group was still concerned about the possibility of Charlie burning out. “We were all looking at each other like, ‘this could go really poorly,’” Higgins said. The group was “white knuckling the whole time,” according to Armagost. 

Following his aggressive start, Charlie fought to stay at the front of the race for as long as he could. Ultimately, he was passed by race favorite Essential Quality, who narrowly edged Charlie out for the win after passing him late in the race. Hot Rod Charlie “just kept grinding. He’s just such a gamer,” Armagost said. “Unfortunately, he pushed a little too hard in the beginning to be able to hold off Essential Quality down the home stretch, but it was just pure excitement for him.”

Essential Quality, the victorious horse owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, has a history of success. Of the seven races he has run, Essential Quality has finished first in six of them. The sole exception was the Kentucky Derby, during which Essential Quality placed fourth, one spot behind Hot Rod Charlie. The other two times the pair competed in the same race — this year’s Belmont Stakes and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile — Essential Quality won and Hot Rod Charlie finished second. 

“I see a little bit of a rivalry developing between us, but I love that,” Higgins said of the competition between Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie. “I think that (has the potential) to be a really fun storyline going forward.” 

Quoyeser took it even further. “It’s turning into a little bit of a three-way rivalry,” he said. “You have Bob Baffert, who's great for the sport with regards to the amount of attention that he's brought historically. Then there’s Sheik Mohammed, who is worth billions of dollars. Then (there’s) us, five ragtag college football teammates and fraternity brothers who are happy to have a horse at all.”

Leading up to the race, the group felt confident about Charlie’s prospects. Part of this came from seeing Charlie in the barn, according to Quoyeser. “He looked awesome. We felt really confident,” he said. “We saw (other contender) Rock Your World sweating a lot (before the race), so we really thought that he didn't look that great.” 

Quoyeser also gained confidence after watching Flavien Prat, Hot Rod Charlie’s jockey, run in earlier races that day. The Belmont Stakes was the eleventh of thirteen races run at the track. Prat “had an amazing run in the second race of the day and also had a great race in race ten, the one immediately preceding the Belmont,” Quoyeser said. “He was just having a really good day (and) we felt good about the way he was riding.”

Hot Rod Charlie’s competitive nature was on full display in the days leading up the race, according to Higgins. “Earlier in the week he went out walking on a workout and he was just supposed to be jogging around the track (and) stretching his legs,” Higgins said. But when two other horses, running at racing speeds, passed Charlie, “he just started taking off. He would not let those two horses pass him.”

Even after a grueling race, Hot Rod Charlie remained energetic and in good spirits. “Usually after races like this horses get back to their stall (and) they're just exhausted. They just go lay down and they don't really want to engage or interact with people,” Quoyeser said. “Charlie’s got something fierce going on in his blood or in his mind. After he got back, he was standing up at the front of the stall. He was eating (and) people were coming up and petting his nose (and) cheeks and he was just very alert (and) very engaged.” 

He’s a “horse of the people,” Armagost said. 

The group is now shifting focus toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. “That's the crown jewel,” Quoyeser said. “The Breeders’ Cup Classic is really the championship.” For Charlie, the next five months will revolve around making sure he’s in peak shape for that race. What “happens for him now is he just goes back to California (to) take it easy for a while, run some other races and try to get ready for November,” Quoyeser said.

To be able to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Charlie must either qualify by winning certain races or receive an invitation to run. Higgins is bullish about Charlie’s prospects. “I really think that we get the invite, assuming for whatever reason his performance doesn't decline,” he said. “But we'd love to win one of those (qualifying) races.”

After Bob Baffert-trained Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit returned a second positive test for the steroid betamethasone, the future of the 2021 Derby results hangs in the balance. If, following impending litigation, Medina Spirit’s disqualification is upheld, Hot Rod Charlie would be awarded second place in the race, rather than third. But a final decision is not expected soon, according to Quoyeser. “We're listening to all the rumblings, but I think there's not going to be an ultimate result any time (in) the next six months,” he said. “A lot of this is Bob Baffert and his legacy. He's (going to) claw tooth and nail to have his name absolved.”

Quoyeser and the group are less concerned about the scandal and are staying optimistic. “We're really just thrilled about the things that we can control and that's 100 percent Charlie,” he said. “He's healthy (and) looked amazing coming out of the (Belmont Stakes).”

Even with the success they’ve found, the group still does its best to stay humble and put its winnings toward a good cause. “It's surreal. We didn't really do anything to deserve this,” Armagost said. “It feels like the right thing to do to give back in any way we can and leverage this platform to do good.” The group maintains a partnership with the Melanoma Research Alliance, to which it donates one sixth of all of Boat Racing LLC’s winnings. 

Friendship spurred the five Brown football alumni to create Boat Racing LLC, and friendship is still what drives them. “It's about (having) the opportunity to go to these races and invite all of our friends from Brown and our own communities and having excuses to get together,” Armagost said. “For us it's just more (about the) fun times, regardless of the success.”



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