Essential Quality, Rombauer highlight accomplished field for Saturday’s 153rd G1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets
by Brian Bohl
A talented group that includes an Eclipse Award winner and an American Classic victor will comprise an eight-horse field for the 153rd running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday at Belmont Park, marking the third and final leg of the Triple Crown.
Saturday’s loaded 13-race card will feature nine graded stakes and eight Grade 1 contests, including three Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” races in the $1 million Hill ‘N’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap for 3-year-olds and up [Dirt Mile]; the $500,000 Ogden Phipps [Distaff] for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up; and the $400,000 Jackpocket Jaipur [Turf Sprint] for 3-year-olds and up on the turf.
The Belmont Stakes is carded as Race 11 with a post time of 6:49 p.m. Eastern. NBC will have live coverage starting at 5 p.m.
After a schedule adjustment last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Belmont Stakes has returned to its usual spot on the calendar following the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. It also will be contested again at its famed 1 1/2-mile distance going once around Big Sandy and in front of live spectators.
Those fans will get to see a field that includes Godolphin’s Essential Quality, who won last year’s Grade 1 Breeders Futurity and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile en route to locking up champion 2-year-old colt honors and garnering an Eclipse Award for conditioner Brad Cox as champion trainer.
Essential Quality, the 2-1 morning-line favorite, started his career 5-for-5, notching four graded stakes scores, including the Grade 3 Southwest in February at Oaklawn Park and the Grade 2 Blue Grass in April at Keeneland to start his sophomore campaign. The Tapit colt ran a competitive fourth in the Kentucky Derby in his lone non-winning effort but still tallied a career-high 100 Beyer Speed Figure for finishing one length shy of winner Medina Spirit.
“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 a half. 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.
“He’s got a nice balance of speed and stamina, which is what it takes to win any Grade 1,” Cox continued. “He’s never shown signs that he couldn’t [get the 12 furlongs], but you never know until you do it.”
Essential Quality drew post 2 and will again have the services of jockey Luis Saez, who will be looking to win his first American Classic. Saez’s closest finish in a Triple Crown race came in 2018 when Bravazo was the Preakness runner-up.
“Luis has a ton of confidence in the colt and he’s confident Essential Quality can get the distance,” Cox said. “We’re hopefully set up for a big race Saturday.”
John and Diane Fradkin’s homebred Rombauer enters off his impressive 3 1/2-length win in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness on May 15 at Pimlico Race Course and will look to become the first horse to complete the Belmont-Preakness Double since Afleet Alex in 2005 [both American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018 were victorious in all three legs to become the 12th and 13th respective Triple Crown winners].
Rombauer, who won the El Camino Real Derby in February on the Golden Gate Tapeta, has already earned a reputation as a versatile threat, posting wins on dirt, turf and synthetic surfaces while earning stakes placing at four different racetracks, including second to Get Her Number in the Grade 1 American Pharoah in September and third in the Grade 2 Blue Grass in his final tuneup before the Preakness.
“He's a well put-together horse. He's well balanced,” said trainer Michael McCarthy. “He's not overly big. His mechanics are great and he's a horse that when you lead him over there, he has his mind on running. I think his best weapon is what's in between his ears.”
Historic Belmont Park has been a big part of McCarthy’s career, which included invaluable lessons working as an assistant for newly named Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher before going out on his own full time in 2014. The 50-year-old McCarthy won his lone Breeders’ Cup race in 2018 when City of Light captured the Dirt Mile and Rombauer provided his first win in an American Classic with a chance to earn another at a familiar track.
“It would be fantastic. I have a lot of good memories here,” McCarthy said. “To win any Triple Crown race is fantastic, the Belmont is really the “Test of the Champion” and it would certainly be nice to hoist a trophy like that on Saturday.”
Flavien Prat rode Rombauer in his Preakness win but will have the call on Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont Stakes. McCarthy didn’t have to scour the country for a qualified rider, as Hall of Famer and two-time Belmont Stakes-winner John Velazquez will provide his expertise, breaking from post 3.
“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.”
Rombauer is listed at 3-1 on the morning line.
Hot Rod Charlie ran a strong third, just one length back to winner Medina Spirit, in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Doug O’Neill said the son of Oxbow should be fresh after skipping the Preakness and is optimistic he can handle the famed 12-furlong distance after netting a personal-best 100 Beyer for his effort in the 1 1/4-mile “Run for the Roses” that marked Hot Rod Charlie’s longest race so far, building on his two-length score in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in March at Fair Grounds that secured his spot in the Kentucky Derby.
“With the distance, I think it will suit him well,” O’Neill said. “He’s won going 1 3/16 in the Louisiana Derby. I think his gate speed and versatility will be an asset as well.”
