Back in its traditional spot on the calendar five weeks after the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, the Grade 1, $1.5 Million Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets doesn’t have a Triple Crown on the line, or even the Derby winner trying to make amends for losing the Preakness Stakes. What the Belmont does have is a field of eight, including five horses that ran in the Derby and then expressly sat out the Preakness for this opportunity.
Those five horses, with their Derby placings, are Hot Rod Charlie (third), Essential Quality (fourth), Known Agenda (ninth), Bourbonic (13th) and Rock Your World (17th).
Preakness winner Rombauer tries to win the last two legs of the Triple Crown, while France Go de Ina attempts to improve off a seventh of 10 finish in that race. Overtook rounds out the field, having finished third in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes on this Belmont Park main track four weeks ago.
Analysis Part One – Main Contenders
The strategy for Rock Your World in the Derby was to go to the lead just as he had done one month earlier winning the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, earning a career best 103 Equibase Speed Figure figure in the process. That plan was laid to rest immediately when one of jockey Joel Rosario’s feet came out of the irons, resulting in a shift in his weight and more importantly, the inability to get the colt to the front. From there, both horse and jockey could do nothing but watch as his best weapon was neutralized. Shipping back to California for three strong workouts, the most recent a five-furlong drill in :58.40, which was the best of 34 timed workouts at the distance on that day. Lightning is highly unlikely to strike twice. As such, Rock Your World should be able to control the pace from the start, possibly slowing the tempo down to below average, and go on for the win in the same manner as a number of winners of the Belmont in the last 20 years, such as D’ Tara, Justify, and American Pharoah.
In spite of finishing fourth of 19 as the betting favorite in the Derby, Essential Quality continued a pattern of improvement started in his first race of the year as a 3-year-old in February. The talented colt won the Southwest Stakes with a 105 Equibase Speed Figure before a career-best 109 figure in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in April. In the Derby, Essential Quality made a rallying move while wide to go from seventh (5 ½ lengths back) to fourth (three-quarters of a length back) with a quarter-mile to go but ran evenly thereafter. Although the 109 figure was the same, one thing Essential Quality has in his favor for the Belmont is his tactical speed, because if he rates in second in the early stages as he did in the Blue Grass, he may be able to pass Rock Your World in the final strides where he was unable to pass Medina Spirit in the Derby. The reason for this is his pedigree, as Essential Quality is the only son of Tapit in the field. Tapit produced the 2014 (Tonalist), 2016 (Creator), and 2017 (Tapwrit) winners of the Belmont. Tapit produces horses that can run 1 ½ miles and more as evidenced by STATS Race Lens Query, which reveals the sire has produced 13 different winners at distances from a mile and one-half to two miles over the last five years, accounting for 18 wins, with six of those coming at Belmont Park.
Known Agenda ran just a bit less poorly in the Derby as opposed to Rock Your World, checking in ninth after advancing from last of 19 in the early stages. That’s insignificant as compared with his two races prior to that. He added blinkers for the first of the pair in February and won by 11 lengths with a 103 figure. Next, he won the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa with a 112 figure and did so easily. Known Agenda is trained by Todd Pletcher, as is Bourbonic and Overtook. Pletcher has won this race with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013), and Tapwrit (2017). Considering his win in the Florida Derby earned a 112 figure, which is the best figure earned by any horse in this field, and considering North American leading jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. rides the colt for the fourth straight time, Known Agenda could bounce back to top form and post the mild upset to win.
Analysis Part Two – Second-Tier Contenders
As for Rombauer, although he has improved in each race as a 3-year-old, going from a 95 figure to a 100 to 103 for the Preakness win, I have concerns about his ability to run a mile and one-half as well as his ability to stay close early. Historically, a few horses have come from far back which is the way Rombauer likes to run, but for the most part winners of the Belmont have either led from the start or been within two lengths for most of the race. Considering the probable early pace edge Rock Your World possesses, Rombauer could be relegated to a minor award.
Similarly, Hot Rod Charlie’s third-place effort in the Derby may give bettors incentive to bet him more heavily than is appropriate given his somewhat low probability to win in my opinion. Hot Rod Charlie earned a 97 figure when beaten a neck by Medina Spirit in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in January before improving to 99 when winning the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby in April. In the Kentucky Derby, Hot Rod Charlie moved up quickly after a half-mile to get into third position then kept that same position the entire last three-quarters of a mile of the race. It is possibly he could be rated in second behind Rock Your World in the early portions of the Belmont instead of Essential Quality, but I see jockey Luis Saez on Essential Quality being more aggressive from his inside post and denying Hot Rod Charlie that opportunity, which means he would have to outfinish Rock Your World, who very likely will be uncontested on the lead from the start. Considering he couldn’t pass Medina Spirit the entire length of the stretch in the Derby, I think that’s a tall order.
Analysis Part Three – Non-Contenders:
There are few horses that don’t seem to be at the same level as the rest, so it appears logical to eliminate those as win contenders. Bourbonic started 18th in the Derby and ended up 13th. Prior to that, he earned a 100 speed figure winning the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino at odds of 72.25-1, and prior to that had no stakes experience at all. As a matter of fact, he broke his maiden in a maiden claiming race. He just doesn’t seem good enough or fast enough to be competitive. Similarly, Overtook finished second in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct in February off a maiden win with a 97 Equibase Speed Figure then took three months off and ran evenly from start to finish in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes with a 99 figure. Overtook is one of three horses trained by Todd Pletcher, shares some ownership with Known Agenda, and adds blinkers. He doesn’t appear fast enough to take on expected early leader Rock Your World, but then again stranger things have happened. Still, although a pace factor I don’t see him being in the top three at the end. France Go de Ina pressed the pace when third in the early stages of the Preakness then faded to seventh, earning a 78 figure. It would take an astronomical amount of improvement for him to be competitive here in my opinion.
Rock Your World