Essential Quality Wins Belmont Stakes

Kentucky Derby favorite Essential Quality made up for his loss at Churchill Downs with a Belmont Stakes win.
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Essential Quality Wins 2021 Belmont Stakes
Essential Quality and jockey Luis Saez win the 2021 Belmont Stakes. | NYRA/Coglianese Photo
“Redemption” was the word trainer Brad Cox used to describe Essential Quality’s hard-fought win in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 5.

A month earlier, the gray colt was favored to win the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs. Instead, he experienced his first career loss when he finished fourth. Essential Quality was the 6/5 heavy favorite in the Belmont, and this time he didn’t disappoint, scoring a 1 ¼-length win over the 1 ½-mile course in a time of 2:27.11.

The victory didn’t come easy for Essential Quality and jockey Luis Saez. Hot Rod Charlie, the 4-1 second choice in the wagering, broke from post position four and sprinted to the lead against the rail, followed closely by Rock Your World and France Go de Ina. Under the guidance of jockey Flavien Prat, Hot Rod Charlie set quick opening fractions of :22.78 and :46.49. Meanwhile, Essential Quality, who had a troubled start in the Kentucky Derby, got away cleanly from post two and settled into fifth in the eight-horse field.

“He broke well, but it took four or five strides to get position going into the first turn,” said Cox, the reigning Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Trainer. “I was a touch shocked. I thought we’d be a little closer on our own.”

At the mile marker, France Go de Ina began to fade while Essential Quality advanced three wide to challenge the leaders. As the field rounded the final turn, the Belmont turned into a two-horse race between Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie. The two rivals raced head and head through the stretch, with Essential Quality pulling away in the final strides to cross the finish line 1 ¼ lengths in front of Hot Rod Charlie, who proved to be a determined and game opponent.

Preakness Stakes winner Rombauer advanced to finish third, 11 ¼ lengths behind Hot Rod Charlie. Known Agenda improved his position to run fourth, followed by Bourbonic, Rock Your World, Overtook, and France Go de Ina, who was eased in the stretch.

“Luis did a good job of getting him into position,” said Cox, who notched his first win in a Triple Crown race. “Turning for home, we were pretty much on even terms with the leader. Hot Rod Charlie ran a tremendous race to hang around that late after doing most of the dirty work. Our horse really showed his talent and stamina.”

“It was a pretty nice trip,” Saez added. “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.”

It was also the first win in a Triple Crown race for Saez, who has ridden Essential Quality in all five of his stakes wins. In 2002, Essential Quality won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and Breeders’ Futurity (G1), en route to an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old. Earlier this year, he won the Southwest Stakes (G3) and the Blue Grass Stakes (G2).

Essential Quality (Tapit x Delightful Quality, Elusive Quality) is bred and owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Godolphin LLC, which celebrated its first Belmont Stakes win. Godolphin LLC is owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, its minister of defense, and ruler of the Emirate of Dubai.

“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 2-year-old and come through these races as a 3-year-old with the mile-and-a-half Classic, it’s a great tribute to him.”

Essential Quality now has a record of six wins from seven starts. The $800,000 winner’s check from the Belmont improved his career bankroll to more than $3.2 million.

After being contested without spectators in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shortened to 1 1/8 miles as the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes was once again held in front of fans—albeit a reduced-capacity crowd of 11,238—and at its famed 1 1/2-mile distance, restoring its status as the longest of the American Classics.

According to a New York Racing Association press release, Essential Quality could make his next start in the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) on July 31 at Saratoga Race Course as a primer for the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers (G1) on Aug. 28.

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Stacy Pigott is a freelance writer based in Tucson, Arizona. For 25 years, Stacy served as editor for various equine publications in the Quarter Horse racing and Western performance horse industries. She currently works at the University of Arizona, where she is a public information officer covering health sciences news and research. She hopes to compete in eventing and jumping with her OTTB Nicky.

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