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.