2021 Belmont Stakes predictions, odds and best bet: Essential Quality ready to strut his stuff

Essential Quality has a strong chance in Saturday's Belmont Stakes
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Tom Collins

Horse Racing

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Journalist and UK/US horse racing handicapper.

A lack of quantity doesn’t naturally equate to quality — but that is certainly the case for the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes today. Just eight runners will go to post for the final leg of the 2021 Triple Crown and this will be a real Test of the Champion.

Horseplayers have become accustomed to either siding with or opposing potential Triple Crown winners as they enter the final leg in New York, but this year is different. Kentucky Derby victor Medina Spirit isn’t in the field, nor is runner-up Mandaloun. But the Preakness winner Rombauer is. Will the Pimlico form be upheld at Belmont Park?

Rombauer out to double up after Preakness victory

Midnight Bourbon turned for home in the Preakness with a healthy advantage under an aggressive ride from Irad Ortiz. Just a few strides later he was overhauled by the Michael McCarthy-trained Rombauer, a three-year-old son of Twirling Candy who was looking for his first Grade 1 win. He achieved it in emphatic fashion, crossing the wire three-and-a-half lengths clear of his nearest pursuer under Flavien Prat.

That was a huge step up on his previous showing in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, when he finished a considerable margin behind Essential Quality, and he performed as if he would appreciate the increased distance in the Belmont. A similar stalking trip is likely to be played out under new rider John Velazquez, who takes over after Prat decided to partner Hot Rod Charlie.

Although he returns just three weeks after his Preakness romp, encounters different conditions and a tougher field, he remains relatively fresh after a light three-year-old campaign.

Rombauer wins the 2021 Preakness Stakes

© Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Essential looking to show his Quality under Saez

Essential Quality, a grey son of Tapit, went unbeaten through his first five career starts. He was awarded the Champion Two Year Old accolade last season after Grade 1 wins at Keeneland, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and looked the horse to beat in the Derby after an impressive finishing kick in the Blue Grass.

Little went right for the Brad Cox-trained colt. He was forced wide throughout the early turns behind quick but controlled early fractions, and continued his move four horses deep turning for home. Courage took over inside the final sixteenth but he could never get close enough to peg back Medina Spirit, Mandaloun or Hot Rod Charlie, all of whom endured better trips.

He has been kept quiet since with just three timed five-furlong works at Churchill and enters this race with something to prove for the first time. His draw in gate two will help him achieve a better trip and the distance may aid his chance too.

Hot Rod Charlie, Known Agenda, and Rock Your World out for revenge

Along with Essential Quality, Hot Rod Charlie (third), Known Agenda (ninth) and Rock Your World (17th) are looking to avenge Kentucky Derby defeats. Hot Rod Charlie made a bold bid under an aggressive ride at Churchill Downs but tired close home after sustaining his challenge for two furlongs. The mile-and-a-half trip may not help him as much as Known Agenda, who lacks the early speed of the protagonists and looked one-paced as he passed tired rivals last time.

Santa Anita Derby winner Rock Your World has more to prove than others. He was all the rage at Churchill Downs on just his second dirt start, but got squeezed out early and never ran a stride thereafter. He could be the controlling speed in this field.

The other Belmont Stakes contenders

Todd Pletcher has won this race three times and is represented by Wood Memorial winner Bourbonic and Peter Pan third Overtook, as well as Known Agenda. Both longshots will need to step up on their previous efforts from their bookend draws.

Japanese challenger France Go de Ina raced rank through the early stages in the Derby but fought on well for minor money in seventh. If he’s hard to handle after the break, he could challenge Rock Your World for the early advantage.

Belmont Stakes best bet and verdict

It is hard to overlook ESSENTIAL QUALITY given he suffered the worst trip of the protagonists in the Kentucky Derby and should be suited by the mile and half in the Belmont Stakes. A strong rally, as we saw in the Blue Grass Stakes, may be enough to outfox Hot Rod Charlie, who isn’t sure to stay the trip. Rombauer and Known Agenda should be passing tired foes late.

Check out the trends to look out for when picking your horse for the Belmont Stakes from our Pickswise horse racing experts, as well as our picks and predictions for the undercard at Belmont Park.

Pickswise offers free daily Horse Racing Picks from across America. Get expert Horse Racing Picks from expert handicappers today.

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