Essential Quality wins 2021 Belmont Stakes

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Brad Cox’s favorite Essential Quality ran down a furious pacesetting Hot Rod Charlie down the stretch to win the 153rd Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. New York regular Luis Saez was in the irons.

United Arab Emirates ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum owns Essential Quality.

The victory by Essential Quality could bring extra scrutiny of human rights issues involving the sheikh after a judge in England ruled that he orchestrated the abductions of two of his adult daughters.

This is the first Belmont Stakes win for all connections, and it was Cox’s debut in the final leg of the Triple Crown. Sheikh Mo previously won the 2006 Kentucky Derby with Bernardini (as Darley Stable), and Saez infamously crossed the finish line first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby aboard Maximum Security before being disqualified for interference.

Hot Rod Charlie took the early lead and led a fast field around Big Sandy. Essential Quality sat just a few lengths behind before going wide around the far turn and working his way up the pack. It became a two-horse competition between the colts, but Essential Quality proved too much for the frontrunner in the final moments of the grueling 1 1/2-mile trip. Preakness champ Rombauer finished third.

Essential Quality went into the Kentucky Derby on May 1 as the unbeaten favorite but finished a disappointing fourth. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champ skipped the Preakness—a popular route taken by four other competitors who had also run in the Derby.

He opened as the 2-1 morning-line favorite in New York and set off at 6/5 odds.

The Kentucky-bred colt paid $4.60 to win, $3.00 to place and $2.60 to show. Hot Rod Charlie (9/2) paid $4.10 to place and $2.90 to show. Rombauer paid $3.50 to show.

A son of Tapit, he becomes the sire’s fourth Belmont Stakes winner after Tonalist in 2014, Creator in 2016 and Tapwrit in 2017.

The Belmont regained its traditional spot as the final jewel of the Triple Crown after being run first in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Noticeably absent was Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who was suspended by the New York Racing Association on May 17 when his horse Medina Spirit failed a post-race drug test after winning the Kentucky Derby. Since then, Medina Spirit’s positive was confirmed by a second test, and Churchill Downs handed Baffert a two-year suspension. If the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission decides to strip Medina Spirit of his title, Baffert would drop back down to six career Derby wins, including his two Triple Crown winners (American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018).

Besides Maximum Security (and Saez) in 2019, only one other horse has been disqualified from the Kentucky Derby in its 147-year history.

In 1968, the horse Dancer’s Image was retroactively disqualified as the winner of the Kentucky Derby after testing positive for phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory used as a pain reliever that has been banned and unbanned to various degrees over the decades. After years of appeals and dragged-out drama and controversy, it has become one of the most infamous runnings of the race in history.

Order of finish for the 153rd Belmont Stakes:

  1. Essential Quality
  2. Hot Rod Charlie
  3. Rombauer
  4. Known Agenda
  5. Bourbonic
  6. Rock Your World
  7. Overtook
  8. France Go de Ina

NBC Sports heads across the pond for Royal Ascot. Catch all the action from June 15 to June 19 on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. 

Stradivarius, 3-time Ascot Gold Cup winner, retired to stud

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LONDON – Stradivarius, one of the most famous racehorses in Britain and Ireland after winning the Gold Cup at Ascot three times, has been retired to stud.

Bjorn Nielsen, the owner of Stradivarius, said he felt it would be unfair to make the horse come back next season as a 9-year-old after time away with a bruised foot.

“It has been a fairytale from start to finish,” Nielsen told British newspaper The Racing Post.

Stradivarius, bred in Ireland and the son of Sea The Stars, won 20 of his 35 races – including seven Group One races – and earned almost 3.5 million pounds (now $3.8 million) in prize money.

Stradivarius won four Goodwood Cups, three Yorkshire Cups and two Doncaster Cups.

Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

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BENSALEM, Pa. – Taiba won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby by three lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Taiba ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.67 and paid $4.80, $3 and $2.60.

It was Baffert’s fourth win in the Grade 1 event at Parx Racing. He also won in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Smith won the race for the third time, all aboard Baffert horses.

Zandon returned $3.80 and $2.60. Cyberknife was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third and paid $3 to show.

Taiba was coming off a second-place finish in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in July. The colt was 12th in the Kentucky Derby under Tim Yakteen, who took over training him while Baffert was serving a 90-day suspension.

“He had a little bit of a rough trip in the Haskell, but we had some time to get him ready for this one,” Baffert said from his base in California. “He proved today he is a good horse. He is getting better and better.”

Baffert Taiba will be pointed toward the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. The colt has three wins in five starts this year.