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Belmont Stakes Horses: A Look at Top Contenders

Odds Shark's horse racing expert takes a look at the Belmont Stakes horses and top contenders.

After kicking off the Triple Crown during the pandemic last year, the $1.5-million Belmont Stakes (G1) is back in its familiar spot and distance for 2021.

Run at 1 1/8 miles last year and before the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, this year’s Belmont Stakes is back at 1½ miles to close out the Triple Crown season with a field of eight three-year-olds going to the post.

While there is no Triple Crown hanging in the balance this year, we have a talented field that includes the Preakness Stakes winner and the Kentucky Derby beaten favorite among the 2021 Belmont Stakes horses.

Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit will not be competing. The New York Racing Association announced that trainer Bob Baffert is not welcome to enter horses at New York tracks after Medina Spirit tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone after the race. The positive test could lead to a disqualification in the Run for the Roses if the split sample comes back positive.

Kentucky Derby runner-up Mandaloun would then be placed first. The Brad Cox trainee is being pointed toward the Haskell Invitational (G1) on July 17 at Monmouth Park. Cox will be represented in the Belmont Stakes with the morning line favorite Essential Quality.

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The betting favorite has won three of the last 10 editions of the race, including last year with Tiz the Law. Going back 35 years, the favorite has crossed the wire first 10 times.

What Horses are Running in the Belmont Stakes?

Essential Quality went into the Kentucky Derby undefeated and owning the title for the top two-year-old of 2020 after winning the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), both starts coming at Keeneland.

He added the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park in the slop in his three-year-old debut and then won the Toyota Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland in his final prep for the Run for the Roses.

The Brad Cox trainee was sent off as the 5-2 favorite in the Kentucky Derby, getting bumped coming out of the gate, stalking the pace while wide and not having enough punch left late in a fourth-place finish, beaten a length for the top spot.

Cox elected to skip the Preakness Stakes and now the son of Tapit appears to be coming into the race in top form. The colt is the early betting favorite at Bovada at +225 among the 2021 Belmont Stakes contenders.

“I’m confident that he can handle the mile and a half,” Cox said. “Just based off his works and his races, he’s very steady and doesn’t seem to get tired. He has a tremendous amount of stamina that I think he was just blessed with based on his pedigree.”

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Essential Quality will be Cox’s first starter in the Belmont Stakes. Cox won the 2020 Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer. He won four Breeders’ Cup races last year at Keeneland.

Preakness Winner Returns

The Michael McCarthy-trained Rombauer came calling in the stretch and rallied to win the Preakness Stakes by 3½ lengths in an upset, returning his backers $25.60 for a $2 win wager.

The colt won the El Camino Real Derby over the Tapeta surface (synthetic) at Golden Gate Fields in February and was third in the Toyota Blue Grass. He had enough points to make the Kentucky Derby field, but his connections elected to wait for the Preakness.

Now he comes into the final jewel of the Triple Crown as one of the top Belmont Stakes contenders and the second choice in early wagering at Bovada at +375.

The Southern California-based McCarthy is well known on the Belmont Park backstretch, a former top assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.

“It would be fantastic. I have a lot of good memories here,” McCarthy said. “To win any Triple Crown race is fantastic, the Belmont is really the ‘Test of the Champion,’ and it would certainly be nice to hoist a trophy like that on Saturday.”

McCarthy will give a leg up to Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. Flavien Prat rode the colt in the Preakness but decided to stick with Hot Rod Charlie, who he rode to a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

Derby Alums Make Up Most of Field

In addition to favorite Essential Quality, there are four other Belmont Stakes race horses in the field that are exiting starts in the Kentucky Derby: Bourbonic, Hot Rod Charlie, Known Agenda and Rock Your World.

Among the four, Hot Rod Charlie, who was third in the Kentucky Derby, is the lowest price at Bovada at +400. The colt finished up gamely in the Derby, beaten just a length. He won the Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds in his previous outing.

Hot Rod Charlie is trained by Doug O’Neill, who is 0-for-2 with his Belmont starters. In 2012, O’Neill brought Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another to New York for a Triple Crown bid but the colt had to scratch the day before the race with tendinitis in his left front tendon.

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Rock Your World was expected to be a pacesetter in the Kentucky Derby but was off poorly and never got untracked, checking in a distant 17th. The John Sadler trainee won his first three career starts, including the Santa Anita Derby (G1). He should be a pace player with a better break. The colt is currently at +425 at Bovada in early Belmont betting.

“He’s come back and done real well since the Derby,” Sadler said. “We think he can run a long way. He’s got Candy Ride on top and with him being out of an Empire Maker mare, he’s got the stamina to go the distance.”

Known Agenda Leads Trio for Pletcher

Known Agenda is one of three in the field that will be saddled by trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won the Belmont Stakes three times — with the filly Rags to Riches in 2007, Palace Malice in 2013 and Tapwrit in 2017.

The colt drew the rail in the Kentucky Derby and was not much of a threat in a ninth-place finish. The colt is listed at +600 in early Belmont Stakes wagering.

“I’m happy with him. His energy level has been super,” Pletcher said. “I like the way he’s handled the main track here so I’m looking forward to it.”

Bourbonic is also sent out by Pletcher and is currently at +1800 at Bovada. After pulling off a big upset in winning the Wood Memorial (G2) at Aqueduct, the colt was beaten 16 lengths in the Derby in a 13th-place finish.

Japan Contender Looks for Big Payday

France Go de Ina is based in Japan and was seventh in the Preakness Stakes. The colt is +2800 in early Belmont Stakes odds. The colt is eligible for a $1-million bonus offered to the connections of any Japan-based horse who wins the Belmont Stakes.

The colt has just two wins, both coming at Hanshin Racecourse in Japan. He was sixth in the UAE Derby (G2) in Dubai before shipping to the U.S. with the Belmont Stakes bonus in mind.

The Newcomer to the Triple Crown

The Pletcher-trained Overtook is the lone runner in the field that did not compete in one of the Triple Crown races. The $1-million Keeneland purchase is listed at Bovada at +2500.

The colt has just a maiden score in the win column in five starts. He most recently was third in the Peter Pan (G3) at Belmont Park off a three-month break. His stakes debut was a runner-up finish in the Withers (G3) back in February at Aqueduct.

Jockey Manny Franco, who won last year’s Belmont Stakes aboard Tiz the Law, will be in the saddle.

Coming up tomorrow, I will have my Belmont Stakes race betting preview. On Friday, I will have my Belmont Stakes predictions and best bets.

When is the Belmont Stakes?

The Belmont Stakes is Saturday, June 5, with a post time of 6:49 p.m. ET and will be televised on NBC. The horse race is the final of 17 stakes races to be contested over the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival that gets underway on Thursday.

Belmont Stakes Day will feature eight Grade 1 races, including three Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” races.