THE BELMONT - JUNE 5, 2021
LISTEN TO JEFF NASH HANDICAP THE RACE ON ESPN RADIO 97.3 FM
THE LOCKER ROOM WITH BILLY SCHWEIM - 11:15 AM
The Kentucky Derby has all the pizzaz associated with being the most famous race in the world. The Preakness is like that middle-child; does not get the attention of its older brother or younger sister, but incredibly unique. The Belmont Stakes, the third and final test in a five-week long Triple Crown series, is the Crown Jewel. It is the longest race most of these horses will ever run. It is where Secretariat ran and won by a record-setting 32 lengths. It is where American Pharoah and Justify won Triple Crowns, and where Smarty Jones and California Crome did not. It is the ultimate racing test of strategy, power, and endurance. Quite simply, The Belmont Stakes is THE classic race for three-year old thoroughbreds. And my favorite race to handicap.
The racing world had anticipated a Belmont Stakes that matched the best colts Medina Spirit, Essential Quality, Mandaloun, Rock My World against the undefeated filly Malathaat. Oh, what a race that would have been.
However, Malathaat will ship to Saratoga for the summer. Mandaloun, trained by Brad Cox, will skip the Belmont in favor of NJ’s Haskell Stakes, leaving his stablemate Essential Quality as the lone Cox-trained horse in the race. As for Medina Spirit, looks like he will be disqualified from his Derby win and with his trainer Bob Baffert suspended by the NY Racing, he is packing up and going home to California.
Still, we are left with an outstanding field of eight three-year old colts. Five of the horses ran in the Kentucky Derby and passed on the Preakness in favor of this race: 1-BOURBONIC, 2-ESSENTIAL QUALITY, 4-HOT ROD CHARLIE, 6-KNOWN AGENDA, and 7-ROCK YOUR WORLD.
Hall of Fame Trainer Nominee and New York-based Todd Pletcher trains three horses in the race: 1-BOURBONIC, 6-KNOWN AGENDA, and 8-OVERTOOK. Pletcher has won three Belmont’s with two of those three winners running unplaced in the Derby, skipping the Preakness, then winning the Belmont. See a pattern?
Only two from the Preakness field are returning for a shot at the Belmont: Preakness winner, 3-ROMBAUER and 5-FRANCE GO DE INA.
One horse is new to the Triple Crown races: 8-OVERTOOK.
Here is my analysis of each horse and the race:
1-BOURBONIC: Was the 72-1 upset winner of the Grade 2 Wood Memorial. With that win in hand, he ran in the Kentucky Derby and never got untracked, finishing 13th in a field of 19. Not surprising. He is one of three horses trained by Todd Pletcher and bred to handle the long distance. A longshot in this race, for sure. Still, never discount a Pletcher horse in the Belmont, especially one that is bred to handle the 1 ½ mile distance of this race.
2-ESSENTIAL QUALITY: My failed selection to win the Kentucky Derby. He came into that race winning five of five starts. But the Derby is known to eat up the best with a stampede of 19 horses leaving the gate. This colt was bumped out of the gate and was forced to settle in four-wide. He had no gas in the tank down the stretch, hung and finished a disappointing fourth, one length behind the winner Medina Spirit. Trainer Brad Cox decided to give the horse a breather and aim for the Belmont Stakes. Good call. The horse worked a bullet in preparation for the race and appears super-ready to run back to form. His sire Tapit has already seen three of his past offspring win the Belmont Stakes. I said before the Derby, and will repeat, ESSENTIAL QUALITY is the best three-year old in the world.
3-ROMBAUER: Longshot winner of the Preakness, after skipping the Kentucky Derby two weeks prior. He ran the best race of his career that day, topping his best speed rating. Was not a real surprise given the good, but not great, Preakness competition. Can he repeat? Tougher field, longer race. Breeding says no, but current form says maybe. So interesting that his jockey in the Preakness, Flavien Prat, has been replaced by New York’s top jockey (and winner of the Kentucky Derby on Medina Spirit) John Velasquez. Why would ownership change jockeys after winning the Preakness? When you can attract the best in the business, you make that tough decision. It is even more intriguing because Velasquez is a favorite of trainer Pletcher who has other riders saddling his three horses. Velasquez decided this was his best shot.
4-HOT ROD CHARLIE: Here is a colt based in California who is always competitive irrespective of track location, distance, or surface. Sired by Oxbow who finished second in the Belmont but has not produced any Belmont winners to date. The mare side does not suggest this horse has the pedigree to handle the distance. Having said that, this colt has finished in the money six of eight starts, including a competitive third in the Derby. Jockey Prat who saddled this colt in the Derby returns to ride him in the Belmont, having been bumped from 3-ROMBAUER. Must think that trainer Doug O’Neill has this horse ready for a good run, third time off a layoff and fresh after the Derby five weeks ago. Not sure he can beat the others in this very competitive field, but never discount in the Exotics.
