Mandaloun with Florent Geroux riding won the Grade 1 Haskell Stakes after Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified from first and placed last at Monmouth Park Racetrack on July 17, 2021. Photo By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO.

Mandaloun Wins TVG Haskell Stakes Via Hot Rod Charlie Disqualification

By Alicia Hughes

The question has been coming at Brad Cox ever since the giant wave of drama washed over the Thoroughbred industry the morning of May 9.

Over and over, the reigning Eclipse Award-winner for Outstanding Trainer has been asked about his charge Mandaloun and an incident in a Grade 1 test exclusively for 3-year-olds that would result in the Juddmonte homebred being declared the winner despite narrowly crossing the wire in second.

Cox still may not have an answer for the original query but, in a year that has tried to corner the market on shocking events, the Louisville native ended up emerging from the $1 million Haskell Stakes (G1) on July 17 at least being able to say how he will feel if such a scenario plays out in his protége’s favor.

A case of déjà vu hit Mandaloun and his camp on Saturday evening only this time, with a tangible outcome to digest. After crossing the wire in second barely a nose behind fellow classic-placed Hot Rod Charlie in the 54thedition of the Haskell, the son of Into Mischief was elevated to the victory via disqualification when his rival was taken down and placed last for drifting out at the eighth pole and causing Midnight Bourbon to clips heels and unseat jockey Paco Lopez, who remarkably escaped serious injury. 

To say Cox and Juddmonte Farms general manager Garrett O’Rourke are no strangers to seeing their horse in the middle of controversy not of his making would be the understatement of 2021. Mandaloun also hit the wire in second in this year’s Kentucky Derby (G1), beaten just a half-length by Medina Spirit, but may yet be awarded the win in the first leg of the Triple Crown if Medina Spirit is disqualified for testing positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone.

Though the positive result was first announced by trainer Bob Baffert in a press conference at Churchill Downs on May 9 and later confirmed in a split sample, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has yet to issue an official ruling.

Each time Cox has been asked about possibly winning the most famous race in North America via disqualification, he has countered he is too busy to concern himself with factors out of his control. Because he was so focused on watching the stretch battle between Mandaloun and Belmont Stakes (G1) runner-up Hot Rod Charlie, he said he wasn’t even aware of what caused Midnight Bourbon to stumble badly in the lane. 

“Someone watching the race next to me said Hot Rod Charlie may come down,” Cox said. “I was so focused watching Mandoloun I didn’t see the horse go down. It looked like he clipped heels but I was not sure what happened. I was not sure if that horse ducked in behind Hot Rod Charlie or if Hot Rod Charlie came over on him. Once I saw the head-on and the replay I saw it. It didn’t take them long to change it and it was pretty obvious they would make a change.

“We didn’t have our nose down at the wire but all in all, it worked out. I’m proud of the effort and the performance.”

Jockey Florent Geroux, Garrett O’Rourke of Juddmonte Farm and trainer Brad Cox hoist the trophy after Mandaloun won the Grade 1 Haskell Stakes through disqualification of Hot Rod Charlie from first and placed last at Monmouth Park Racetrack onJuly 17, 2021. Photo By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO.

The chain of events that led to the disqualification came about after Midnight Bourbon advanced between horses to take a short lead at the head of the lane as Mandaloun was making his bid along the rail and 4-5 favorite Hot Rod Charlie put in his run to the far outside. As Hot Rod Charlie surged up under jockey Flavien Prat, he drifted to the inside and in front of Midnight Bourbon, causing the Steve Asmussen-trained colt to clip heels and go to his knees, sending Lopez tumbling overhead into the path of pacesetter Following Sea, who had faded to fourth.

Midnight Bourbon, the runner-up in the Preakness Stakes (G1), ran on and was later caught by an outrider after the race and appeared to be unhurt. Lopez was taken off the track in an ambulance but suffered only a soft tissue injury to his right knee and ankle according to Dr. Angelo Chinnici, Monmouth Park medical director.

