1½ (Dirt) The Belmont Stakes (G1), $1.5 Million, 3
We made it to the final leg of the 2021 Triple Crown … somehow. When I think back to the road we travelled, dating back to the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland, it has been quite a year of twists and turns. That trite statement doesn’t begin to cover it. Since we do not have a possible Triple Crown winner, the race automatically takes on a different feel. That is just the way it goes. It would have been nice to see a full-field of say 12, but we must be content with 8. Of those, one is already the elite … EQ.
Trainer Brad Cox won the Eclipse Award back in January, and part of the reason was his work with Essential Quality #2. I spent the better part of 6 months telling everyone who would listen that the son of Tapit, bred and owned by Godolphin was going to win the Kentucky Derby (G1). I was so sure that I had the perfect Derby horse that I went hard when it came to “Futures” and the like. It didn’t go my way. That’s horse racing, but you know what … much like life that is truly reflective, there is always another race.
Now, Cox’s best runner returns, and he should be able to handle what amounts to a poor field of opponents. Before Rebel’s Romance scratched because of a leg injury, I was prepared to argue that Godolphin would go 1-2. With Luis Saez riding as well as ever, he should be able to handle those stiff turns and the granularly-based “Big Sandy.” Tapits win … and these connections are looking for some redemption after being caught wide throughout the race at Churchill. Since then, his works look stellar, and he appears ready to decimate this lot. Knockout punch time …
As for any other contestants … there are not many. Sure, you could go with Derby-ites like Bourbonic #1, Hot Rod Charlie #4, Known Agenda #6, or Rock Your World #7, but they are not even close to the caliber of EQ. All of these colts had a one-off performance that got them to the Derby (i.e. Wood, LA Derby, FLA Derby, SA Derby); that was there shining moment that is now decidedly in the rearview mirror.
Out of the rest, I will mention the impressive victory in the Preakness S. (G1) by Rombauer #3, who Mike McCarthy schooled well for that moment. I cannot believe that Flavien Prat does not retain the mount, and instead is going to ride Doug O’Neill’s #4. This is a strange sport, isn’t it? Still, Rombauer was an also-ran against Cox’s power runner back at Keeneland in the Blue Grass, and I cannot imagine that it will be any different this time around. “Boys in Blue” win the Belmont!