Touching Base: Patrick O’Neill ’11

By Gina Gelber

Last spring, Patrick O’Neill ’11 made national news, along with four of his football teammates from Brown University, as part-owners of Hot Rod Charlie, a prized contender for the Kentucky Derby. The college buddies garnered attention for their young age, and their foresight to invest in a champion racehorse that ended up finishing in third place in one of the country’s three elite Triple Crown racing events.

Although Hot Rod Charlie is O’Neill’s first foray into thoroughbred horse ownership, as the nephew of two-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer Doug O’Neill, he’s carrying on with an intergenerational family tradition.

At the onset of this journey, Patrick warned his friends that horse racing was risky. Nevertheless, the friends moved ahead with the venture because it was less about making money and more about nurturing the bonds they had forged during college.

Winning, though important, is not the group’s driving force. “We want to do something for a bigger and greater cause that is beyond us and beyond horse racing,” Patrick says. The group pledges one sixth of proceeds from Hot Rod Charlie’s wins to a nonprofit that funds melanoma research, a form of skin cancer that Patrick’s father, David, died of in 2015 at age 57 and his uncle, Danny, died of in 1997 at age 38.

Given its initial success, the original group of investors brought more friends into the venture and recently acquired two additional horses – Win the Day and Franklin One Star. The plan is to also pledge a percentage of proceeds from the new horses’ wins toward charitable causes. Even if Win the Day and Franklin One Star don’t exceed Hot Rod Charlie’s success, Patrick reckons that he and his friends are already winners for following their instincts.

Taking the less-obvious path has paid off for Patrick in the past. As a Punahou freshman, he remembers vying for intermediate football instead of junior varsity. It was a hard decision as many of his friends wanted to play on the more seasoned team, but he didn’t think he was physically or mentally ready and waited a year.

“During that year, I grew and ultimately wound-up being fortunate enough to make varsity in the 10th grade,” he recalls. “It really all comes down to trusting in yourself. And if you do things for the right reasons, you can’t lose no matter the outcome.”

Along with listening to his instincts, Patrick says he’s learned to set goals and go out and accomplish them without hesitation. His latest pursuit was training and running the 2021 Honolulu Marathon, his first 26.2-mile race. It was about half a mile into the December race, when the fireworks illuminated the pitch-black sky and the crowd erupted with excitement. His heart was thumping as the adrenaline rushed through his legs. Getting to this point was not easy by any means, but he had a powerful incentive – honoring his father. “My father was an avid runner and ran the Honolulu marathon many years before. I always told myself that I wanted to complete one and, if I did, beat his time,” he says. He eclipsed his father’s record, with a time of 3 hours, 36 minutes, which was the 188th fastest time at the race.

O’Neill is a believer in living life to the fullest. “Every day you wake up and it is not about yesterday or tomorrow, but about winning the moment,” he says. “This world is absolutely amazing, and I would like to experience all of it. Why not check every box?”

As far as work, Patrick who double majored in environmental engineering and business entrepreneurship at Brown, is vice president of sales and strategic partnerships at Founder Sport Group, a company that focuses on apparel manufacturing for teams across the nation, partnering with brands like Under Armour and Asics. He started at the company in 2017, rose through the ranks and today manages a team of more than 15 employees, splitting his time between Charlotte and San Diego. He scours the country looking for new partners, acquisitions, and technology to drive growth for the business.

It’s fitting for Patrick to be pursuing a career in sports, which he says shaped him during his time at Punahou and well after. “The experiences when you don’t necessarily have all of the success on the field or on the court are ultimately so enriching,” he says.

(Photo caption): Above: Patrick O’Neill ’11 (third from left) at the 2021 Louisiana Derby, which Hot Rod Charlie won. Last year, O’Neill made national news by being one of the co-owners of Hot Rod Charlie, a prized contender in the Kentucky Derby who ended up placing third. Left: O’Neill clocked an impressive time of 3 hours, 36 minutes at last year’s Honolulu Marathon.

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