(CBS New York) -- The Belmont Stakes is set for early Saturday evening at Belmont Park just outside of New York City. The third leg of horse racing's Triple Crown was run as the first leg last year, thanks to the COVID pandemic. It returns this year to its traditional spot on the calendar, and, unlike in 2020, some fans will be in attendance. Eight horses will run the 1.5-mile track.
Only 13 horses have won the Triple Crown in its history. There won't be a 14th this year. Medina Spirit, winner of the Kentucky Derby (for now), finished third at the Preakness Stakes and cannot run this week, due to the banning of trainer Bob Baffert. Preakness winner Rombauer could pull off a second consecutive victory, but isn't the favorite in the eight-horse field. That honor goes to Essential Quality.
Like every major contender except for Rombauer, Essential Quality (2-1) sat out the Preakness and should be well rested going into the race. The favorite lost for the first time in its career at the Kentucky Derby. That loss followed five wins, including the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in April. A stalker, Essential Quality had a shot at the Derby after running wide on the two turns but still came up short by a length. Given his lineage, he could have more success at Belmont. Essential Quality is the son of Tapit, who also fathered the 2014, 2016, and 2017 winners of the race. Luis Saez will be riding the horse trained by Brad Cox.
Rombauer (3-1) entered the Preakness on less rest than the other contenders. But without the win at Pimlico, the horse might not even be considered a contender at Belmont. He's won three of his seven races, the previous being a come-from-behind victory at El Camino Real Derby back in February. But in his final race before the Derby, Rombauer disappointed with a distant third-place finish. He ultimately did not run in the Kentucky Derby. Belmont winners tend to lead early or stay just off the pace before taking the lead. Rombauer, however, likes to hang further back and finish strong. Given the fast pace Rock Your World is predicted to take, that style could prove problematic. John Velazaquez will be the jockey for the Michael McCarthy-trained horse.
Hot Rod Charlie (7-2) has only two wins in his eight starts. But he is the only entrant in the Belmont that has bested favorite Essential Quality in a race. That race was the Kentucky Derby, where Hot Rod Charlie finished third and Essential Quality fourth. The strong finish in the Derby, which he stalked the pace could become second place. Before that, he finished third in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park, just behind Medina Spirit. Hot Rod Charlie led start to finish at the Louisiana Derby in March. Flavien Prat will ride the horse trained by Doug O'Neill.
Rock Your World (9-2) has the worst odds among the favorites but maybe the best shot at winning. He had the second-best odds entering the Kentucky Derby, but finished way back in 17th place. In that race, a jockey mishap prevented him from running the kind of race he wanted to. Prior to the Derby, Rock Your World had three wins in three races, including a strong win at the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby in early April. Experts are betting on a much better showing in a race that should find him setting the pace. Joel Rosario will be the jockey for the John Sadler-trained horse.
Here is the complete field in post order, along with their opening odds:
1. Bourbonic (15-1)
2. Essential Quality (2-1)
3. Rombauer (3-1)
4. Hot Rod Charlie (7-2)
5. France Go de Ina (30-1)
6. Known Agenda (6-1)
7. Rock Your World (9-2)
8. Overtook (20-1)
The 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes is scheduled for Saturday, June 5 at 6:49 p.m. ET at Belmont Park.
Which horse will win the Belmont Stakes? And which underdog is a must-back? Visit SportsLine to see picks from Jody Demling, the expert who nailed Tiz the Law's Belmont win last year.
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