With the announcement of the split sample from Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirt showing positive for betamethasone on Wednesday, the horse racing will be busy debating the fate of trainer Bob Baffert.
That Churchill Downs has suspended Baffert two years and is likely the first shoe to fall on Baffert, the news comes at a horrible time as the final leg of this years Triple Crown takes place Saturday with the running of the Belmont Stakes.
All the issues surrounding Baffert and his Kentucky Derby winning horse figures to dominate the conversation throughout the pre-Belmont coverage.
When 3:49 p.m. PDT rolls around Saturday at least we will be given a two-and-a-half minute reprieve from the controversy with the running of the Belmont.
The race is the 11th on the strong Belmont card and will see eight horses go for the last of the 2021 Triple Crown races. With only eight horses in the field, let’s take a look at all the runners, starting from the rail out.
Bourbonic (Todd Pletcher trainer, Kendrick Carmouche jockey, 15-1): Thought of as decent longshot to hit the board in the Derby at 30-1, then broke poorly and ran every bit to that 30-1. He did rally a bit that day, finishing 13th, and does show a history of having some late run so it begs the question that here in the longest race of the trilogy is he one that could be making a late run in that monster lane at Belmont? He did win the Wood at 70-1, but I am feeling he will run to his odds again here.
Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Luis Saez, 2-1): Was the beaten favorite in the Derby but had trouble at the start and was forced to battle wide after recovering. He never really found his rhythm in the Derby and still got up to finish fourth, his first loss of his career. He had some time off, been drilling great, and has shown over his career he can come from off the pace. With only eight runners here, the chance of trouble he faced in the 19-horse Derby field is remote. I like the horse to get some redemption here.
Rombauer (Michael McCarthy, John Velazquez, 3-1): Here is your Preakness winner but with a new jockey. Velazquez was the jockey on Medina Spirit, riding the horse in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. He now takes the mount here, with winning Preakness jockey Flavian Prat opting to ride another. Until the Preakness, Rombauer’s claim to fame was winning the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. The win guaranteed him a spot in the Preakness and the horse certainly made the most of it. The race showed he has some skills, but I will be looking elsewhere.
Hot Rod Charlie (Doug O’Neill, Flavian Prat, 7-2): Owned by O’Neill’s nephew and a group of college buddies, the fun-loving group may have a lot to party about come 7 p.m. Saturday. The horse goes out and runs every race and is coming off an honest third in the Derby, with Prat up. Now Prat is back after the connections opted to skip the Preakness. He looked like he still had some run at the end of the Derby and after some time off in California, he ships cross country as a legit contender. Only two wins in eight career starts, but he has shown he is a fighter when they turn for home.
France Go de Ina (Hideyuki Mori, Ricardo Santana Jr., 30-1): Some tried to play this runner as a wise-guy horse in the Preakness, but he ended up a badly beaten 7th after being a pace factor early. That sets zero positive feelings for a longer race. I think he needs to head back to Japan after this race where he was putting together a strong campaign.
Known Agenda (Todd Pletcher, Jose Ortiz, 6-1): Will take some decent action from people looking to beat the favorite. He came into the Derby looking like a strong choice after winning the Florida Derby and beating Greatest Honour in the process. Started poorly in Kentucky, breaking 17th out of the 19 horses. He weaved his was through the field and did get back to finish 9th. He has been off since then and has put together a series of good works. Showed guts in the Derby to come back after the start effectively ended his win chances and does deserve a look here.
Rock Your World (John Sadler, Joel Rosario, 9-2): This horse does have his followers and came into the Derby 3-for-3 before having his Derby dreams demolished in the first strides out of the gate. He was jostled, taken out of stride, and then pushed wide. He finished 17th, 24-lengths back. A consistent work tab and the skipping the Preakness make him worthy of being in the conversation for the Belmont.
Overtook (Todd Pletcher, Manuel Franco, 20-1): This is Pletcher’s third horse in the race and will be the third finisher of his three runners. Has one win in five starts, that coming in a straight maiden race. Did have a nice closing kick to finish second in the Withers back in February and the maiden win came from off the pace as well. Still this is a huge step up.
I think it starts and stops with the favorite, but the way this 3-year-old campaign has gone you can’t shut the door on other runners.
Expect Hot Rod Charlie to go to the front and if he gets easy fractions throughout, which it appears he will, expect him to be full of run as they head for home.
I don’t expect anyone to push or set a fast pace as besides not being the smartest move in this length race, there is no horse that has shown that type of running style consistently.
Rock Your World may opt to be right there with Hot Rod Charlie with Essential Quality sitting from third to fifth throughout the stages.
Watch how hard to jockeys are riding the horses as they turn for home. Any of them seemingly cruising along will be the ones to watch in the lengthy stretch.
I fully expect Essential Quality to be doing just that and be the winner of the Belmont.
By Dennis Miller