The list of things that makes the Belmont Stakes most challenging as part of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown is almost a mile and a half long.
That, of course, is the distance of the Grade 1 race set for 6:45 p.m. Saturday at Belmont Park. It’s Race 11 on a 13-race card. It will broadcast on NBC. The purse is $1.5 million.
While horsemen and horseplayers will comment often about its length – none of the entrants will have run this far in their careers – perhaps more noteworthy is the track’s composition. The surface is known as “Big Sandy” because if you’ve ever run on sand, you know a bit about what it’s going to be like for the horses in this “Test of Champions.”
Experience on this track surface can certainly be an advantage. On Saturday, only one horse will have tested it before – Overtook (20-1), who placed third in the Peter Pan Stakes on May 8. That race covered 1 1/8 miles.
For Belmont Stakes contenders, look to the Peter Pan
The Peter Pan is considered the best prep for the Belmont Stakes for horses who didn’t run in The Derby or Preakness. The Peter Pan is usually contested by 3-year-olds who also didn’t compete on the Derby trail – also referred to as “late bloomers.”
In 2014, Tonalist won the Peter Pan as a prep for The Belmont in 2014, although before him you need to go back to A.P. Indy in 1992 to find the last horse to win both races (A.P. Indy went on to win the Breeders Cup Classic and earned Horse of the Year honors).
Sir Winston ran second in the Peter Pan, then won the Belmont in 2019. Suffice it to say, the Peter Pan is basically a “local prep” for the Belmont, and can be a key prep if the Derby contingent running in the Belmont is not strong. It’s not.
Overtook – with one win in five career starts – might be better named Overlook. His Beyer speed rating in the Peter Pan was only 83, and he doesn’t look like a contender. He’ll have Manny Franco aboard for owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher and may only get in the gate as part of the eight-horse field so the New Yorker Repole can have a Belmont runner.
Is Rombauer a Legit Contender?
Preakness winner Rombauer (3-1) ran well and rallied to grab that Triple Crown win at Pimlico and is a contender. But some say his strong finish in the stretch was not as good as it looked visually, as the worn-down front runners were throwing in the towel.
Rombauer, too, lost his jockey Flavien Prat, who will ride Hot Rod Charlie (7-2). John Velazquez will get the mount on Rombauer for trainer Michael McCarthy. Velazquez has twice won The Belmont and will be riding in the race for the 25th time.
Prat’s agent Brad Pegram said the decision was predetermined. “We committed after the Derby to ride the Belmont with Hot Rod Charlie, and then a few days later, the opportunity came up to ride Rombauer in the Preakness and we took it,” Pegram said, according to published reports.
Should Rombauer win the Belmont, he’d be the clear front-runner for 3-year-old Horse of the Year, said New York Racing Association handicapper Andy Serling.
Setting the Belmont race pace
The Belmont winner is often a horse close to the pace. Hot Rod Charlie will be either in the lead or, more likely, will be sitting off Rock Your World (9-2) under rider Joel Rosario.
Rock Your World prefers setting the pace. He was unable to do so in the Derby after being impeded at the start. But he’s in Post 7, outside of Hot Rod Charlie (Post 4), which should give Rock Your World an advantage.
Known Agenda (6-1) – trained by New York-based Todd Pletcher – is the horse who could potentially rally. He had some traffic trouble in the Derby, where he finished ninth. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. again gets the call. Observers’ opinions are that Known Agenda will “want” the 1.5-mile distance, based on pedigree, paper and visual standpoint. “He never looks tired,” one said.
Pletcher has won the Belmont three times, and twice with horses who were ran in The Derby, then skipped The Preakness, then won The Belmont (Palace Malice in 2013; and Tapwrit in 2017). Palace Malice paid nearly $30 to win. His other was the filly Rags to Riches in 2007.
A Word About the Favorite
The morning line favorite is Essential Quality (2-1), who placed fourth at the Kentucky Derby, the only blemish on his six-race resume that includes four graded-stakes wins.
Essential Quality has improved his Beyer Speed Figures in each of his six starts, culminating with his first triple-digit number when earning a 100 at the Kentucky Derby in his last time out. Luis Saez will ride for trainer Brad Cox, who is looking for his first Triple Crown win.
Eight of the 18 Belmont Stakes winners from 2000 to 2017 raced in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness.
Also entered are Bourbonic (15-1) with jockey Kendrick Carmouche, drawing the favorable Post 1 position; and France Go de Ina (30-1) with Ricardo Santana Jr.
Bourbonic was an upset winner in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3. He finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby. The horse in post 1 has won 24 Belmont titles, by far the most of any post position.
France Go de Ina, a Japanese import, has not had a published work since finishing seventh in the Preakness.
No Baffert horse to contend with in the 2021 Belmont Stakes
Saturday’s runners will not have to compete with the likes of one of the winningest horse trainers of all time.
Bob Baffert‘s Kentucky Derby-winning horse Medina Spirit’s split sample results came in on Wednesday morning. The New York Times announced in a tweet that the positive drug test was confirmed. “The colt, trained by seven-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, stands to become the second horse in the 147-year history of the race to be disqualified for a failed test.”
Baffert had already been suspended from racing in New York and will miss the Belmont Stakes after Medina Spirit tested positive for betamethasone the day after the Derby. The horse is now in danger of losing his Derby title.
Will the latest Baffert drama lead to new horse racing regulations?
Medina Spirit ran in the Preakness Stakes two weeks after the Kentucky Derby and placed third. Some say that Baffert found a loophole to delay the process.
“He can drag his feet and all the stewards can do is exhort him to please select a laboratory so the split can go out,” Dr. Mary Scollay, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC), said. “But there’s no rule that says if you don’t select a lab within five business days you waive your right to the split or the commission can select from the approved laboratories. There’s no provision for that.”
Some expect this delay will lead to a new regulation — to be known, at least informally, as the “Baffert Rule.” Baffert’s attorney Craig Robertson said his trainer is not dragging his feet, but instead is conducting due diligence about the laboratory to choose.
Baffert is still running in California. On Saturday, Country Grammer edged Royal Ship by a head to win the Hollywood Gold Cup, giving Baffert his record-tying eighth victory in the Grade 1 race at Santa Anita.
2021 Belmont Stakes horses and odds
|Post Position||Horse||Jockey||Morning Line Odds|
|2||Essential Quality||Luis Saez||2-1|
|4||Hot Rod Charlie||Flavien Prat||7-2|
|5||France Go De Ina||Ricardo Santana Jr.||30-1|
|6||Known Agenda||Irad Ortiz Jr.||6-1|
|7||Rock Your World||Joel Rosario||9-2|
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Upcoming horse races for bettors to look out for
Following are some of the top races coming up in June and July:
- June 26: Mother Goose (G2) Belmont
- July 3: The Suburban (G2) Belmont
- July 17: San Diego Handicap (G2) Del Mar
- July 17: The Haskell (G1) Monmouth Park
- July 17: Diana (G1) Saratoga
- July 24: Coach Club American Oaks (G1) Saratoga
- July 31: The Bing Crosby (G1) Del Mar
- July 31: The Jim Dandy (G1) Saratoga
- July 31: The Gloria Vanderbilt (G1) Saratoga
- July 31: The Bowling Green (G2) Saratoga
Lead image credit: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson