Eight For 2021 Belmont Stakes
Essential Quality Favored Over Preakness Winner Rombauer
A talented group of eight sophomores, which includes last year’s juvenile champion Essential Quality and this year’s Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Rombauer, will race the 1 ½ miles over Belmont Park’s main track in Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park in New York. This year’s running marks the return to its usual spot as the finale to the three-race classic series – and back to the 12-furlong distance – after last year’s status as its kickoff and at nine furlongs thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. Also this year the track will welcome 11,000 fans after no spectators were allowed a year ago.
Essential Quality, who finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) last out as the public’s near 3-1, is the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the Belmont. The Tapit colt won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and Breeders’ Futurity, as well as this year;s Southwest Stakes (G3) and Blue Grass Stakes (G2) and was undefeated heading into the Derby. Now with a five-week break between races, trainer Brad Cox believes the Godolphin homebred is ready for the challenge after a strong showing in the Run for the Roses.
“He ran what I thought was a winning race in the Derby,” Cox said. “He didn’t have the trip, but he showed up and he’s been improving in every start. 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. He’s never shown signs that he couldn’t (get the 12 furlongs), but you never know until you do it.”
Cox’s lone Belmont Stakes starter was Owendale, who finished fifth in 2019.
Essential Quality drew post position 2 and carry regular rider Luis Saez. Saez has ridden in the Belmont Stakes four times previously, with two sixth-place finishes on Brody’s Cause (2016) and Bravazo (2018) as his best finishes.
“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.”
Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Rombauer enters off his impressive 3 1/2-length win in second jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico on May 15. The Twirling Candy colt, who is owned and was bred by John and Diane Fradkin seeks to become the 19th horse in history – and the first since Afleet Alex in 2005 – to complete the Preakness-Belmont Double. The El Camino Real Derby winner is trained in California by Michael McCarthy, who once served as assistant to 2021 Hall of Fame inductee Todd Pletcher until hanging his own shingle in 2014.
“He’s a well put-together horse,” McCarthy said. He’s well balanced. 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.”
Rombauer represents McCarthy’s first Belmont Stakes starter over a track he spent a lot of years at while working for Pletcher, so winning the race would have an extra bonus for the now California-based conditioner.
“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.”
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, a two-time Belmont Stakes winner (Rags to Riches, 2017; Union Rags, 2012) takes over for Flavien Prat, who was aboard Rombauer in the Preakness but committed to ride Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont Stakes.
“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 the early second choice at 3-1 on the morning line.
Speaking of Hot Rod Charlie, the Doug O’Neill trainee finished third, beaten just a length, by Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby. O’Neill believes the Derby effort followed by the five-week break between races sets the Louisiana Derby (G2) winner up for a strong effort in the lengthy Belmont Stakes.
“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, the son of Oxbow, who was second to Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup and was also third in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) drew post positon four and is 7-2 on the morning line.
“I credit his improvement this year with the owners’ patience,” O’Neill said. “There’s been a lot of time given to him between races.”
“I’m super excited having Flavien back on him. He knows Charlie really well and their connection is strong.”
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 (Derby and Rachel Alexandra (Preakness).
Pletcher, who has three Belmont Stakes wins (Rags to Riches, 2007; Palace Malice, 2013; and Tapwrit, 2017) will saddle three this year, including St. Elias Stables’ homebred Known Agenda off a ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. The Curlin colt won the Florida Derby (G1) earlier this year and seeks to become the seventh horse to win both the Florida Derby and Belmont.
“I’m happy with him,” Pletcher said. “His energy level has been super. I like the way he’s handled the main track here so I’m looking forward to it.”
Known Agenda is 6-1 on the morning line and was supposed to carry Irad Ortiz Jr. in the Belmont, but the Eclipse winner will miss the race after a Thursday afternoon spill. The jockey wasn’t seriously injured, but will take a couple of weeks off to recover sufficiently to return to the saddle at 100 percent.
A replacement rider announcement will be made sometime on Saturday morning.
Pletcher will also tighten the girth on Overtook, who is another son of Curlin. The Repole Stable, St. Elias Stable and Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith-owned colt seeks a first stakes win after a second in the Withers Stakes (G3) and third in the Peter Pan (G2) last out. The $1 million yearling seeks to become the eighth Belmont winner in the last 20 years to have not started in either the Derby or the Preakness.
Manny Franco, who rode Tiz the Law to a Belmont Stakes win a year ago, will look to be the first jockey to repeat in the Belmont since Laffit Pincay, Jr. won three consecutive Belmonts for Woody Stephens from 1982 through 1984.
Overtook is 20-1 on the morning line and will break from the far outsid.
Calumet Farm’s homebred Bourbonic, who won the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) before finishing 13th in the Kentucky Derby, will lead the field to post under jockey Kendrick Carmouche and is 15-1 on the morning line. He seeks to become the winner of both the Wood Memorial and the Belmont Stakes since Empire Maker accomplished the feat in 2003.
“He’s bred well for it with Bernardini and the A.P. Indy sire line,” Pletcher said of Bourbonic’s potential ability to handle the 12 furlongs. “A lot of Belmont history in his pedigree, so that helps.
“The Wood was a big step forward. That was his first try at a mile and an eighth. 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 Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Rock Your World ships in to test the Belmont Stakes off a very troubled trip and a 17th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. The John Sadler-trained son of Candy Ride returned to his home base of Santa Anita in California following the Derby and has prepped with his connections’ eyes on the Belmont prize in the five weeks since.
“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, who won the Belmont twice (Tonalist, 2015; and Sir Winston, 2019), will be back aboard Rock Your World from post position seven. The colt was given morning line odds of 7-2.
Yuji Inaida’s France Go de Ina, seventh in his North American debut in the Preakness Stakes (G1) three weeks ago, seeks to become the first runner to win a $1 million bonus for any of any Japan-based horse who wins the Belmont Stakes. The $100,000 yearling purchase, who is a son of Will Take Charge, was sixth in the UAE Derby (G2) after breaking his maiden and winning an allowance race at Hanshin Racecorse.
Ricardo, Santana, Jr. will ride France Go de Ina, who is a 30-1 outsider, from post position five.
The Belmont Stakes has been carded as the 11th race with a post time of 6:49 p.m. ET. NBC will have live coverage starting at 5:00 p.m. ET