HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, June 6, 2021 – So many highlights, a few lowlights—this is horse racing after all—but on balance a great day to be a Thoroughbred racing fan and bettor. It’s difficult to know where to start with so many elephants in the room.
The Belmont Stakes results made sense as it usually does, even when favorites are defeated. The public was right to bet Essential Quality down to 13-10 ante post, an underlay, but were rewarded with a victory in which their choice showed high class and unwavering courage.
And, of course, Hot Rod Charlie ran too good to lose. While it was different, it was reminiscent of Seattle Slew’s Jockey Club Gold Cup in which suicidal early fractions took its toll but Slew re-rallied, fought to the bitter end and just missed.
Twenty-two and four? Going a mile and a half?
In a division that featured chaos from the prep season through the first two legs of the Triple Crown, it’s as simple as this: The 1-2 finishers in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a race in which most winners are known for precocity and not necessarily stamina, repeated that result at a mile and a half seven months later.
Only Essential Quality was twice as good yesterday as he was last fall. Last year, Hot Rod Charlie was defeated by 3/4s of a length but that margin doubled up to a length and a half on Saturday. But this comparison didn’t end there.
In 2020, Rombauer was fifth in the Juvenile, beaten 6-1/4 lengths. Well, Essential Quality doubled that margin, too, finishing 12-1/2 in front of the Preakness winner.
We stated early and often that we liked this crop–no standout, just many very nice colts. But now it appears that, based on accomplishment, one of them lays over the rest.
The time has come to consider that Essential Quality is a star and the feeling is that he will continue to move forward: Too much ability, too much heart, and too much Brad Cox. The Tapit gray is one wide trip away from perfection. He passes his eyeball tests with flying royal-blue colors.
Unless a late developer runs the table, consisting of a Travers, a Grade 1 older-horse prep, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Essential Quality is the leader in the clubhouse and grandstand until another colt steps up and beats the champion. And that could be rival Hot Rod Charlie.
No comparisons intended but appropriately their running styles almost mirror those of Affirmed and Alydar.
Essential Quality is very, very good. But is he Mystic Guide good? Is he Silver Slate good? Is he Charlatan good—providing that the sidelined four-year-old is not hustled off to the breeding shed in the interim?
And speaking of pachyderms with trunks, there were no Medina Spirit or Bob Baffert sightings at the 2021 Triple Crown’s finale due to the New York Racing Association’s indefinite ban. That colt and his trainer are likely to find safe harbor within the world’s fifth largest economy with Del Mar, virtue signaling notwithstanding, hosting this year’s Breeders’ Cup.
But even with Medina Spirit’s possible Kentucky Derby disqualification looming as Belmont day began, the ‘Test of the Champion’ was trending at the top of the Google charts throughout the day. The mixed 2021 Belmont vibe ended on a positive note as two Thoroughbreds reached deep down to put on an unforgettable show.
BETS ‘N PIECES: Godolphin On Top of the World
Can’t envision an outfit having a better day than Godolphin Racing had yesterday, taking the 153rd Belmont and 242nd Epsom Derby and a third Grade 1 as Althique and Summer Romance finished 1-2 in the Just A Game. Having the best horses is a big edge, then you must execute. They did.
Not to Be Outdone, Brown Gets His Triple
As stated, it’s about execution. Soft Power delivered a narrow but clearly best victory to break maiden on debut; Search Results showed her class to take the G1 Acorn, and Domestic Spending demonstrated he will be a major turf player going forward–even if he had to knock his stablemate out of the way to do so. Brown’s pacesetting Tribhuvan was second. The win was Brown’s seventh Manhattan victory.
Pletcher Juvenile Wit Notwithstanding, a Disappointing Day
It certainly appears Todd Pletcher’s youngster has a bright future with a dominating victory in a heavily bet debut. Thereafter, however, Moretti was a one-paced third and Ajaaweed was 7th in the Brooklyn; Always Shopping finished seventh; Dr. Post was 5th of six and Colonel Liam 8th of 10. In the Belmont, Known Agenda showed improvement but was a non-threatening 4th, Bourbonic showed late life but finished 5th and Overtook finished ahead of only the eased Japanese invader.
Excluding His Belmont Hero, Cox Horses Were No-Shows
Caddo River was sixth and last in the G1 Woody Stephens; Travel Column 5th and last in the G1 Acorn. Shedaresthedevil never looked a winner, a weakening third of five in the G1 Phipps while stablemate rallied too late for place behind the new older female divisional leader, Letruska. Prior to his Belmont score, odds-on Knicks Go finished fourth of six in the G1 Met Mile.
All Hail to the Victors
Kelly Breen’s work with Firenze Fire on Friday is among the best we’ve ever seen; the six-year-old as good as ever in the G2 True North, maybe even better… Mean Mary caught a supersonic flyer from the barrier and outran a very deep bunch in the G2 New York… After finishing second with Thundering Nights, Joseph O’Brien took the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup with extremely long-winded and consistent, Baron Samedi.
Belmont Day highlights included Drain the Clock’s G1 Woody Stephens over an extremely game Jackie’s Warrior, second in a Hot Rod Charlie-like performance… Lone Rock was unbelievable taking the Brooklyn with contemptuous ease and we’ll leave it at that… It was only her second start this year but I’m getting a nagging feeling that Dayoutoftheoffice might not have made a full transition from 2 to 3…
Bill Mott seems to have found Casa Creed’s niche as a short-sprint turfer. It likely wouldn’t have mattered but Joel made too much use of Bound for Nowhere early… Letruska is now a full-fledged beast and, if form holds, she may be unbeatable up to 9 furlongs…
Althiqa showed an uncommon turn of foot over the good-to-firm course for the great Charlie Appleby… Think I successfully bet Silver State thrice recently, but didn’t know he had a one-turn mile in him; credit heads-up Ricardo Santana handling…
So sorry that Kendrick Carmouche sustained a broken ankle when unseated leaving the gate in the finale… Happy that Irad Ortiz Jr. is still walking around following Friday’s mishap…
Meanwhile, five of his scheduled 13 mounts won… NYRA’s Belmont program was outstanding, an aesthetic and financial success. All-sources handle reached $112.7 million, a record for a non-Triple Crown year. The three-day Belmont Festival handle reached nearly $142-million.