The Belmont Stakes, run as the first leg of the Triple Crown last year because of the pandemic, will return to its customary spot as its final jewel on Saturday, but there will be no coronation.
Medina Spirit, who failed a drug test after winning the Kentucky Derby on May 1 and finished third in the Preakness while results of a second sample were still pending, was barred from the Belmont by the New York Racing Association as part of a ban against his trainer, Bob Baffert. On Wednesday, the positive drug test was confirmed. Now Rombauer, the winner of the Preakness, will headline the field of eight. On Thursday, Irad Ortiz Jr. was injured in a spill at Belmont Park and was replaced by his brother Jose Ortiz as the rider for Known Agenda.
The Belmont horses are listed in order of post position, with comments by Joe Drape and Melissa Hoppert of The New York Times. The morning-line odds were set by David Aragona of the New York Racing Association.
Purse: $1 million guaranteed Distance: 1½ miles
Track record: For a mile and a half, 2:24 (Secretariat, 1973); for a mile and an eighth, 1:45.40 (Secretariat, 1973)
Weight: 126 pounds
Post time: Saturday at 6:49 p.m. Eastern
How to watch: Coverage on Saturday begins on NBC Sports Network at 3 p.m., Eastern time, and moves to NBC at 5 p.m. Coverage will also be streamed on NBC Sports Live.
Joe Drape’s win-place-show picks: Essential Quality, Known Agenda, Bourbonic
Melissa Hoppert’s picks: Known Agenda, Essential Quality, Rock Your World
Here’s how we see the field:
Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: Kendrick Carmouche Odds: 15-1
Drape: If this late runner finds the winner’s circle, Carmouche will be the first Black jockey to win the Test of the Champion since Willie Simms in 1894.
Hoppert: Pletcher has found a winning formula in running in the Derby, skipping the Preakness, then capturing the Belmont, but of his three entries, the 13th-place Derby finisher is not the one to win here.
2. Essential Quality
Trainer: Brad Cox Jockey: Luis Saez Odds: 2-1
Drape: In the Kentucky Derby, this colt was bumped at the gate, hung wide around both turns and still was a fast-closing fourth. Your winner on Saturday.
Hoppert: He has tactical speed and should have no problem with the mile and a half as his sire, Tapit, has produced three Belmont winners. If Drape is picking the favorite, you might as well take this one to the bank.
Trainer: Michael McCarthy Jockey: John Velazquez Odds: 3-1
Drape: The Preakness winner might have fired his best shot in Baltimore.
Hoppert: He picks up the Derby-winning jockey who knows his way around Big Sandy and should be in the mix as the field turns for home.
4. Hot Rod Charlie
Trainer: Doug O’Neill Jockey: Flavien Prat Odds: 7-2
Drape: This colt has a high cruising speed, but can he keep it going for a mile and a half?
Hoppert: Prat, who rode Hot Rod Charlie to a third-place finish in the Derby and won the Preakness aboard Rombauer, is betting big on the horse his fraternity brother owners call Chuck.
5. France Go de Ina
Trainer: Hideyuki Mori Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr. Odds: 30-1
Drape: He was beaten by more than 17 lengths while finishing seventh in the Preakness. Hard to like.
Hoppert: Based in Japan, he is making only his second North American start, and it’s highly unlikely that it will go better than the first.
6. Known Agenda (updated)
Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: Jose Ortiz Odds: 6-1
Drape: He lost any chance in the Derby when he drew the No. 1 post. He finished second on this track last fall. He is working as if he likes the footing. Expect a big one.
Hoppert: The ninth-place Derby finisher is bred for the distance, but he lost Irad Ortiz Jr. — the top jockey in North America and at Belmont Park — after a spill on Friday. He was my pick in the Derby, and I’m going to stick with him here, but I’m not thrilled with losing Irad Ortiz. (Box Known Agenda with Essential Quality.)
7. Rock Your World
Trainer: John Sadler Jockey: Joel Rosario Odds: 9-2
Drape: The Santa Anita Derby winner beat only two home in the Derby. He won’t get the easy lead he needs.
Hoppert: His Derby finish doesn’t tell the whole story as he had a dismal trip in that race. Expect an improved performance here, and leave him off your exotic tickets at your own peril.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher Jockey: Manny Franco Odds: 20-1
Drape: Like his stablemate Bourbonic, this colt will be coming from way back.
Hoppert: The third-place finisher in the Peter Pan Stakes here in early May is the lone contender who has yet to run in a Triple Crown race. And even though he has the pedigree for this marathon race, he still seems out of his league.