NEW YORK (AP) – Brad Cox insisted he wasn’t sitting around waiting or worrying about whether a disqualification of Bob Baffert’s Kentucky Derby winner would give him his first victory in a Triple Crown career.
Essential Quality captured the Belmont Stakes on Saturday to make sure Cox didn’t have to wait another second to be a Triple Crown-winning coach.
The striking gray colt who bet 6-5 as a favorite passed early leader Hot Rod Charlie at the final turn and charged onto the wire to win the $ 1 million 1 1/2 mile race in front of 11,238 mostly unmasked fans . in Belmont Park.
Cox could be a Derby champion with Mandaloun if Baffert-trained Medina Spirit is disqualified for failing a post-race drug test. Two samples have confirmed the presence of the steroid betamethasone, although Kentucky officials have yet to announce the horse’s disqualification, a move that would elevate Mandaloun to top spot.
But Cox was able to enjoy this one with Essential Quality beating Hot Rod Charlie by 1 1/4 lengths. Essential Quality did it in 2: 27.11, taking advantage of an unexpected rhythm set by Hot Rod Charlie.
“I thought it would benefit our horse,” Cox said. “Hot Rod Charlie ran a tremendous race and I thought (with) the fast pace that we were in a good place that they would return to.”
Essential Quality, which opened as the 2-1 favorite, paid $ 4.60 to win, $ 3 to place and $ 2.60 to display. Preakness winner Rombauer was third and Known Agenda fourth.
“That was a long way about a mile and a half, but it was exciting,” Cox said. “It looked like the horse inside, it had still run to the left. I knew it was going to be a battle on the road.”
Essential Quality finished fourth as a defeated favorite in the Kentucky Derby due to a rough ride. Essential Quality demonstrated at Belmont why he has long been considered one of the best 3-year-olds in the country.
“He has never run a bad race in his life, and I think today he showed that he met the test of a champion,” said Jimmy Bell, president of Godolphin Stable, owner of Essential Quality. “Doing what he did when he was 2 years old and getting through these races when he was 3 years old with the one and a half mile classic is a great tribute to him.”
Doing a backdoor to become the first Louisville-born coach to win the Kentucky Derby would not allow Cox the same joy of victory as the Belmont, which the up-and-coming star will likely remember as his first true Triple Crown triumph.
And Cox saw this coming. He predicted last summer that Essential Quality would be his horse for the Belmont, and that proved true as he beat a tough field of seven other horses.
“Luis did a fantastic job of getting him in position to go home and he was able to really show his endurance at the end,” Cox said.
It was something of redemption for Sáez, who thought he had his first Triple Crown win by finishing first in the 2019 Derby with Maximum Safety. But Maximum Security was disqualified for hindering other horses.
This time there was no DQ.
“This is my second home,” said Sáez, who dedicated the race to the memory of his younger brother Juan, who died in a riding accident in 2014. “This was the race I wanted to win.”
But victory also comes with a shadow looming over Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who runs the Godolphin. Sheikh Mohammed faces scrutiny on human rights issues after a judge in England ruled that he orchestrated the abductions of two of his adult daughters.
Speaking only of his property and not the situation in Dubai, Cox set out to mention Sheikh Mohammed moments after the Belmont.
“Sheikh Mohammed, he has been supporting us for the last two years and this is a tremendous organization, a world class organization and obviously we would not be here without this horse and his support so I just wanted to thank him,” Cox said. .
The race was run without a horse trained by Baffert, who was banned by the New York Racing Association after Medina Spirit tested positive and placed third in the Preakness. Churchill Downs suspended Baffert for two years after a second Derby sample tested positive for betamethasone, which is banned at any level on race day in Kentucky, Maryland and New York.
Cox was confused why they kept asking him about the pending DQ Derby.
“I don’t wait at all,” Cox said this week. “I can’t control the outcome of that, so it’s something I think about very, very little.”
Normalcy returned to the Belmont after a very turbulent 2020 that featured the race that started the Triple Crown at a non-traditional distance of 1 1/8 of a mile on an empty racetrack. The race returned to its traditional place as the third stage of the Triple Crown five weeks after the Derby and three weeks after the Preakness, it returned to its “champion’s test” distance with fans clamoring for horses at the top of the stage.