Advertisement
Share

Rock Your World, Essential Quality hope for Belmont Stakes success

Rock Your World trains ahead of the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes horse race in Elmont, N.Y.
Rock Your World trains ahead of the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes horse race in Elmont, N.Y., on Thursday.
(Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

The Kentucky Derby was perfectly set up with two undefeated horses next to each other in the starting gate. Essential Quality, the favorite, was in the 14th position, and Rock Your World, the second favorite, was in the 15th. What could go wrong?

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the finish line. Way before the finish line.

The gates opened and Rock Your World broke a step slow, but jockey Joel Rosario hustled him forward. That’s when Essential Quality veered to the outside and Highly Motivated, in the 16th position, veered to the inside. Rock Your World was hit from both sides and dreams of winning the Kentucky Derby are over within seconds.

“I turned around after that and looked at my owners and said, ‘That’s it, it’s over,’” said John Sadler, trainer of Santa Anita-based Rock Your World. “I’ve never done that before.”

Sadler was right. Essential Quality was able to rally and finish fourth while Highly Motivated came in 10th. As for Rock Your World, a deflating 17th.

Advertisement

What does trainer Bob Baffert’s two-year suspension from Churchill Downs for Medina Spirit’s positive drug test mean for Del Mar and Santa Anita?

The buzz surrounding the two horses has certainly subsided in five weeks, but the anticipation is still there as they are against each other Saturday in the Belmont Stakes. Essential Quality is the 2-1 morning-line favorite. Rock Your World has slipped to the fourth choice at 9-2, and in between are Rombauer, winner of the Preakness Stakes, at 3-1 and Hot Rod Charlie at 7-2. Of the four, Essential Quality is the only one not based in Southern California.

“I just want a redo,” Sadler said as he walked to his temporary barn at Belmont Park. “It’s like when you go out there and fall down, you want to get back up and do it again. I don’t want to make any grand predictions. I just want to see him run a good strong race and do what he’s capable of.”

In the Kentucky Derby, Rock Your World was running his fourth race and second on dirt. Calling him lightly raced would be an understatement.

“I just think he lacked a little bit of seasoning,” Sadler said. “But there was nothing we could really do because his first two races were with no fans. The third race [the Santa Anita Derby] was before 8,000 fans, then to be in a race where they have 50,000 people and a field size that was super big (19). There was a lot of factors. He’s usually been pretty good from the gate. It didn’t go our way at the start.”

Essential Quality, despite the early trouble, was able to put his race back together and finished fourth, a length behind winner Medina Spirit. An analysis of the race showed that starting from the outside post, Essential Quality ran 68 feet farther than Medina Spirit in the race. Medina Spirit’s victory is under review after the colt tested positive for a medication not allowed on race day.

“[Essential Quality] had a lot more seasoning,” Sadler said. “He’s a 2-year-old [Eclipse Award] champion and had run more times. It was our second time on dirt. I’m just hoping having more time with him will help. He came back to California and worked well. A smaller field obviously will also help.”

Bob Baffert was the favorite to win the race with Medina Spirit, but the 146th Preakness Stakes was won by another Santa Anita trainer, Mike McCarthy.

Brad Cox, trainer of Essential Quality, had no explanation on why his horse recovered and Rock Your World did not.

“He’s a race horse when he showed that [kind of recovery],” Cox said of his colt. “He was five for five leading up to the Derby. He’s seemed to have won all of his races different ways whether sitting off a hot pace or laying close to the pace. He’s able to adapt. He’s a race horse, bottom line. He brings it every time.”

The final leg of the Triple Crown is very different in that it’s 1 ½ miles, a distance a horse might only run once in his life on dirt. Yet despite the daunting distance, the first half mile isn’t run that hard and horses are used to galloping two miles a day.

Still, there is what’s called a “Belmont Stakes horse.” Cox proclaimed Essential Quality that kind of horse last summer at Keeneland.

“I’ve probably said that about a lot of horses,” Cox said with a laugh. “But this is the only time I’ve had a Belmont horse. He just displayed a lot of stamina early on.”

It’s almost impossible that there will be a repeat of the collision between the two horses on Saturday. Essential Quality will break from the second gate and Rock Your World from the seventh in a field of eight.

Rock Your World, after two wins on turf, made his debut on dirt and won the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby by 4¼ lengths to clinch a Kentucky Derby spot.

Most are expecting a very contested race.

“It’s an evenly matched race,” said Michael McCarthy, trainer of Rombauer. “I think there are a few players in there that will be very live.”

Doug O’Neill, who has won the first two legs of the Triple Crown but not the Belmont, is bringing Hot Rod Charlie, third in the Kentucky Derby, to Belmont.

“I think it’s a very evenly matched crop,” O’Neill said. “You could throw a blanket over [all] of them and on any given day [one] could jump up and leave the group.”

Unlike the Kentucky Derby, there are no undefeated horses in the Belmont Stakes. In fact, there are only two with just one loss — Essential Quality and Rock Your World. It’s round two.


Advertisement