Seth Wenig/Associated Press
From the No. 2 starting post to the finish line, Essential Quality had an impressive showing at the 2021 Belmont Stakes on Saturday evening at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. The colt entered as the favorite to win the race, and then he went out and lived up to the hype.
It was a strong showing from a horse that was also the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby but finished fourth. This time was much different, although it took a bit of time before Essential Quality made the move to ensure he came away with the victory.
At the beginning of Saturday’s race, Essential Quality stayed on the inside while several other horses jumped out to the front. Entering the first turn, Hot Rod Charlie was the leader, while Rock Your World and the long shot France Go de Ina were close behind. That trio had separated itself from the rest of the eight-horse field.
Meanwhile, Essential Quality settled into fifth place, where he was running just behind Preakness champion Rombauer at the quarter-mile mark. That’s where he stayed for most of the backstretch, before he pulled up alongside Rombauer and narrowed the gap between them and the top three at the three-quarter-mile mark.
Through one mile, Essential Quality had surged ahead of both Rombauer and France Go de Ina, pulling up alongside Hot Rod Charlie and Rock Your World. And as the final turn approached, Rock Your World slowly dropped off the pace, allowing Hot Rod Charlie and Essential Quality to run neck and neck for the lead.
Hot Rod Charlie did his best to try to hold off the hard-charging Essential Quality, and the two created a huge gap between them and the rest of the field. They were so close at that point it appeared they may cross the finish line together.
Then, Essential Quality had one final surge in him, pushing ahead of Hot Rod Charlie in the final stretch to reach the line first, winning by a margin of 1 ¼ lengths. Hot Rod Charlie came in second, 11 ¼ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Rombauer.
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And with that, Essential Quality gave trainer Brad Cox and jockey Luis Saez their first career wins at a Triple Crown event.
“Our horse really showed his talent and stamina the last quarter-mile, which we always suspected he had,” Cox said, per David Grening of Daily Racing Form. “Honestly, a mile and a half, you never really know ’til you try it.”
Saez was confident Essential Quality would pull ahead and earn the trip to the winner’s circle.
“The good thing about Essential, he fight always,” Saez said, per Grening. “He doesn’t care who it is. He’s going to want to beat him.”
Essential Quality now owns six wins in seven career races. Earlier this year, he won the Southwest Stakes and Blue Grass Stakes, but he couldn’t remain undefeated at the Kentucky Derby.
After that, Essential Quality didn’t race again until the Belmont, as he wasn’t among the colts to take part in the Preakness Stakes. That decision that paid off, as it’s clear that Essential Quality was ready to go for the Belmont.
Essential Quality finished the Belmont Stakes in two minutes, 27.11 seconds. It wasn’t a record (Secretariat ran the race in 2:24 in 1973), but it was a strong time that was fast enough for him to reach the finish line ahead of the other seven horses running.
Despite all the controversy that has surrounded this year’s Triple Crown season (with Kentucky Derby champion Medina Spirit failing a drug test and trainer Bob Baffert not being allowed to enter horses in the Belmont), Essential Quality ended proceedings on a high note. It may not have been a historic performance, but it was an impressive one that brought excitement to Belmont Park on Saturday.