Saturday’s 153rd running of the $1.5 million Belmont S. appears competitive, with little separating the top five runners on the morning line based upon performance numbers, but the final leg of the Triple Crown will have a prohibitive favorite in Essential Quality.
The classy individual will be a popular pick to rebound from a troubled trip as the Kentucky Derby favorite, perhaps much lower than his 2-1 morning line. Unbeaten in three juvenile starts, the two-year-old champion stretched his record to five-for-five before the Kentucky Derby, but Essential Quality was roughed up at the break and experienced an extremely wide trip, missing by a length in fourth after covering more ground than the top three.
The Tapit colt has the bloodlines for the 1 1/2-mile distance, but Essential Quality has been far from overwhelming since stretching out past 1 1/16 miles two starts ago. In the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass (G2), Highly Motivated appeared to have him measured before running out of gas in deep stretch, ducking out and switching leads.
And Essential Quality had the length of the stretch to get past Medina Spirit, Mandaloun, and Hot Rod Charlie in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby. He still has something to prove at longer distances. The gray remains dangerous in a bounce-back role, but I will try to beat Essential Quality at expected short odds.
Rock Your World registered 106 and 110 Brisnet E1 and E2 Pace ratings comfortably leading wire-to-wire in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). His 102 Speed rating was tied for the top number in the Kentucky Derby field.
The 47-10 second choice lost all chance when missing the break. And now, Rock Your World is trying to prove he belongs among the top tier of three-year-olds. The John Sadler-trained colt is listed as the 9-2 fourth choice in the Belmont field.
His best chance is on the lead, and I’ll be surprised if Joel Rosario isn’t hustling Rock Your World from the starting gate. Rosario was up on Hot Rod Charlie when that rival controlled the tempo throughout in the Louisiana Derby (G2), and Rock Your World is quick enough to outsprint his foes to a clear early lead Saturday.
I will tab Rock Your World wire-to-wire.
Rombauer merits serious respect following a breakout victory in the Preakness S. A confirmed closer in the first five starts, Rombauer’s form has improved significantly in the last two outings for Michael McCarty.
He’s added a new dimension by racing closer to the pace. In the Blue Grass, Rombauer received career-best Speed and Pace figures after traveling a clear third throughout. He was never far back in the Preakness, always within five lengths of the pace before launching his bid on the far turn.
Rombauer closed boldly to win going away by 3 1/2 lengths at Pimlico, earning the top last-out Speed figure (103) in the Belmont field, and he may continue to have more to offer.
Overtook still has much to prove, but the Triple Crown newcomer doesn’t face the fastest group of three-year-olds. Bred to relish the 1 1/2-mile trip, the possible late-bloomer received a solid prep over the track in preparation, finishing third in the Peter Pan S. (G2) following a layoff, and three-time Belmont winner Todd Pletcher will add blinkers.
Six of the last 13 Belmont winners (excluding 2020) were making their first Triple Crown appearance, and I will include Overtook at long odds in multi-race wagers.