Equibase Analysis: Rock Your World Could Prove Tough To Catch In Belmont Stakes

Back in its traditional spot on the calendar five weeks after the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, the Grade 1, $1.5 Million Belmont Stakes doesn’t have a Triple Crown on the line, or even the Derby winner trying to make amends for losing the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes. What the Belmont does have is a field of eight including five horses which ran in the Derby and then expressly sat out the Preakness for this opportunity. Those five horses, with their Derby placings, are Hot Rod Charlie (third), Essential Quality (fourth), Known Agenda (ninth), Bourbonic (13th) and Rock Your World (17th). Preakness winner Rombauer tries to win the last two legs of the Triple Crown, while France Go de Ina attempts to improve off a seventh of 10 finish in that race. Overtook rounds out the field, having finished third in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes over the track four weeks ago.

Analysis Part One – Main Contenders

The strategy for Rock Your World in the Derby was to go to the lead just as he had done one month earlier winning the Santa Anita Derby, earning a career best 103 ™ Equibase® Speed Figure figure in the process. That plan was laid to rest immediately when one of jockey Joel Rosario’s feet came out of the irons, resulting in a shift in his weight and more importantly, the inability to get the colt to the front. From there both horse and jockey could do nothing but watch as his #1 weapon was neutralized. Shipping back to California for three strong workouts, the most recent a five furlong drill in :58.4 which was the best of 34 on the day, lightning is highly unlikely to strike twice. As such, Rock Your World should be able to control the pace from the start, possibly slowing the tempo down to below average, and go on for the win in the same manner as a number of winners of the Belmont in the last 20 years such as D’ Tara, Justify and American Pharoah.

In spite of finishing fourth of 19 as the betting favorite in the Derby, Essential Quality continued a pattern of improvement started in his first start of the year as a three year old in February. The talented colt won the Southwest Stakes with a 105 figure before a career-best 109 ™ figure in the Blue Grass Stakes in April. In the Derby, Essential Quality made a rallying move while wide to go from seventh (five and one-half lengths back) to fourth (three-quarters of a length back) with a quarter mile to go but ran evenly thereafter. Although the 109 figure was the same, one thing Essential Quality has in his favor for the Belmont is his tactical speed because if he sits second in the early stages as he did in the Blue Grass, he may be able to pass Rock Your World in the final strides where he was unable to pass Medina Spirit in the Derby. The reason for this is his pedigree, as Essential Quality is the only son of Tapit in the field. Tapit produced the 2014 (Tonalist), 2016 (Creator) and 2017 (Tapwrit) winners of the Belmont. Tapit produces horses which can run 12 furlongs and more as evidenced by STATS Race Lens Query which reveals the sire has produced 13 different winners at distances from a mile and one-half to two miles over the last five years, accounting for 18 wins, with six of those coming at Belmont Park.

Known Agenda ran just a bit less poorly in the Derby as opposed to Rock Your World, checking in ninth after advancing from last of 19 in the early stages. That’s insignificant as compared to his two races prior to that. He added blinkers for the first of the pair in February and won by 11 lengths with a 103 figure. Next he won the Florida Derby with a 112 figure and did so easily. Known Agenda is trained by Todd Pletcher, as is Bourbonic and Overtook. Pletcher has won this race with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013) and Tapwrit (2017). Considering his win in the Florida Derby earned a 112 figure, which is the best figure earned by any horse in this field, and considering North American leading jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. rides the colt for the fourth straight time, Known Agenda could bounce back to top form and post the mile upset to win.

Analysis Part Two – Second Tier Contenders

As for Rombauer, although he has improved in each race as a 3-year-old, going from a 95 figure, to 100, to 103 in the Preakness, I have concerns about his ability to run a mile and one-half as well as his ability to stay close early. Historically, a few horses have come from far back which is the way Rombauer likes to run, but for the most part winners of the Belmont have either led from the start or been within two lengths for most of the race. Considering the likely early pace edge Rock Your World possesses, Rombauer could be relegated to a minor award.

Similarly, Hot Rod Charlie’s third place effort in the Derby may give bettors incentive to bet him more heavily than is appropriate given his somewhat low probability to win in my opinion. Hot Rod Charlie earned a 97 figure when beaten a neck by Medina Spirit in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes in January, before improving to 99 when winning the Louisiana Derby in April. In the Kentucky Derby, Hot Rod Charlie moved up quickly after a half-mile to get into third position then kept that same position the entire last six furlongs of the race. It is possible he could be sitting in second behind Rock Your World in the early portions of the Belmont instead of Essential Quality, but I see jockey Luis Saez on Essential Quality being more aggressive from his inside post and denying Hot Rod Charlie that opportunity, which means he would have to out finish Rock Your World who has run slowly on the lead from the start. Considering he couldn’t pass Medina Spirit the entire length of the stretch in the Derby, I think that’s a tall order.

Analysis Part Three – Non-Contenders:

There are few horses which don’t seem to be at the same level as the rest, so it appears logical to eliminate those as win contenders. Bourbonic started 18th in the Derby and ended up 13th. Prior to that he earned a 100 figure winning the Wood Memorial at odds of 72 to 1, and prior to that had no stakes experience at all. As a matter of fact he broke his maiden in a maiden claiming race. He just doesn’t seem good enough or fast enough to be competitive.

Similarly, Overtook finished second in the Withers Stakes in February off a maiden win with a 97 figure then took three months off and ran evenly from start to finish in the Peter Pan Stakes with a 99 figure. Overtook is one of three trained by Todd Pletcher, shares some ownership with Known Agenda and adds blinkers. He doesn’t appear fast enough to take on likely early leader Rock Your World but then again stranger things have happened. Still, although a pace factor I don’t see him being in the top three at the end.

France Go de Ina pressed the pace when third in the early stages of the Preakness then faded to seventh, earning a 78 figure. It would take an astronomical amount of improvement for him to be competitive here in my opinion.

Win Contenders:
Rock Your World
Essential Quality
Known Agenda

Belmont Stakes – Grade 1
Race 11 at Belmont Park
Saturday, June 5 – Post Time 6:49 PM E.T.
One Mile and One Half
Three Years Old
Purse: $1.5 Million
T.V.: NBC 5 – 7 PM E.T.

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