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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


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.

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15 Responses

  1. I rarely if ever blame a jockey for a horses loss, but on Saturday I was flabbergasted at the ride Jockey Prat gave his horse in the Belmont Stakes. How a so called top level Jock, take his horse to a quarter time of 22 .78 at that distance, at that track, is mind boggling. It was not like HRC needed the lead(which I thought that was mistake #1), but the hell and high water actions of a jock riding the horse like it was a 7 furlong race where his horse needed the lead to win?
    I am wondering if the Jock had no idea how fast he was traveling, or did not care and actually thought he could wire a field with a class champ like EQ in the race.
    These two horses are very close in talent and both of them have versatile styles of running. Did anyone watching the race seeing that posted quarter think HRC could win?

  2. Working backwards. It is counter-intuitive I know, but as someone who boxed the winning exacta but bet HRC at a value-laden 9-2, I didn’t feel that all was lost as the fraction was noted. He seemed to do it within himself and those wide turns make it seem more like a straightaway than a turn, contributing to the fast time.

    Bet, whether it was strategy, or whether Rock Your World was traumatized by his Derby start and did not break quickly, Prat must have felt he needed to keep EQ to his inside at that juncture and you don’t take away what comes easily. It might not have been easy but neither was Prat quarter-horsing out of there, IMO.

    You’re right that they are very close in talent but EQ has demonstrated he finishes off his races more strongly. Having said that, hypothetically, if both horses didn’t race again and met in the Travers without a prep, I would have to bet HRC to win the rematch based on pace analysis. That point is most probably moot, anyway.

    I needed Charlie to win, but I’m not blaming his defeat on Prat, but on circumstances that develop after the break, and the fact that EQ, with the stouter pedigree, showed high class and courage at in the final strides.

    Further, with two horses hounding him throughout, Prat never had a chance to back down the pace, which I’m sure would have been his preference.

  3. My pick in a exciting Belmont was Hot Rod may have done all the hard work only to tire in final 1/16th. Take nothing away from winner. He ran down Hot Rod and earned the WIN.

    I’m now fully on board with establishing a new schedule for Triple Crown races first discussed here by JP about 5 years ago.

    Kentucky Derby stays first Sat in May. Preakness moved to Memorial Day Saturday. Belmont is run July 4th.

    This is more in line with today’s training and racing schedules for the modern horse.

    Belmont, have the balls to move your race to July 4th. This will force Pimlico to change its date.

    Everyone wins: horse, trainer, tracks, and sports fans. Who knows you may attract new race fans with the holidays date changes.

    It’s time to make the change…

    1. Tony, the old argument from Pimlico was that they wanted to still have the college kids around to fill the infield to capacity. The new normal may force all arenas to rethink their attendance goals.

      To add to your point, don’t you think the MJC would want more Kentucky horses to show up for their classic? Eliminate the one huge stumbling block.

      Let’s focus on the horses!

  4. Content to yield on the Met Mile issue if we could have the Preakness contested inon Memorial Day. As for the crowdedness in the infield, and portable toilet surfing and DUI streaking, are the folks in Maryland more focused on the Preakness, or in quest of a Freakness event?

    New York should lead the way as New York is where the TC loochampions are crowned. Go for it NYRA. July 4 is the perfect day for winning a crown. Do it for your fans.

    1. Mc D,

      It would be nice if this were to become a movement, for the horse first, for the industry’s long game, which never gets played.

      If I’m wrong about that, I’ll be the first to apologize. Waiting for examples of long term thinking re the sport’s popularity and longevity.

      I agree that New York might rightfully take the lead on this topic but it’s the Preakness that needs the help, not the Belmont despite its anachronistic 12 furlongs.

  5. The horsemen are in control of the situation, not the tracks, and certainly not the fans.

    I suspect it would take a bonus to lure all top 5 Derby finishers to the Preakness, even with optimal spacing. Does extending the TC duration from 5 weeks to the full 9 immediately make sense?

