by Umberto Rispoli
Saturday 5th June – Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, New York
Just a few weeks on from Preakness 146 and the stage is set for the Belmont Stakes, the final and the third jewel in a Triple Crown that has got its glitz and glamour back now that the fans have happily been re-admitted, at least in some appreciable atmospheric measure, to these major racetracks.
This renewal represents the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes – at 1m4f, the longest of our troika of Triple Crown events. Of prior Preakness winners, history recalls that 42 have returned to win this last leg, which is a fair return at this highest echelon of Grade 1 competition, and bodes well for Rombauer.
As for the location, Belmont Park in New York is a beautiful venue and a very fair track, even if I’ve yet to have the pleasure of navigating it myself since moving over to the States. Next year for sure! But more immediately, this looks like a wide-open contest with a cracking “dead-eight” field, which is great for wagering and place betting purposes. And speaking more broadly, it should be quite a weekend of top-quality thoroughbred action with classy sorts on show all the way through the card.
Umberto’s Belmont Big Race 1-2-3:
Danger: Essential Quality
Place: Rock Your World
Rombauer did this column a big favour when landing El Camino Real Derby, before then justifying our longshot pick when well-backed from 25-1 into 12-1 for the Preakness itself. I’ve always maintained the combination of dirt and extended trip would suit him down to the ground, and I’ve clearly seen nothing to change my mind since he stormed past the giant Midnight Bourbon at Pimlico. Ever since I first breezed him on Mike McCarthy’s gallops, you could feel a sizeable engine was whirring away under the hood and I can report he continues in good order at home.
Moreover, since finishing an auspicious fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last term, this son of Twirling Candy has really developed physically and found his trip, using his powerful stride-length to devastating effect at the business end of races. Don’t read too much into Flavien Prat, my West Coast colleague, deserting him for Hot Rod Charlie here. For Prat actually committed his Belmont services to Hot Rod Charlie’s connections immediately after the Derby – before Rombauer’s romp to surprise stardom. So, it’s a mark of the man and his code of honour that he’s delivered on that pledge. In any case, Hall of Famer John Velazquez is a pretty able replacement in the plate!
Previously, I enjoyed a perfect partnership with Rock Your World to date and this undefeated colt will make them all go if avoiding the kickback after he fluffed the start and his lines at Churchill Downs. On the other hand, Essential Quality – sporting the famous Godolphin blue and a blemish-free winning streak until arguably unlucky in the Derby – also rates a predictable market rival. Of the two at the head of the betting, I marginally prefer Essential Quality who was forced wide last time, while Rock Your World’s rebound has to be taken on trust to some degree. Either way, both hold strong claims and will strip very fresh for having skipped the Preakness.
Elsewhere, Hot Rod Charlie ran a corker in Kentucky, where he was just beaten a length in third despite the run of the race going against him. In fact, pretty much everything went wrong for this horse out of the gates in Kentucky – he got bumped, baulked and yet still came home running despite being forced wide. This son of Oxbow, out of an Indian Charlie mare, has bags of tactical pace too, so he must contend but I feel he may run out of juice in the closing straight.
I think the others look outclassed at this level with the exception of Known Agenda who started as fourth choice in the market for the Kentucky Derby, at approximately 10-1. True, he finished a disappointing ninth, with no apparent excuses emanating from either jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. or trainer Todd Pletcher. If we can forgive him that, though, his Florida Derby form would translate very well to the Belmont. So, pay your money, take your choice but perhaps it was a blip day. We all have them!
Belmont Undercard Picks
Gufo (Manhattan Stakes) – I’m in love with this horse and I believe he can show something huge soon. He might benefit from the application of blinkers one day (although not this day) but he must be in the mix at the finish with Colonel Liam and Domestic Spending in opposition and renewing rivalry.
Stubbins (Jaipur Stakes) – will enjoy the long straight at Belmont, as will Gregorian Chant who should fly home late as ever and pick up a place in another of the big races on a stellar undercard.
Umberto Rispoli – Top-Jockey
Der ehemalige zweifache italienische Champion hat weltweit auf höchstem Niveau gewonnen, von Frankreich bis Japan und Hongkong. Letztes Jahr wechselte er über den Atlantik nach Nordamerika, wo er von seiner neuen Basis in Kalifornien aus seine Liebe zum Rennreiten neu entfacht hat, wie er sagt. Die Akklimatisierung erfolgte sofort und Umberto kam sogar bis auf einen Sieg an den führenden Jockey des Sommers in Del Mar heran.