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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, May 27, 2021 – Unlike the last NTRA national teleconference in which Brad Cox shocked everyone by announcing that neither Caddo River nor Mandaloun would contest the Preakness Stakes, today’s call was a tame exercise in advance of the June 5 Belmont Stakes.

Cox pronounced that probable favorite Essential Quality had great energy in his recent work, his weight is great, that the 2020 juvenile champion would race “somewhere close” to the pace, hopes to “draw well” and save ground around “those large turns.”

Trainer-speak is a practiced art and nearly 100 percent of horsemen have the exercise down pat, notwithstanding the occasional Hall of Famer, such as Mark Casse, who is not afraid to tell you exactly what he’s thinking and dodges no questions.

Cox did share that the he has confidence in his colt’s ability to run 12 furlongs faster than his competition comes from the way Essential Quality gallops out after his works and how he “stays on in all his races.”

The trainer did volunteer that he wasn’t expecting to win the Derby at headstretch, given prevailing dynamics at that juncture, but took heart in the extra surge the colt made at the finish line before galloping out well.

Cox is pleased that Luis Saez has confidence in the horse and that he’s expressed no reservations about getting the trip, adding that “Tapits have won three Belmonts and that if all goes well, owner Juddmonte “has the Travers high on their list.”

Michael McCarthy said he’s been “a little overwhelmed” since the Preakness victory of Rombauer and appreciates all the well-wishers for congratulatory messages received but now “with a week to go, it’s time to tighten the screws.” And the trip?

“When he hit the finish line in Baltimore, he put daylight between himself and the second and third finishers then galloped out well.

Pleased with his condition, McCarthy thinks there could be “room for improvement,” noting some trepidation “coming back on three weeks rest coming off a lifetime top.”

When asked if more space between Triple Crown races ultimately would be good for the sport, he stuck to the accepted notion of those who cling to tradition rather than face the reality of today’s sleeker, faster but less sturdy stock.

“The way we play the game these days is waiting days, weeks, or months between starts. We’ve changed the landscape a little bit. It took 37 years to get a [Triple Crown winner] and we’ve had two within three years. I think the spacing is what makes it so good.”

Like Cox, Doug O’Neill has been cooling his heels for five weeks and he, too, is very pleased with Hot Rod Charlie; “his versatility to win from in front or behind the pace and the tremendous stamina and maturity he showed early on.

“Flavien [Prat] can play it off the break and having a rider who not only has ridden but breezed him a half-dozen times is a huge bonus. There’s nothing better than having a strong horse-rider connection going into a big race.”

O’Neill also gave props to Prat and his agent for sticking with the call they gave the trainer following the Kentucky Derby. “They were great about committing to ‘Charlie’ and have lots of respect after [Rombauer] ran so big in the Preakness. It gives us confidence given how well [Prat] knows the colt.”

When asked how he would feel about being moved up to second should the Derby first finisher be subsequently disqualified O’Neill’s immediate reaction was “that’s one of the TMZ type questions,” and referenced Baffert’s great success and that it’s “a tough situation.”

He then drilled down on the Belmont and spoke confidently. “He’s added weight and muscle and you’re going to see a stronger version than what we saw in the Derby. He’s a colt with a full tank and we’re excited. We want to show off Charlie.”

He and the rest will get their chance to show off nine days hence.  

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7 Responses

  1. I was skeptical of Essential Quality’s ability to stay the 10f. of the Derby. Some may argue that he did (wide trip, etc.), but given his one-paced stretch run, I’m not convinced.

    Now, as we all know, the Belmont is typically not the test of stamina that it once was, not least of which because so few of today’s American racehorses are bred to stay 10, let alone 12 furlongs. But if there is anything close to a realistic pace in this year’s edition, then I would expect EQ to be “found out”, in terms of stamina.

    Tapit is essentially a sire of horses best suited to a mile to nine furlongs; the overwhelming majority of his offspring fall into that category. He has sired nearly 1200 starters, so yes, there are a few anomalies. But note that his Belmont winners Creator (dam by Private Account; second-dam by Summing ), Tapwrit (dam won beyond a mile; second dam by Hawkster), and Tonalist (dam by Pleasant Colony) all had fairly stout bottom-lines.

    Essential Quality’s bottom-line is nothing like theirs. Gone West, Storm Cat, and Elusive Quality, the three sires closest up in his pedigree, were all sprinter/miler influences. Essential Quality’s dam herself, Delightful Quality, was a sprinter. Her dam, Contrive, was unraced, and produced Folklore, which did win the BC Juvenile Fillies, but ended up as a sprinter, and she was by Tiznow. I remember having watched EQ’s third dam, Jeano, race. She was also a sprinter, and by Fappiano!

    So in my view, skepticism is warranted. But should EQ prove successful, he would either be something of a genetic anomaly, or the beneficiary of a slow pace, assuming, of course, that he will be racing solely on hay, oats and water.

  2. Tink, well researched argument and cannot disagree vis a vis light bottom-side. But when I look at the individual I see a galloper and agree with his trainer that he did surge forward just before the Derby wire.

    And the Belmont is a galloper’s race, preferably one with speed, which he has. I have several I’m considering for the top slot, however–just like everyone else I suppose.

    As for the rest, you know what they say about assumptions…

    1. Thanks John. As you know, there have been more than a few horses to win the Belmont in recent decades without stamina-laden pedigrees. It typically happens when the horse in question is superior, and/or those better suited to the trip are plodders.

      Because I don’t like to see the race reduced to a 9f. gallop and sprint to the wire, I always hope for an honest pace, which would have the effect of testing stamina. If we don’t get one, then the best horse with tactical speed usually wins.

  3. Thank-you Tinky for your astute comments, which I agree with, what I am wondering is why Medina Spirit’s split sample has not even been tested yet. This looks really bad for racing and the Kentucky Derby no less, why has it not been tested? If it was my horse it would have been. Bob’s lawyer going to claim that sample is degraded and cannot be tested, come on racing clean this mess up now please. Kat

    1. Depending on who’s in charge, citizens can ignore Congressional mandates to appear before them to answer questions. Do you believe that the people representing Baffert in this case would in all haste find a lab they approve of?

      Further, the accused have something of an outlandish six-week window to start the process, add to that too much testing at racing’s busiest season at too few approved labs, sample size that can complicate the process, and a pandemic, things are going to be delayed.

      In the vernacular, it’s BS. Maybe what they should do is send it to Arizona where there are companies with such sophisticated equipment that can detect bambo inside a printed page…

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