May 25, 2024

Essential Quality runs down Hot Rod Charlie to win Belmont

Essential Quality and jockey Luis Saez win the Belmont Stakes (Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)

Shrugging off his first career setback, a troubled fourth as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Essential Quality determinedly overhauled pacesetter Hot Rod Charlie and drove to a 1 1//4-length victory in Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont S. (G1).

Favored at 13-10 over seven rivals, the gray Godolphin homebred colt completed the 1 1/2-mile distance in 2:27.11.

Luis Saez was up on for trainer Brad Cox, who technically earned his first Triple Crown race win. Cox also conditions the Juddmonte Farm-owned Mandaloun, who may be elevated from second-to-first in the Kentucky Derby via disqualification.

Named two-year-old champion following wins in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Essential Quality opened his sophomore season with victories in the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park and Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland. He experienced an extremely wide trip after being roughed up at the break of the Kentucky Derby.

“We were so fortunate to have another opportunity (after the Derby),” said Jimmy Bell, president of Godolphin USA. “He has never run a bad race in his life, and I think he showed today he met the test of a champion. To do what he did as a two-year-old and come through these races as a three-year-old with the mile-and-a-half classic, it’s a great tribute to him.”

Essential Quality settled well off the pace in fifth as Hot Rod Charlie accelerated to the lead from the Belmont starting gate, establishing rapid early fractions in :22.78 and :46.49 while being pressed by Rock Your World. Saez pushed Essential Quality along midway down the backstretch, angling wide while taking closer order.

After continuing to edge closer on the far turn, Essential Quality drew even with Hot Rod Charlie about three-eighths of a mile from the wire. The pacesetter gamely fought back, but Essential Quality eventually got the upperhand to win going away late.

“It was a pretty nice trip,” Saez said. “That’s what I was expecting, we knew there was going to be a lot of speed, so we tried to get a clean break and be right there. I knew he was going to run his race at the top of the stretch. On the backside, he picked up the bridle and was moving pretty well, so I’m not going to try to take him back and go inside when he was running pretty well.”

Essential Quality delivered three-time leading sire Tapit his fourth Belmont winner, tying the influential Lexington for the most wins by a sire in the Belmont’s 153-year history.

“With the Tapit on top we really thought he would get the mile and a half when given the opportunity,” Cox said. “We always thought he had the ability. After the Derby, you just have to see what it takes out of them. It’s a demanding race as well as the Belmont. We were watching him for a week or so. We put our heads together and felt like if we we’re going to keep him in training we might as well run him.”

Hot Rod Charlie, a close second to Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, ran a big race in defeat as the 48-10 second choice. It was an 11 1/4-length gap back to Preakness winner Rombauer. Known Agenda came next in fourth.

Bourbonic, Rock Your World, Overtook, and France Go de Ina rounded out the order.

Kentucky-bred Essential Quality is out of the multiple stakes-placed Elusive Quality mare Delightful Quality, a half-sister to 2005 champion two-year-old filly Folklore. Now six-for-seven, Essential Quality has earned $3,215,144.