With five of the eight runners between 2-1 and 6-1 on the morning line, the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes (G1) is completely wide open. Two-year-old champion Essential Quality has been installed as your morning-line favorite and, in all likelihood, will be your lukewarm “chalk” come post time. He suffered his first career loss in the Kentucky Derby (G1), but ran valiantly in defeat. He was only beaten a length after getting slammed at the start and travelled approximately 8.5 lengths further than Medina Spirit.
From early on, his trainer, Brad Cox, thought he had a very good chance to win the Belmont with this son of Tapit. Tapit, by the way, has sired three of the past seven winners of the “Test of the Champion”, and in last year’s edition, Tiz the Law, by Tapit’s son Constitution, conquered the 1 ½-miles contest.
As much as I respect the horse above, my selection is going to be Rock Your World. He broke with alacrity in the Santa Anita Derby, which was his dirt debut, and promptly blew away a field that included eventual Kentucky Derby first-place finisher Medina Spirit. Off that stellar performance, he went off as your 9-2 second choice in the Kentucky Derby, but lost all chance at the start, with jockey Joel Rosario’s foot getting knocked out of the stirrup exiting the gate.
The speedster found himself tenth early, and never looked comfortable. With a clean break in the Belmont, he could find himself alone on the lead in a race in which we have had a lot of front running winners; a list that includes all-time greats such as Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and American Pharoah. You don’t have to be one for the ages to win this race on the front end, though, as Da Tara, and Commendable (who sat right off Hugh Hefner) were not-so-greats who have also won this prestigious jewel.
On the topic of great front end wins, I recommend going back and checking out, arguably, the greatest ride ever in this storied race, given by one of the greatest to ever “horseback”. It was delivered by Angel Cordero, who somehow got an exhausted Bold Forbes to the finish line first back in 1976 for legendary trainer, Laz Barrera.
Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Rombauer, and your Kentucky Derby third-place finisher, the gutsy Hot Rod Charlie, are the last two I will discuss. The former became the first horse to ever pick up their first-ever score on dirt in the middle leg of the Triple Crown. The field he defeated in Baltimore was not as good as the one he meets this Saturday, but he won the Preakness easily, which is why I don’t believe the runners that have “freshened up” for the race necessarily have an advantage over him.
Hot Rod Charlie is one of those that skipped the Preakness off a hard fought third place finish in the Derby. Flavien Prat, who guided Rombauer to victory in the Preakness, will be aboard to ride, as he committed to do so shortly after “Chuck’s” game Derby run. He will probably be laying second early and, if Rock Your World isn’t fit enough to get the twelve furlongs, Hot Rod Charlie, with that big heart, could find himself in front turning for home.
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