HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., May 20, 2021 – In two weeks, the Belmont Stakes will not test a champion… but it might, and at year’s end it is no cinch to produce one, but it might…
The chances of this happening would be better if the probable starters, which number nine as of 6:50 pm today, were joined by several of the possibilities, notably Essential Quality, who is, after all, a champion, albeit last year’s model.
Name brand three-year-olds that can make this a memorable renewal of the Belmont Stakes are impressive Preakness hero Rombauer, Kentucky Derby show finisher Hot Rod Charlie, start-eliminated Derby second-favorite, Rock Your World, and the standout winner of the UAE Derby, Rebel’s Romance.
The supporting cast is a solid one with Preakness runner-up Midnight Bourbon, Florida Derby and Wood Memorial winners, Known Agenda and Bourbonic, respectively, the long-winded Keepmeinmind and intriguing Japanese runner, France Go de Ina.
While the sideline-mandated Bob Baffert sits this one out, Todd Pletcher will have a third starter in addition to his Florida Derby and Wood winners; late-striding and distance-meant Peter Pan third, Overtook, the most intriguing of the Todd trio.
As a fan, I don’t know that I could forgive the connections of Essential Quality if they deny racing another Triple Crown run. Some would argue that, as the race was run, Essential Quality ran the best race in Louisville. Ground loss matters. Racing wide on both turns is a killer.
And given that four of the last eight runners who raced in the Derby, skipped the Preakness, and returned five weeks later won the Triple Crown’s third jewel.
Playing the long game is understandable; Haskell or Travers, older horses in mid-September or thereabouts, and the Classic of November, is a winning Horse of the Year formula, providing one wins at least two of the three—and the Classic had better be one of them.
Mystic Guide, anyone?
The Belmont is a perfect fit for Essential Quality, a rhythmic galloper with speed and stamina who should easily be able to dictate his own trip. Given recent scandalous events, it would be good if the sport had something to celebrate, sooner rather than later.
Currently, entrants from Japan and Great Britain are supporting the Belmont Stakes, an American classic. A little support from the Middle East, by way of Kentucky, would be nice.