Saturday will be the 153rd running of the Belmont, the third and final jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown. Unfortunately, there will not be a chance for a Triple Crown winner. However, that makes this a much more open race. Lucky for you, I did plenty of research!
While doing my research for the Belmont, one interesting fact jumped out at me: Over the last 20 years, only six winners priced at +200 or under have won while those priced at double-digit odds (+1000) or better have won ten times. So the hit rate of a double-digit odds horse winning is 50/50!
Will that be the case this weekend? Funny you should ask. Let's break it down with our regular question-and-answer format.
2021 Belmont Stakes Preview and Picks
Let's start with the odds so we know what we are looking at.
Hot Rod Charlie
Rock Your World
France Go De Ina
Can one of the long shots win?
Let's begin with France Go De Ina.
This race length might suit him a little more, but the fact that he finished 17-and-a-half lengths back in the Preakness has me very concerned. The fact that his pedigree includes Curlin does give us a little hope. Curlin lost the Belmont by a head back in 2007 and was later named horse of the year. So we could see France Go De Ina push another horse.
But for whatever reason, Japanese-based horses have not done well at Belmont. The best any Japanese-based horse has done was a third-place finish in 2016. However, trainer Hideyuki Mori is the first Japanese trainer to start a horse in the Kentucky Derby, so perhaps this horse is different? I don't think so. He will be ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., who is looking for his first Triple Crown Victory, let alone Belmont win.
Furthermore, France Go De Ina's top Equibase speed figure is 78. This race is less of a sprint than the other two triple crown races. But that's just not fast enough to win the Belmont. I don't have a lot of confidence in Overtook either. Overtook was second in the Withers Stakes four months ago and was third just last month in Peter Pan Stakes. He can definitely be a part of the winning ticket, but with one just one win in his last five races, I simply don't see him beating the entirety of this talented field.
Bourbonic, however, interests me. He's coming in at 20 to 1, which is a whole lot less than when he won at a record 72 to 1 at the Wood Memorial:
If you are looking for a long shot, Bourbonic is definitely the play.
What about the next tier of horses? Is the winner coming from there?
Unlike half the horses in the race, the next three horses did not race in The Preakness. They will obviously be better rested. The Belmont is a longer track, but I don't think that means much for these three horses.
I hate the value on Rock Your World right now, but if the odds increase on him, I might bet him to win. He absolutely has the speed to win this race. However, if he's not out on front to start the race, he's not winning it.
Known Agenda, however, is a bit more of a stalker, and I like the value. He, too, has Curlin in his pedigree. I like horses that can come from behind, and Known Agenda did just that in the Florida Derby:
But I also like Hot Rod Charlie and will likely bet him ATB (across the board). I remind you he did finish third in the Kentucky Derby. Furthermore, when a jockey is forced to make a decision on which horse to ride, it's worth noting whom he chooses. Jockey Flavien Prat was given the option of riding Rombauer again or riding Hot Rod Charlie. He chose Hot Rod Charlie.
That's extremely noteworthy. But if you are looking for additional reasons to like Hot Rod Charlie, know that he won the Louisiana Derby and with a 99 Beyer Speed figure, one of the best performances. In between the Louisana Derby and the Kentucky Derby, he was also well-rested. He has not run since then, and I think Hot Rod Charlie has the motor to surprise.
Essential Quality vs. Rombauer
That leaves us with two horses. Preakness winner Rombauer and Essential Quality. There are very strong arguments to be made for either horse winning and I will be boxing both in my trifectas.
One of the best arguments for Rombauer is that he will be ridden by John Velazquez. Velasquez is a four-time Kentucky Derby champion but also a two-time winner at the Belmont. He rode Rags to Riches in 2007 and Union Rags in 2012 to victory at the Belmont. Rombauer has won a Triple Crown race already, remember?
But I'm going to go with Essential Quality.
If you recall, he was the favorite coming into the Kentucky Derby and with plenty of reason. He was the champion two-year-old of 2020, finishing off the season by winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He continued his success in 2021 by winning the graded Southwest at Oaklawn Park in his three-year-old debut. He then won another graded race, the Blue Grass at Keeneland.
However, the Derby did not go quite as planned. He got bumped in that race, which is far less likely to happen again. And with Saturday's race having a smaller field, Essential Quality will be in a better position late than he was at the Kentucky Derby. And recall that he made up a ton of ground to finish fourth.
Finally, in their two previous races together, Essential Quality finished ahead of Rombauer. Those betting on Rombauer are thinking the third time is the charm. I'll bet on past history rather than platitudes.
Good luck in whatever bets you make!
— Written by Mark Strausberg, a member of the Athlon Network Contributor, who despite his youthful exuberance and good looks has been playing fantasy sports before Wildcats or Hoosiers even made it to VHS. Got a fantasy sports question or thought? Hit him up on Twitter @MarkStrausberg.