Owned by Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, Strauss Bros Racing and Gainesway Thoroughbreds, Hot Rod Charlie will get a rematch against Essential Quality after running second to him in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile going 1 1/16 miles in November. He has matched or improved his Beyer numbers in each of his eight starts, compiling a 2-1-3 ledger.
“I credit his improvement this year with the owners’ patience. There’s been a lot of time given to him between races,” O’Neill said.
Prat, who rode Hot Rod Charlie in the Kentucky Derby before winning the Preakness aboard Rombauer, will have the return call from post 4 at 7-2 odds. The last jockey to win two legs of the Triple Crown with different horses was Hall of Famer Calvin Borel in 2009 with Mine That Bird [Kentucky Derby] and Rachel Alexandra [Preakness].
“I’m super excited having Flavien back on him,” O’Neill said. “He knows ‘Charlie’ really well and their connection is strong.”
Pletcher, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer, will saddle three contenders as he seeks his fourth career Belmont score, having previously won the white carnations with Rags to Riches , Palace Malice , and Tapwrit .
St. Elias Stable’s Known Agenda, ninth in the Kentucky Derby has won going two turns, including a 2 3/4-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 Florida Derby in March that preceded his Derby appearance. Known Agenda is looking to become the seventh horse to win both the Florida Derby and Belmont.
“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.”
Known Agenda, the son of Hall of Famer Curlin, is 6-1 on the morning line.
Irad Ortiz, Jr., who won the 2016 Belmont aboard Creator, will have the call from post 6.
Another Curlin-sired contender for Pletcher is Overtook, who is seeking his first stakes win after running second to Risk Taking in the Grade 3 Withers going 1 1/8 miles in February at Aqueduct Racetrack. After running third in the Grade 3 Peter Pan – the traditional local Belmont Stakes prep - going the same distance on May 8, Pletcher decided to give him a chance in the first Grade 1 appearance of his career.
Overtook, owned by Repole Stable, St. Elias Stable, Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith, was purchased for $1 million from the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He did not run in the prior two Triple Crown races but could have history on his side, as seven Belmont Stakes winners in the past 20 runnings had their picture taken without having ran in the Derby or Preakness.
Manny Franco, who won last year’s Belmont Stakes aboard New York-bred Tiz the Law, will look to be the first jockey to repeat in the Belmont since Laffit Pincay, Jr. won three consecutive Belmonts from 1982-84. Overtook, who drew post 8, is listed at 20-1.
Calumet Farm homebred Bourbonic ran 13th in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Bernardini won the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino at record 72-1 odds in April at the Big A and aims to the be the first dual Wood Memorial-Belmont Stakes winner since Empire Maker in 2003.
“He’s bred well for it with Bernardini and the A.P. Indy sire line. A lot of Belmont history in his pedigree, so that helps,” Pletcher said.
Kendrick Carmouche, aboard for both the Wood Memorial and the Derby, will have the return assignment from post 1. Bourbonic has odds of 15-1.
“The Wood was a big step forward. That was his first try at a mile and an eighth,” Pletcher said. “Considering the way the Derby unfolded, there wasn’t too much changing of position, I thought he ran well that day. Kendrick said he was hard to pull up after the wire, so hopefully that indicates a mile and a half will be within his wheelhouse.”
Hronis Racing and David Michael Talla’s Rock Your World notched a Grade 1 win with a 4 1/4-length margin in the Santa Anita Derby in April in his main track debut, improving to 3-for-3 overall to start his career before running 17th in the Kentucky Derby last out.
Trainer John Sadler saw the Candy Ride colt win his debut on the turf on New Year’s Day at Santa Anita before also capturing the Pasadena over the same course in February. Sadler then switched Rock Your World to the dirt, where he will now attempt to give his conditioner his first Belmont winner with his second starter.
“We always thought the longer the better for him,” Sadler said. “When we went from six [furlongs] to a mile and a mile and an eighth 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.”
Joel Rosario, a two-time Belmont winner aboard Sir Winston in 2019 and Tonalist in 2015, will ride Rock Your World, breaking from post 7 at 9-2 odds.
Yuji Inaida’s France Go de Ina will look to nab the $1 million bonus offered to the connections of any Japan-based horse who wins the Belmont Stakes.
A two-time winner at Hanshin Racecourse, including a maiden score on November 28 and an allowance coup on December 19, trainer Hideyuki Mori moved him up in company, where he ran sixth in the Group 2 UAE Derby before making his North American debut on the big stage with a seventh-place effort in the Preakness.
Ricardo, Santana, Jr. will ride France Go de Ina [30-1] from post 5.
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