NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Hot Rod Charlie led wire to wire to win the $1 million Louisiana Derby by two lengths over Midnight Bourbon on Saturday and earn 100 points toward qualification for the Kentucky Derby.

It was the first graded stakes victory after some narrow misses for the California-based horse, who'd finished second in last years TVG Breeder's Cup Juvenile and third in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.

“How could it possibly not feel as good as anybody could ever feel. We’ve got a horse in the Kentucky Derby," said Greg Helm of Roadrunner Racing, who is part owner of Hot Rod Charlie. "We’ve been struggling with him to be first every time and he comes in right when we need him.”

The major prep race for Triple Crown hopefuls was run in front of a mostly empty clubhouse and grandstand at Fair Ground Race Course because of crowd restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trained by Leandro Mora and with jockey Joel Rosario aboard, Hot Rod Charlie went off at 7-1 and ran 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.06. He paid $7.80, $4.40 and $3.60.

Rosario said the race demonstrated Hot Rod Charlie's prospects for competing at 1 1/4 miles at Churchill Downs on May 1 after he didn't tire when challenged by Midnght Bourbon down the stretch.

“It was very impressive,” Rosario said. “It looked like the horse came on the outside, he was able to fight back and just not let the horse go by."

Rosario also noted that Hot Rod Charlie doesn't need to get out in front early to stay in the race.

“He can do anything,” Rosario said. “Last time we ran him, he came from a little bit off the pace. I think he can run anywhere.”

The Steve Asmussen-trained Midnight Bourbon, with Joe Talamo aboard, earned 40 points and paid $7.20 and $4.40.

“We got a perfect trip and turning for home I had a lot of horse and I thought we had it,” Talamo said. “We just got out-finished. Hats off to the winner, he ran huge and fought back on me.”

Long-shot O Besos, who went off at 28-1, finished third and paid $7.80 and earned 20 points toward Kentucky Derby qualification.

“He answered that distance question today. He galloped out in front,” trainer Greg Foley said, adding that entering O Besos in the Kentucky Derby seems like a realistic consideration now. “We sure have to think about it. The biggest thing was would he go that far.”

Morning line favorite Mandaloun, who went off at 6-5 and already has qualified for the Kentucky Derby, in part because of his victory in the Risen Star Stakes, was third in the final turn but faded to finish sixth.

“He was flat and we’re disappointed. There’s no other way to say it,” trainer Brad Cox said. “I have no excuse right now, we’ll just have to see. It’s frustrating but it’s part of it. I can’t ask him to train any better and I don’t think I would have done anything different. We’ll just regroup.”

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