The favored three-year-olds for the $1.5 million 2021 Belmont Stakes were all out for their maintenance gallops on Friday morning, with Essential Quality’s trainer Brad Cox dispatching the lead favorite on a standard 1 3/8-mile gallop, followed by Michael McCarthy sending Preakness Winner and second-favorite Rombauer out for the same. Both horses were paced on the training track. Getting in their gallops under Todd Pletcher’s direction, Known Agenda, Bourbonic, and the very lightly raced Overtook hit the training track as well. Working on the main track, by contrast, was Rock Your World, whom trainer John Sadler assigned a full mile-and-a-half gallop.
By the Belmont Stakes race day in any Triple Crown season, we may think we know the crop of three-year-olds a bit better, but it’s arguable that the Bob Baffert-induced travails with the very-likely to be disqualified Medina Spirit threw the scales of the season off, particularly since the horse did race — demonstrably clean — in the Preakness. Essential Quality’s performance in the Derby, considered a good one despite his rocky start, has come into focus precisely for this reason. But there are others whose Derby trips were equally unproductive, who will be gunning hard for Essential Quality’s presumed status at the top of the pecking order in this short field of eight.
Rock Your World is one such outlier, if you will. We’ll bring in the Bluegrass Wise Man to tell us what he thinks of Rock Your World’s, Rombauer’s, and Hot Rod Charlie’s chances to best Essential Quality in a moment, but first, a refresher on the odds, which we’ll update as the Belmont windows open and the money starts to etch the live odds, which we’ll update here until post time.
(Post Position, Horse, Morning Line)
1. Bourbonic, 15-1
2. Essential Quality, 2-1
3. Rombauer, 3-1
4. Hot Rod Charlie, 7-2
5. France Go De Ina, 30-1
6.Known Agenda, 6-1
7.Rock Your World, 9-2
8. Overtook, 20-1
(Source: NYRA, 1/6/2021)
With no further ado, here’s the Bluegrass Wise Man.
It’s race day, so in the spirit of taking the gloves off, let’s drill down on some of the horses gunning for Essential Quality. Take Hot Rod Charlie first, whom we’ve both liked.
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Got to be taken seriously. I think you have to ask why did Flavian Prat, who won the Preakness on Rombauer, book a ride in the Belmont on Hot Rod Charlie. Or why his agent did it. Looking at Hot Rod Charlie, you know, didn’t race in the Preakness, did fine in the Derby, beat Essential Quality. I think Prat and Doug O’Neill think that that horse is ready. I’m not quite that convinced, but I can’t ignore him, and I won’t in my exotics.
Next up, Rombauer. Can it be that everybody’s a little too high on him?
Bluegrass Wise Man ™: Didn’t do the Derby, so we don’t have that gauge, but he obviously ran a fine Preakness. He’s got the distance, I think, but I think what you see when you look back in April is that he ran third to Essential Quality in the Blue Grass out here in Kentucky. I think that’s an important race. He always shows up, he’s there, and he won the Preakness, is the feeling. He doesn’t seem like a Belmont kind of slugger. You hafta be a bit of a slugger for this one.