5-FRANCE GO DE INA: I said in my analysis of the Preakness that this foreign invader was using that race as a prep for the Belmont Stakes. He was not overly impressive in his first US start, finishing a dull 7th in the field of 10. That was not unexpected given the plane trip from Dubai. The horse has now been in the US training at Pimlico, albeit with only one published workout. But this colt is bred to handle the distance and may stick around longer than his longshot odds suggest.
6-KNOWN AGENDA: This colt was presumably trainer Todd Pletcher’s best shot to win the Kentucky Derby. He did not, finishing a disappointing 9th, ten lengths behind the winner. He now comes home to a New York track where he started his racing career six races ago. Sired by Curlin whose offspring Palace Malice won the 2010 Belmont, this horse is sneaky talented and should be a factor in the Belmont. Ridden by an outstanding NY-based rider, Irad Ortiz, bred to handle the long distance, winner of the Grade 1 Florida Derby, expect this horse to be competitive, at higher odds than normal because of his Derby flub. Good horse with a great price. Don't ignore.
7-ROCK YOUR WORLD: The $650K yearling purchase, undefeated in three races entering the Kentucky Derby. He was one of the favorites that day, many expecting him to challenge for the early lead and possibly wiring the field as he did so impressively in the Santa Anita Derby. Some compared him to the Triple Crown winner Justify. Then the Derby cavalry charge left this colt at the gate. Rather than challenge for the lead, he fell back 15th early on and never found his stride. He finished 17th, without really trying. Well, he went home to California to regroup and train, bypassing the Preakness. Based on his post-Derby workouts, this colt seems very fit to run well in the Belmont. Bred to handle the distance, expect this colt to surge to the front from the beginning with the hope of replaying that Santa Anita Derby victory by wiring the field. Could happen, for sure.
8-OVERTOOK: The lone newcomer to the Triple Crown races. This colt, the third of three trained by Todd Pletcher, was purchased as a yearling for a whopping $1 Million. He is owned by a trio of horseracing elite. The colt’s early career did not match up to his price tag, taking his third trip to the track to finally break his maiden with limited speed. Then he finished second in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes, again with modest speed. Followed by a decent run in the Grade 3 Peter Pan. He has improved a bit in each race, so apparently headed in the right direction in his career. What is intriguing about this colt is his outstanding breeding for distance, the addition of blinkers in this race to keep the horse focused, and his improving final quarter times. It is possible that this colt will find his form in this lengthy race and power his way into the Exotics.
HOW THE RACE WILL BE RUN:
7-ROCK YOUR WORLD will charge to the lead from the get-go. Every other horse will need to position themselves behind him with the hope of catching the frontrunner down the stretch.
Expect 2-ESSENTIAL QUALITY and 4-HOT ROD CHARLIE to track closely. These two cannot allow ROCK YOUR WORLD to pull away and win wire-to-wire. If they let the leader run without expending some exhaustion, the race will be over. The trainers know that and will push.
I expect that will be too much for 4-HOT ROD CHARLIE.
Behind those three will be the mid-range runners such as 5-FRANCE GO DE INA and 6-KNOWN AGENDA. They will not concern themselves with pushing ROCK YOUR WORLD. These two will track and let the race come to them.
Trailing the field will be the closers, 1-BOURBONIC, 3-ROMBAUER, and 8-OVERTOOK. These colts will hope that the three leaders into the stretch have sufficiently exhausted themselves, allowing for their energic charge toward victory down the very, very long Belmont stretch.
In the end, I see 2-ESSENTIAL QUALITY passing 7-ROCK YOUR WORLD. Coming strong from the rear is 6-KNOWN AGENDA and 3-ROMBAUER. 2-ESSENTIAL QUALITY, the best three-year old in the world wins the race.
WINNER: 2-ESSENTIAL QUALITY
LONGSHOT: 6-KNOWN AGENDA
TRIFECTA: Key the 2 with 6/ALL
SUPERFECTA: Key the 2 with/6/7/ALL
GOOD LUCK TO ALL!
HOWIE THE HORSE: ROCK YOUR WORLD
Rock Your World will set the early pace. If he can get six furlongs in 1:12 or slower on the lead he will steal the Belmont wire to wire. Essential Quality had a horrible trip in the Derby and should fare much better. He has been working well in the morning. Rombauer will be in the mix.
