June 5 (UPI) – The $ 1.5 million Grade I Belmont Stakes won’t crown a triple crown champion, but it could produce plenty of end-of-year honors and trophy material for the winner.
This would be all the more likely if Essential Quality were to become the winner on Saturday of the 1 1/2 mile lap around the massive Belmont Park track. The gray colt Tapit has won all five of his starts, including the 2020 Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, and was named the best American 2-year-old colt.
He suffered his first loss in the Kentucky Derby, finishing fourth but only beaten one length overall. A return to the winning column at Belmont would put him firmly in charge of the 3-year-old division with the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November at Del Mar looming as its end-of-year goal.
Coach Brad Cox decided just after the winning streak at Louisville ended that Essential Quality would not challenge the Preakness Stakes two weeks later at Pimlico.
And when Derby winner Medina Spirit finished third there, knocking out a Triple Crown sweep this year, Essential Quality stayed in first place.
Cox on Friday had Essential Quality on the Belmont training track, which was drying out due to midweek rains.
“The surface of the practice track seemed to be a bit better. He handled it really well. We’re really happy with where we’re at,” said Cox.
Medina Spirit, whose Derby victory is in jeopardy due to a positive doping control, is not racing in the Belmont. In fact, only five of 19 Derby contenders will face starter Belmont.
They include Hot Rod Charlie, third at Churchill Downs, and Rock Your World, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, who was well placed in the Derby but essentially knocked out when pushed back at the start.
Also on the pitch was Rombauer, who won the Preakness with odds of nearly 12-1.
“Everything is fine. No complaints,” Rombauer coach Michael McCarthy said on Friday, celebrating Preakness’s victory for colt owners John and Diane Fradkin, relatively minor players at the sport’s highest level.
“There are a lot of people who aspire to do the same thing the Fradkins are doing,” McCarthy said. “It gives people a silver lining that they can do it too.”
There is a stain of international intrigue in Belmont’s peloton, even though Group 2 United Arab Emirates Derby winner Rebel’s Romance was sent off with an infected leg. This defection left France Go De Ina, a colt raised in Kentucky and trained in Japan, to carry the international standard.
France Go De Ina finished sixth in the UAE Derby in Dubai and seventh in the Preakness, but Kate Hunter, who translates for Japanese connections, said the colt looks ready to go now.
“He came out of his breeze very well on Wednesday and in his gallop today he looked really ready to run. He looks to be in a very good position for tomorrow’s race, ”said Hunter.
Rock Your World has as much to prove as any of those at the Belmont. Coach John Sadler brought Candy Ride’s son up slowly, putting him on the turf for his first two starts, both wins. He then proved his mettle on gravel in the Santa Anita Derby but never had the chance to race in Louisville.
Sadler said the preparations at Belmont Park went well and added: “It’s a great race with a lot of good horses. We love our horse.”
Essential Quality is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line, followed by Rombauer at 3-1, Hot Rod Charlie at 7-2 and Rock Your World at 9-2.
The winner of the Wood Memorial Bourbonic, who finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby, rounds out the peloton; Florida Derby winner Known Agenda, who finished ninth at Churchill Downs; and Overtook, who has only one first victory to his name.
Horses trot on the track before the 153rd performance of the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, NY on June 1, 2021. Photo by John Angelillo / UPI |