A talented group of eight Kentucky-breds—featuring last year’s Champion 2-year-Old Male Essential Quality and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Rombauer—will decide the 153rd Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park on June 5. The $1.5 million Belmont Stakes is race 11 on a 13-race stakes-loaded program with a post time of 6:49 p.m.
Essential Quality is the 2-1 morning-line favorite and he will break from post two. The gray or roan colt by Tapit, a Godolphin homebred, started his career a perfect 5-for-5, including four graded stakes scores. He finished a close fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) in his only non-winning effort for trainer Brad Cox.
“He ran what I thought was a winning race in the Derby; he didn’t have the trip, but he showed up and he’s been improving in every start,” said Cox. “I’m confident that he can handle the mile and a half. Just based off his works and his races, he’s very steady and doesn’t seem to get tired. He has a tremendous amount of stamina that I think he was just blessed with based on his pedigree.
“He’s got a nice balance of speed and stamina, which is what it takes to win any Grade 1,” Cox added. “He’s never shown signs that he couldn’t (get the 12 furlongs), but you never know until you do it.”
John and Diane Fradkin’s homebred Rombauer enters the race fresh off an impressive 3 ½-length win in the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico on May 15. He will attempt to become the first horse to complete the Preakness-Belmont double since Afleet Alex in 2005 (both American Pharoah and Justify were victorious in all three legs of the Triple Crown when they swept all three Classics to become the 12th and 13th respective Triple Crown winners).
Rombauer, listed at 3-1 on the morning line, won the El Camino Real Derby in February at Golden Gate Fields over the Tapeta surface and the versatile runner has won over dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces.
“He’s a well-put-together horse,” said trainer Michael McCarthy. “He’s not overly big. His mechanics are great and he’s a horse when you lead him over there, he has his mind on running. I think his best weapon is what’s in between his ears.
“To win any Triple Crown race is fantastic,” McCarthy added. “The Belmont is really the “Test of the Champion,” and it would certainly be nice to hoist a trophy like that on Saturday.”
Hot Rod Charlie finished a strong third in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Doug O’Neill indicated the son of Oxbow should be fresh after skipping the Preakness.
“With the distance, I think it will suit him well,” O’Neill said. “He’s won going 1 3/16 miles in the Louisiana Derby. I think his gate speed and versatility will be an asset as well.”
Owned by Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, Strauss Bros. Racing, and Gainesway Thoroughbreds and bred by Edward Cox Jr., Hot Rod Charlie finished second to Essential Quality in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).
“I credit his improvement this year with the owners’ patience,” said O’Neill. “There’s been a lot of time given to him between races.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher will saddle three contenders, including St. Elias Stable’s Known Agenda. Winner of the Florida Derby (G1), Known Agenda, a son of Curlin, finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) after breaking from the rail. Known Agenda will attempt to become the seventh horse to win both the Florida Derby and the Belmont.
“I’m happy with him,” said Pletcher. “His energy level has been super. I like the way he’s handled the main track here, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Hronis Racing and David Michael Talla’s Rock Your World scored a 4 ¼-length victory in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) in April in his initial start on the main track. The win improved his record to 3-for-3 before finishing 17th in the Kentucky Derby in his last start.
“We always thought the longer the better for him,” said trainer John Sadler of the son of Candy Ride (ARG). “When we went from six (furlongs) to a mile and a mile and an eighth we thought, ‘oh boy.’ Then we ran in the Derby and obviously, we got eliminated at the start. He’s come back and done really well since the Derby. We think he can run a long way. He’s Candy Ride on top and him being out of an Empire Maker mare, he’s got the stamina to go the distance.”
Rock Your World was bred in Kentucky by Ron and Deborah McAnally.
The field also includes Bourbonic, owned and bred by Calumet Farm; France Go de Ina, owned by Inaida Yuji and bred by Betz, Kidder, B & K Canetti, and Jim Betz; and Overtook, owned by Repole Stable, St. Elias Stable, Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, and Derrick Smith, and bred by Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings.