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ELMONT, NY – The 2021 Triple Crown Trail ends this Saturday in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, a pivotal race that will decide who is the top 3-year-old male heading into the summer.
A compact field of 8 will go to the post for this contest, which will be run as race 11 on the card with a local post time of 6:49 PM ET. The card will feature 9 stakes race in total, making for one of the season’s biggest days.
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The 2/1 morning line favorite is Essential Quality, who will look to rebound from suffering his first career defeat last time out in the Kentucky Derby (G1). After a wide trip saw him finish fourth that day, it should be much easier for jockey Luis Saez to save ground this time around when he breaks from post 2.
“He ran what I thought was a winning race in the Derby; he didn’t have the trip, but he showed up and he’s been improving in every start,” said Cox, who will be saddling his first Belmont Stakes contender. “I’m confident that he can handle the mile and 1/2. Just based off his works and his races, he’s very steady and doesn’t seem to get tired. He has a tremendous amount of stamina that I think he was just blessed with based on his pedigree.”
Another horse with plenty of intrigue heading into the race is Hot Rod Charlie, last seen finishing third in the Kentucky Derby. Despite jockey Flavien Prat winning the Preakness aboard another horse (see below), he opted to ride Hot Rod Charlie in this event, which is certainly a key handicapping angle working in Hot Rod Charlie’s favor. The duo will break from post 4 as one of the pace-setters.
“With the distance, I think it will suit him well,” O’Neill said. “He’s won going 1 3/16 (miles) in the Louisiana Derby (G2). I think his gate speed and versatility will be an asset as well.”
Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Rombauer will try to join elite company as one of the few horses to pull off the Preakness/Belmont double. After skipping the Derby, he stormed home at Pimlico for an impressive score and earned a flashy 102 Beyer Speed Figure. He drew post 3 for this contest and will have new rider John Velazquez up for the mount.
“He’s had several different riders and it’s not something that’s bothered me,” McCarthy said. “It would have been nice to have Flavien back, but I feel we have a wonderful substitute. This has been Johnny’s home track for 25-plus years and he’s very familiar with this race and the way it plays out. I’m very happy with where I’m at.”
The full field from the rail out: Bourbonic, Essential Quality, Rombauer, Hot Rod Charlie, France Go de Ina, Known Agenda, Rock Your World, and Overtook.
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#2 Essential Quality – This should be his time to shine after a wide trip in the Kentucky Derby (G1) cost him the race. Many believe he is still the best horse in the crop, but he has to prove it here in a race where there should not be any excuses. His trainer has believed this would be the race where he’d be tough to beat right from the beginning and the horse seems to be coming into the event in great form. He’s the deserving favorite, now he just has to go out there and prove his supporters right.
#4 Hot Rod Charlie – The biggest sign that this horse is ready to roll is the fact that Flavien Prat jumps off Rombauer to ride Hot Rod Charlie, despite the fact he just won the Preakness Stakes (G1) with Rombauer. That tells you all you need to know about who he believes has the best chance to win. Hot Rod Charlie should be on or near the lead, which is where you want to be in this race, but his pedigree is a little iffy for this long distance.
#6 Known Agenda – Despite breaking well from the rail in the Kentucky Derby, he was shuffled way too far back and left with way too much to do, but he still made a mild rally. He’ll get a much better journey this time around, and both his pedigree and running style should suit the Belmont Stakes perfectly. Trainer Todd Pletcher usually has his horses ready to fire in this race.
“I’m happy with him. His energy level has been super,” Pletcher said. “I like the way he’s handled the main track here, so I’m looking forward to it.”
France Go de Ina Among Belmont Stakes Runners to Hit the Track
#3 Rombauer – If he can run back to his Preakness Stakes (G1) effort, then the rest of these will be running for second. That is a major question mark, though, especially considering he had never had an effort near as impressive as that one. He also loses Flavien Prat to Hot Rod Charlie, which is not a great sign at all. He’s one you still must respect, but there are plenty of question marks.
#7 Rock Your World – There is no way things can go worse for this horse than they did in the Kentucky Derby (G1). That was just a total freaking disaster, literally from the start, where Joel “Bell Curve” Rosario didn’t even have his foot in one of the irons to start the race. He could be dangerous if he finds himself on the lead and he has the pedigree to carry his speed throughout this grueling distance, so if he can rebound, then he’ll be the one to catch.
“We always thought the longer, the better for him,” trainer John Sadler said. “When we went from 6 (furlongs) to a mile and a mile and 1/8, we thought, ‘Oh boy.’ Then we ran in the Derby and obviously we got eliminated at the start. He’s come back and done real well since the Derby. We think he can run a long way. He’s got Candy Ride on top, and with him being out of an Empire Maker mare, he’s got the stamina to go the distance.”
#1 Bourbonic – It’s hard to play anything that came out of the Aqueduct circuit in these tougher spots. Even though he won the Wood Memorial (G2), he did very little running in the Kentucky Derby (G1), and horses he beat that day haven’t done much, either. He might just be outclassed in this spot.
#5 France Go de Ina – He’ll give it another go in this spot after running a horrible race in the Preakness Stakes (G1). I’ll say the same thing I said before that event: overseas shippers have had very little success in our Triple Crown series, which makes this guy tough to play.
#8 Overtook – Despite a poor Peter Pan Stakes (G3) effort last time out, Pletcher is pressing on to the Belmont with this horse, which is a little surprising, Simply put, this horse will need to show up with a much improved effort to have a shot against this tough group.
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