BUCKET LIST HANDICAPPING: HOT ROD CHARLIE
HOT ROD CHARLIE is a consistent horse and has been training well. ESSENTIAL QUALITY was the Derby favorite and beaten favorites seem to come back strong. We liked ROCK YOUR WORLD in the Derby and are sticking with him to have a strong race and be in the money.
LEFTY LOUIE: ROCK YOUR WORLD
I like the field for this race. It should be an incredibly competitive race. I think the top three horses are Essential Quality, Rombauer and Rock Your World. I will box all three in a trifecta, that does not result in a big payout, but a win is a win. Rock Your World will lead from the start and stave off challenges from Rombauer and Essential Quality. I will also bet Rock Your World to win and use him in an exacta with the rest of the field.
My stepdaughter Ava picks her winning horses based on the names of the horses. She won last year’s Derby, this year’s Derby and Preakness. She likes Known Agenda for the Belmont.
Trifecta Box 2-3-7
Exacta 7-rest of the field
DANNY DIMES: ROCK YOUR WORLD
I would have taken Known Agenda as my first choice in the Kentucky Derby if it were not for the #1 Post. Someone must prove he can win from there, and until then, any horse is immediately thrown off my tickets. But Known Agenda is ready to roll, has the best jockey in the US on him, and loves Belmont. I also like Rock Your World. Here is another horse that had everything imaginable go wrong in the Kentucky Derby. The jockey, Joel Rosario, has proven repeatedly that he is a force in the Belmont Stakes. And then there is France Go de Ina. In my column for the Preakness, I thought the owners were using it as a prep for the Belmont, and if he gets entered here, watch out. Well, here he is. I am throwing out the favorites because the field is way too small to make any money in the exotics. I am going with my gut on Rosario and taking Rock Your World at the top but count on me using Known Agenda and France Go de Ina as well. Good luck!
SAY IT AIN'T JOE: ROCK YOUR WORLD
My Kentucky Derby horse Rock Your World lost by 24 lengths and today he is my pick in the Belmont. I’m hoping and betting that today is a day of redemption. His Derby was over at the start with major trouble in a herd of 19. With 8 starters, today should be different. His previous win in the SA Derby was impressive and he has the speed and stamina to get the job done today, hopefully at a decent price. Essential Quality, the deserved Morning Line favorite also had Derby trouble and the widest trip imaginable. His breeding points to this race being to his liking. He’s my close second choice. For my money, Hot Rod Charlie and Rombauer will round out the first four.
May 18, 2021
ROMBAUER’S surge to longshot victory in last Saturday’s Preakness was not as shocking as it would seem. Sure, neither me nor the handicapping celebs selected the correct horse to finish first. At best, I said ROMBAUER was training well, was running in an advantageous third race off a layoff, and could close. However, I added that the horse probably did not have the talent to defeat the best in the race. Wrong.
So, what happened? As predicted, MIDNIGHT BOURBON challenged MEDINA EXPRESS for the lead through the first turn and backstretch. As expected, CONCERT TOUR and FRANCE GO DE INA stalked the leaders. The pace was not super-fast, giving hope to the leaders that they would go nose to nose to the finish, not having to expend too much gas to get to the eighth pole down the stretch.
Then, much to my dismay, my selected horse, CONCERT TOUR, could not keep pace. He fell back as if he hit a wall. I have read from some reliable experts that the horse may have bled. There were suspicions of that issue impacting the horse in the Arkansas Derby where he fell to third in a field of six. In any event, the track does not permit Lasix which would help with bleeding concerns. Without Lasix, the horse was doomed to fail. Of course, that information would have been immensely helpful BEFORE the race.
Other horses in the field which offered promise also failed to fire. Chad Brown’s two entrants, CROWDED TRADE and RISK TAKING (my failed longshot) disappointed. Poor Todd Pletcher still has not won a Preakness. His longshot UNBRIDLED HONOR finished behind as expected as did last place RAM, trained by spotlight seeking D. Wayne Lukas. KEEPMEINMIND ran to form, making up ground down the stretch.
But it was an impressive race for winner ROMBAUER. Proving yet again that a good trainer can peak a good horse at the right time and win a race against a moderately talented field.
The best part of the Preakness is that the best three-year-old thoroughbreds in the world saved their juice for The Belmont which is setting up to be a spectacular event. I’m already sensing a big race from the Kentucky Derby favorite ESSENTIAL QUALITY who may get challenged by the best filly in the world, MALATHAAT. Add MANDALOUN, MIDNIGHT BOURBON, HOT ROD CHARLIE, ROCK YOUR WORLD and ROMBAUER… WOW! Three weeks to go! And NO BOB BAFFERT... Hurray for the New York Racing Association.