“I’m good man. I am fine. I am just going to ice up,” Lopez said after the race. “My horse kicked me in the knee. I felt pain in my tendon there, and I couldn’t move my leg for about 10 minutes, but I am fine now I can bend my knee again. I think I would have won that race, I had my horse in the right position to win. I was fighting back, but my horse had a lot of run left, so I think I could have won that race.”

The Monmouth Park publicity team reported that Prat apologized to Lopez for the incident to which Lopez responded, “It happens, man.”

“I am really proud of his effort. He just clipped my heels. That’s it,” Prat said. 

Doug O’Neill, trainer of Hot Rod Charlie, was emotional when being interviewed on NBC prior to the announcement of the disqualification.

“Thank God the horse looks okay, hopefully Paco is,” O’Neill said before handing over the interview to co-owner William Strauss.

While Mandaloun may be connected to infamy – now a couple times over – the bay colt has put himself in position to be on the right end of such decisions by being one of the most consistent and talented members of the sophomore class. The only time he has finished worse than third in eight career starts came when he ran sixth as the favorite in the March 20 Louisiana Derby (G2), an effort that left his connections scratching their heads coming into the first Saturday in May.

The form that allowed him to win the Risen Star Stakes (G2) earlier in the year was touted in the morning hours leading up to the Kentucky Derby, however, as Mandaloun was among the most visually impressive contenders in his daily training. He ran to that ability on May 1 when he sat a stalking trip in third behind Medina Spirit on the front end. When he returned to win the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth on June 13, he overcame a troubled start and was able to close into tepid fractions. 

“I think Brad followed a very good plan,” O’Rourke said. “We got one race over the track and he trained up here as well and we’re sitting here today, so we have to consider it a success.

“I know he’s a genuine Grade 1 horse. There’s no fluke to the way the horse runs. It’s good that the horse justified how good a runner he is. He’s a beautifully bred horse and he was extremely well prepared. We’re extremely proud. It was an unusual race but we still feel like he ran a winning race and it tastes the same.” 

Similar to his trip in the Kentucky Derby, Mandaloun rated in fourth in the 1 1/8-miles Haskell as Following Sea cut fractions of :23.82 and :47.32 at the head of the seven-horse field with Midnight Bourbon close up in second and Hot Rod Charlie to the outside in third. Midnight Bourbon moved up to overtake Following Sea around the far turn and Hot Rod Charlie was also full of run in the four-wide path while jockey Florent Geroux angled Mandaloun past the tiring pacesetter and set down for the drive. 

Jockey Florent Geroux celebrates aboard Mandaloun after winning the Grade 1 Haskell Stakes through disqualification of Hot Rod Charlie at Monmouth Park on July 17, 2021. Photo By Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO.

“I had my sights on Hot Rod Charlie,” Geroux said. “When Hot Rod Charlie tipped out I decided to go inside. It was a very hard battle. Hot Rod Charlie was going to win by a neck and right at the end my horse came back and made it really close. Unfortunately for Hot Rod Charlie he came in and Midnight Bourbon clipped his heels and he got disqualified.

“I feel bad for the connections of Hot Rod Charlie because he ran a hard race and Flavien Prat is a good friend of mine. I kind of feel bad for him. Honestly, I didn’t know what happened until I came back and looked at the TV. It is not the best way to win, but Mandaloun ran a winning race and deserves this.”

The final time for the distance was 1:47.38 over a track rated fast. Sent off at 3-1 odds, Mandaloun returned $8.20, $4.00, $3.20 while 7-2 pick Following Sea was elevated to second with Antigravity third. 

Last month, Cox got to celebrate his first classic victory in real time when he saddled champion Essential Quality to a hard-fought win over Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont Stakes. Saturday brought more milestones his way as he hoisted the Haskell trophy for the first time. 

It wasn’t the way he envisioned getting to the winner’s circle, the beneficiary of the misfortune of others. But one thing Cox has been certain of over the last couple months of inquiries is that he has a colt in Mandaloun who deserves every high-level achievement that comes his way.

“He’s always been a good colt, he has always been highly thought of,” Cox said. “He deserves a Grade 1 victory. He’s a Grade 1 horse and I’m glad it worked out today.”