With a win in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, 2 year old champion Essential Quality may have cemented himself as the best horse to never win a Triple Crown.
Belmont Undercard Highlights
Over the two-day Belmont Stakes racing festival there were several noteworthy performances. These races could have significant implications on the rest of the racing year. Many of the horses on the card will face off again at the year-end world championships of horse racing known as the Breeder’s Cup.
Kentucky Oaks runner up Search Results put in a game effort in the Acorn. She held off a late charging Obligatory for the Grade 1 victory. The victory makes confirms her as a major player in the distaff division for female horses.
This could be particularly important if the Kentucky Oaks winner Malathaat opts for a different race in the Breeder’s Cup. If that happens Search Results would likely become the clear favorite.
The Met Mile featured a heavy favorite in Knicks Go who had impressed late in 2020. He started of 2021 with a bang winning the prestigious Pegasus World Cup. The horse had everything his own way early getting out to the lead where he does his best running.
However, as they turned for home he faded out of contention paving the way for Silver State. The Asmussen trainee upset the field and improved to 4 for 4 in 2021. Since traveling to Saudi Arabia Knicks Go has seem to have fallen off form.
The Belmont Stakes
The start was clean for all horses as they ran by the Belmont finish line for the first time. The horses broke in relative line. Perceived pace presence Hot Rod Charlie barely getting a nose to the lead in the first few jumps.
Perhaps the most disadvantageous break came from need-the-lead runner Rock Your World. He did not break well enough to ease out to the front. His jockey Joel Rosario had to encourage him to catch the leader, a style that proved costly in the Derby.
The First Turn
As they entered the first turn Hot Rod Charlie had the lead flanked closely by France Go De Ina and Rock Your World. The two floated 4 and 5 wide around the sweeping turn.
Preakness winner Rombauer sat only a few lengths off of the trio along the rail. The two year old champion Essential Quality settled just off of him in the 2 path. Known Agenda and Overtook ran just to his outside.
Confirmed closer Bourbonic loped along well off the pace snug along the rail.
The opening quarter mile was posted in 22.78 which is the fastest opening quarter in Belmont history.
Through the first part of the backstretch, France Go De Ina showed he was in too deep taking back off the pace. Rock Your World continued to drive up to get alongside Hot Rod Charlie on the front end.
The rest of the field remain tightly bunched well off the pace with Rombauer just ahead of Essential Quality. Bourbonic made a slight middle move to run inside of Essential Quality. Meanwhile Known Agenda and Overtook brought up the rear.
The half mile was posted in 46.49, the fastest since Secretariat in 1973.
The Far Turn
As the horses entered the far turn Hot Rod Charlie maintain his lead while setting truly taxing fractions. Rock Your World was noticeably unable to keep pace and began to descend into the surging pack.
Subtly Essential Quality and Rombauer had made steady progressions into this fast pace. A keen move to keep the horses close enough to contest without overexerting the horse.
Rounding the far turn Saez called on the two year old champion to run in a 4 wide move. Rock Your World and France Go De Ina raised the white flag as Known Agenda and Rombauer were asked for their best from several lengths off the top two.
The Belmont Stretch Stretch Run
As the horses turned for home there were two clear contenders. Hot Rod Charlie had survived the pace, but was eye to eye with Essential Quality.
The rest of the group was running for minors the entire length of the stretch with the Known Agenda and Rombauer the only 2 making any significant progress.
In the final furlong the top two ding-donged along matching strides. Essential Quality put a nose in front. Hot Rod Charlie answered back. Essential Quality again pressed passed and finally the game pace setter yielded losing in the end by just over a length.
Takeaways From The Belmont Stakes
With the victory, Essential Quality became the first Breeder’s Cup Juvenile champion to win the Belmont Stakes. He has won every race in his career except for the 2021 Kentucky Derby in which he encountered early trouble, ran further than any other horse, and still came in a close fourth behind a horse that will likely be disqualified for illegal drugs.
With the win trainer Brad Cox receives his first official Triple Crown victory. He is likely to be named winner of the Kentucky Derby as well if Medina Spirit is disqualified.
If Essential Quality trains on and wins out this year, he absolutely has to be in the conversation as one of the greatest thoroughbred race horses of all-time. The colt by Tapit likely has 3 or 4 starts remaining this year which include the Jim Dandy, The Travers, and the Breeder’s Cup Classic.
Hot Rod Charlie
Hot Rod Charlie showed a ton of talent and even more heart holding up against that kind of pressure. While he lost nothing in defeat I would imagine his connections will look to cut him back and possible try to avoid another match with Essential Quality perhaps looking at a spot like the Haskell at Monmouth Park.
A Late Developing Crop
An Average Start
This year’s crop is a perfect example of how dramatically horse development can impact performance. Throughout this Triple Crown many have been critical of the talent in this group as they were putting up speed figures well below previous year’s crops.
The magic number for a Derby winner has been a 100 Beyer Speed Figure. Beyers are available via the Daily Racing Form (DRF) past performances. Horses that had run at above that threshold were extremely successful in going on to win the Derby. However, heading into the 2021 Kentucky Derby only Rock Your World had achieved that number.
Based on past performance many labelled as a weak group. However, this year’s Triple Crown has changed at least my opinion on that.
A Big Step Forward
In the week’s leading up to the Kentucky Derby this group clearly took a step forward. Since May 1st this crop of Triple Crown runners has improved from running 1 collective 100+ speed figure to running 7.This includes the top 2 Beyers of the year on Saturday. Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie earned a 109 and a 108 respectively in the Belmont.
It is a real lesson to handicappers to pay attention to horses in their three year old season. They can go from good to great as winter turns to spring and spring turns to summer. Sometimes catching a horse as he’s getting good can be the key to unlocking tremendous value at the betting windows.
Betting News will continue to provide weekly coverage of thoroughbred racing including expert picks for a select weekend card.
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