The 2021 Triple Crown ended on a remarkable performance, as favorite Essential Quality put forth an outstanding performance to take the Belmont Stakes and make it three winners in three American Classic races.
The Brad Cox-trained colt was the odds-on favorite at 2-1 to win the race, but that doesn't always guarantee success in the Test of the Champion. The winner had to surpass a strong performance turned in by Hot Rod Charlie, who led for a majority of the race.
The two former Kentucky Derby entrants bided their time with the pack early in the race, but by the backstretch, it was those two battling for the win and the rest of the pack comfortably behind.
The performance for the Tapit progeny was a redemption of sorts. As the two-year-old champion last year, his talent made him a favorite to win the Derby, but he finished a disappointing fourth. Jockey Luis Saez attributed the contrast in results to a better break in New York.
"In the Kentucky Derby we were so confident that we're gonna win that race," jockey Luis Saez said, per the Associated Press. "He was ready for the race. But we have a little unlucky start ... Today the main thing was try to break clean, and the rest I know he's gonna do it."
The talented colt finally breaking through at an American Classic after the rough trip in Louisville is a nice story, but it doesn't make for a great payout for bettors. Hot Rod Charlie had shorter odds as well, and third place went to Preakness winner Rombauer, who wasn't a long shot.
Here's what the payouts looked like, per Equibase.
Essential Quality: $4.60 (win) $3.00 (place) $2.60 (show)
Hot Rod Charlie: $4.10 (place) $2.90 (show)
Rombauer: $3.50 (show)
Bettors may not have gotten rich from this race, but it certainly boosted the portfolio of Essential Quality's connections. They walk away with the lion's share of the $1.5 million purse. Here's what the purse distribution looks like along with the finishing times.
Win: Essential Quality ($800,000) 2:27.11
Place: Hot Rod Charlie ($280,000)
Show: Rombauer ($150,000)
4th: Known Agenda ($100,000)
5th: Bourbonic ($60,000)
6th: Rock Your World ($45,000)
7th: Overtook ($35,000)
8th: France Go de Ina ($30,000)
Rombauer failed to capture a second leg of the Triple Crown after winning the Preakness. Considering the length disparity between the shortest American Classic in Maryland and the grueling 1½ miles at the Belmont, he acquitted himself well as a horse to watch in shorter graded stakes the rest of the season.
Rounding out the six-figure winners was Known Agenda. The son of Curlin figured to be bred well for the distance but didn't quite have the speed to catch up with the top two while battling it out with Rombauer to hit the board down the final stretch.
Tapit continues to have a huge impact on the race. His bloodline has now produced four Belmont winners which ties him for the all-time record.
Notably absent from the race was Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, who failed a post-Kentucky Derby drug test. Trainer Bob Baffert was suspended by the New York Racing Association while the investigation continues into the horse's failed test.
Regardless of Medina Spirit's career moving forward, Essential Quality has likely become the favorite to be the champion three-year-old.
There's still plenty to be decided, though. While the Triple Crown is over, the Travers Stakes are right around the corner on August 28. After that, the Breeders' Cup could be in play.
While we didn't get a Triple Crown winner, Essential Quality proved himself to be special with a win in one of the toughest races there is. He could still wind up having a dominant summer and fall sparked by this trip.