    Maybe they should just start experimenting by running the Preakness and Belmont a week later than now to give 3 weeks rest between both legs, and see how the horsemen react. Sweeten the pot with a weighted bonus for multiple top 5 finishes across all 3 legs to make it worthwhile for the 2nd through 5th Derby finishers to show up in Baltimore.

    Perhaps a wager on the bonus rankings would be of interest to test the concept of delayed payoffs that reflected adjusted orders of finish.

    1. Sorry I, a bonus is not the answer. I believe making the Derby, Memorial Day and July 4th an American Triple Crown festival, something to wrap the flag in. It is, after all, America’s first sport.

      1. First Sport was Racing? Bet you both two bucks you were both chasing girls before horses, Lol. Speaking of which……

        So God looks down from the Press Box prime time viewing area and he notices that his new friend Adam is kind of bummed out and depressed.

        “What’s sup” inquires the Maker.

        So Adam replies “Not that I’m not grateful for all the perks Boss, but sometimes life down here in the bleacher seats can get a little boring is all. Day after day Boss, blue skies, nine horse fields, I win three out of four races at a clip. Claimers, Stakes, grass or dirt, six furlongs or going long, yada, yada, no difference.” He continues after a slight pause “I just can’t help but think that there’s something else missing.”

        So the Maker quickly replies “Well Adam, I’m pretty damn good at coming up with a game plan most days. Built the whole thing in only eight days mind you, but in your case, I got to admit i screwed up. Anyhoot, I was thinking of giving you a companion to shore up the idle time when the track might be closed or you just get bored of it all. I was thinking of maybe adding a companion for you, so that if you ever got hungry, maybe the companion might be able to cook up a meal for you. I know you’re pretty content walking around in the buff Adam, but if a cold winter should come around, a companion might even sew some clothing for you. In fact on any nights you just might be feeling lonely, the companion could provide warmth and compassion, maybe even cuddle up with you, if you could get a handle on the snoring and beer drinking. To make sure I don’t screw this one up Adam, I am even going to provide you with a companion, who should there ever be even the smallest conflict, well I going to call the companion She, well she will immediately admit all fault. No dishes or cleaning the house either. That way, we won’t need and damn lawyers and separation agreements.

        Adam is quite pleased with everything he has been told but can’t help but question what all this might cost him. “Sound’s expensive Boss. What will this companion run me?” he inquires.

        The Maker replies “Well Adam, you gotta figure something like an arm and a leg. Afterall She’s even going to bake you apple pie from scratch.”

        So Adam after a few minutes counters the Maker with “What can I get for a rib Boss.”

        No need to ask anything more of the Maker.

        The rest of this tale is history my friends.

        Riders Up!

  6. The Preakness,still the weakest link of the 3 Big Show races does it really need local college students’ presence to make it ‘ hip ‘ , gain respect ,reputation and seem more palatable? Doubt it.It is what it is and it ain’t good looking! It’s like being offered a puny fast food cheeseburger after having had a thick Tuscan style steak. Sometimes,even tradition needs a few changes… Of
    days between races,venue,atmosphere and/ or distance. Nothing personal, it’s just business sense.

    1. JG, the college crowd was the reason offered by the old Pimlico regime a few decades ago. It was simply bottom line, when huge on-track presence made a significant difference in revenue. Before the simulcast explosion, CDI Inc. made all its money on two days. the problem is that the Preakness, and not even the Belmont, has the same cache as the Derby.

      1. One thing the Preakness has going for it is that a TC candidate has been identified and is almost certain to start the second leg.

        I’m beginning to think the general public actually prefers to see the Derby winner pad its resume by prevailing again–even over lesser competition–so that the Belmont can provide the climax to the pageant being played out.

        I guess we’ll just have to continue watching Messrs. Cox, Pletcher, etc. play leapfrog.

        1. And this year joined by O’Neill… As presently constructed, 95% of the trainers will follow suit. Their “programs” need the spacing…

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