I suppose some folks could claim Saturday’s 153rd running of the $1.5 million Grade 1 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets isn’t quite as elite as it could be. The Belmont Park classic serves as the final leg of the Triple Crown, but for the third year in a row, there isn’t a Triple Crown bid on the line. Furthermore, just eight horses have been entered in the 1 1/2-mile test of speed and stamina, tied for the smallest field since 2008.
On the other hand, quality runs deep in the 2021 Belmont Stakes. Half a dozen graded stakes winners have been entered, including four Grade 1 winners, and the field looks highly competitive on paper. You can make a strong case for at least five or six horses to visit the winner’s circle, so bettors who correctly decipher the outcome are surely destined to cash enticing payoffs.
Many bettors will steer their attention toward #2 Essential Quality, the champion two-year-old male of 2020. Victorious in his first five starts (including four graded stakes), Essential Quality entered the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve as the favorite to win. But after racing wide around the turns, Essential Quality came up flat when it counted. He had every chance to roll past his rivals in the homestretch, but couldn’t seal the deal and crossed the wire in fourth place.
It’s hard to knock Essential Quality’s performance, considering he was only beaten one length after running at least 5 1/2 lengths farther around the turns than the top three finishers. But the fact Essential Quality flattened out down the lane leads me to wonder if classic distances might be a little longer than he prefers. It’s also possible the Godolphin homebred has already peaked, leaving him vulnerable to defeat against improving rivals with more upside.
An obvious example is #3 Rombauer. The Michael McCarthy trainee finished behind Essential Quality in both the 2020 Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes earlier this spring, but Rombauer has made steady progress along the way, and he fired off a career-best effort to win the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes three weeks ago. Overlooked at odds of 11-1 in the second leg of the Triple Crown, Rombauer settled in mid-pack early on, then unleashed a powerful finish down the homestretch to crush his rivals by 3 1/2 lengths.
When it comes to speed figures, Rombauer is the fastest horse in the Belmont field, and it’s possible he’s only now reaching his peak. The way he finished in the Preakness bodes well for his chances of stretching out over 1 1/2 miles in the Belmont, setting the stage for another strong performance.
But Rombauer isn’t the only logical alternative to Essential Quality. #6 Known Agenda was a flashy winner of the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill 'n' Dale Farms at Xalapa before finishing ninth with a tricky trip in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Belmont twice before, including with Kentucky Derby alumni Palace Malice (2013) and Tapwrit (2017).
Meanwhile, #7 Rock Your World endured an even worse trip in the Derby, suffering a poor start and a wide trip before fading to finish 17th. He had previously romped to a gate-to-wire victory in the Grade 1 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby and appears set to secure an uncontested lead in the Belmont Stakes, setting the stage for a rebound.
Even #8 Overtook boasts longshot potential after returning from a three-month layoff to finish third in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes, the local prep for the Belmont Stakes. Overtook is bred to excel over 1 1/2 miles, and Todd Pletcher will equip the colt with blinkers, introducing the possibility that Overtook could show more tactical speed and grind his way to a top-four finish.
But the most dangerous horse in the Belmont Stakes field might be #4 Hot Rod Charlie, who defeated Essential Quality, Known Agenda, and Rock Your World when finishing third in the Kentucky Derby. The son of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow was always prominent in the Derby, tracking the early pace from fifth place before rallying gamely between rivals to finish just a length away from victory.
Hot Rod Charlie had previously posted a front-running victory in the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, where he utilized his stamina to edge clear and beat future Preakness runner-up Midnight Bourbon by two lengths. Hot Rod Charlie also showed promise as a two-year-old, finishing second behind Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile despite making an arguably premature move into a hot pace.
Hot Rod Charlie might not be the flashiest horse in training, but his workmanlike, just-keep-grinding style is well-suited to racing 1 1/2 miles in the Belmont Stakes. Winning the Belmont is all about maintaining a good pace over an extended route of ground, which is exactly what Hot Rod Charlie is accustomed to doing. In a race without much speed on paper, Hot Rod Charlie figures to assume a favorable position stalking Rock Your World through the early going, opening the door for a winning performance.
If you’re betting the Belmont Stakes on a small budget, we recommend taking a stand with Hot Rod Charlie and calling it a day. But if you have a bit more capital to spend (and want to seek a much bigger payday), why not favor Hot Rod Charlie in exacta and trifecta tickets while excluding Essential Quality from the mix? If the favorite finishes out of the money, the payoffs will be enticing.
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$6 to win on #4 Hot Rod Charlie
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 11th race, $6 to win on #4 Hot Rod Charlie
$1 exacta: 4 with 3,6,7,8 ($4)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 11th race, $1 exacta 4 with 3,6,7,8
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$14 to win on #4 Hot Rod Charlie
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 11th race, $14 to win on #4 Hot Rod Charlie
$2 exacta: 4 with 3,6,7,8 ($8)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 11th race, $2 exacta 4 with 3,6,7,8
$2 exacta: 3,6,7,8 with 4 ($8)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 11th race, $2 exacta 3,6,7,8 with 4
Wagering Strategy on a $60 Budget
$24 to win on #4 Hot Rod Charlie
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 11th race, $24 to win on #4 Hot Rod Charlie
$1 trifecta: 4 with 3,6,7,8 with 3,6,7,8 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 11th race, $1 trifecta 4 with 3,6,7,8 with 3,6,7,8
$1 trifecta: 3,6,7,8 with 4 with 3,6,7,8 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 11th race, $1 trifecta 3,6,7,8 with 4 with 3,6,7,8
$1 trifecta: 3,6,7,8 with 3,6,7,8 with 4 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 11th race, $1 trifecta 3,6,7,8 with 3,6,7,8 with 4
Good luck, and enjoy the race!