2021 Belmont Stakes Preview, Picks, Predictions: Why We Bet Essential Quality & Known Agenda

2021 Belmont Stakes Preview, Picks, Predictions: Why We Bet Essential Quality & Known Agenda article feature image
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Rob Carr/Getty Images. pictured: Belmont Stakes favorite Essential Quality.

  • The 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes takes place Saturday, closing out this year's Triple Crown races.
  • Kentucky Derby favorite Essential Quality leads the field of eight going to the gate in search of the horse racing's third jewel of the series.
  • Analysts Mike Conti, Sean Zerillo and Jeremy Pond deliver their best bets, favorite longshots and top picks on the undercard below.

The last leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown is Saturday’s 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes. Belmont Park is known for its big, sweeping turns and being a deep, sandy track (which is why it’s known as “Big Sandy”), so many believe the third jewel is the most difficult race.

This will be one of the most competitive Belmont Stakes fields in recent memory. Some people might have something to say about there only being eight horses entered, but this field is deep and a number of horses have a legitimate chance to win at the Elmont, N.Y., track.

Check out our picks to win, our favorite longshot bets and our best undercard bets for the 2021 Belmont Stakes below:

Pick to Win the Belmont Stakes

Mike Conti: No. 2 Essential Quality (2-1)

Essential Quality is the morning-line favorite. He was also the Kentucky Derby favorite, finishing fourth that day. He was caught four wide the entire trip and traveled further than any horse on the first weekend of May. At the top of the stretch, it looked like he was going to be able to make his move and go by for the win, but just didn’t have enough.

While I don’t think there’s much value in Essential Quality today, he’s the most likely winner and one you have to use in both horizontal and vertical wagers.

Sean Zerillo: No. 2 Essential Quality (2-1)

Essential Quality (2-1) is both the most likely winner, and the horse that I’ll be keying my tickets around.

The Kentucky Derby post-time favorite finished within a length of the leader even with a troubled trip. And based upon adjusted times (feet per second), he was the fastest horse in the Derby field that day (Hot Rod Charlie was second; and, Mandaloun was third).

Despite his fourth place finish, that race might actually have increased Essential Quality’s stock in the eyes of many handicappers and I can make sound arguments against all of the top contenders in this field. The argument against Essential Quality comes down to the fact that he doesn’t have elite early speed, and doesn’t necessarily always get the best trip as a result.

However, he does have the perfect grinding, running style to be able to sit just off the leaders and work his way past them down the long “Big Sandy” stretch.

Jeremy Pond: No. 7 Rock Your World (9-2)

Yes, folks. We are going back to Santa Anita Derby winner Rock Your World.

The 3-year-old son of Scat Daddy had all sorts of trouble right from the beginning, getting drilled from both sides by Essential Quality and Highly Motivated just a few strides out of the gate. Plus, jockey Joel Rosario lost his irons during the horse sandwich, and any chances of Rock Your World winning in his fourth career start were effectively over at that point.

What keeps taking me back to Rock Your World is that debut win on dirt in the Santa Anita, where he led start to finish and blew the doors off Medina Spirit en route to a 4 1/4-length victory. What made that win most impressive was the fact it was his first time on dirt, so I’m giving trainer John Sadler’s talented colt the benefit of the doubt entering this race.

As for Essential Quality, I think we’ve seen the best of this horse, and the regression will continue after his fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. In my opinion, the Brad Cox charge had no excuse in the “Run for the Roses” and still wound up fourth despite having clear sailing down the stretch.

If Essential Quality beats me, so be it. However, I have him as the third-best horse in my race rankings behind Rock Your World and Hot Rod Charlie.

Bottom line, I fully expect Rosario to get Rock Your World out in front and work a clean trip. If the duo can keep the fractions slow — or simply modest — I don’t see anyone getting to them when they hit the top of the stretch.

Best Longshot Bet at the Belmont Stakes

Mike Conti: No. 6 Known Agenda (6-1)

Known Agenda was initially my top pick for the Derby before the draw. When he drew the rail, he dropped down, but I thought he would still be able to work out a trip, which he wasn’t.

With his post position and the pace scenario, he should be able to sit just off the pace, in a stalking trip similar to his Florida Derby victory. One of the big questions is who will be aboard as jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. took a nasty spill on Thursday and is off all his mounts.

Trainer Todd Pletcher always has his dirt horses ready to go in New York. Known Agenda has been training really well leading up to the Belmont.

Sean Zerillo: No. 8 Overtook (20-1)

Overtook is one of three entries for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher, who is a three-time Belmont Stakes winner. Overtook has improved his speed score from one race to the next, plus he’s adding blinkers for this start. That equipment change should keep him closer to the pace. A $1 million-dollar son of Curlin — the sire of Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice — he has the pedigree to compete both at this track and distance.

I don’t think Overtook is good enough to win this race, but I’ll be including him underneath in any exotics as my favorite price horse.

Jeremy Pond: No. 6 Known Agenda (6-1)

It’s kind of bizarre having a legitimate contender sitting at 6-1 odds as the live “longshot,” but that’s how it goes when you have an eight-horse field.

Like Rock Your World, Florida Derby winner Known Agenda enters the Belmont coming off a brutal trip from the dreaded rail position in the Kentucky Derby. Despite the awful start, jockey Irad Ortiz and his contender picked off horses turning for home and wound up a respectable ninth in the race.

Unfortunately, we won’t get to see Ortiz — the three-time Eclipse Award winner for the horse racing’s best jockey — ride Known Agenda after he was injured in a brutal spill during Thursday’s action at Belmont Park. Thankfully, Ortiz was not hurt badly and will only miss a few weeks due to his injuries.

Prior to Ortiz’s injury, I had Known Agenda in my top three contenders and thought he had a legitimate chance to win this race. Now, with the jockey not being named until Saturday, according to trainer Todd Pletcher, you can only speculate who will be aboard the son of the mighty Curlin.

My guess is either Jose Ortiz, who is Irad Ortiz’s brother, or Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano gets the nod. Regardless who is called upon, Known Agenda is going to probably see his odds drift to double digits, and that provides us some big-time value on this live contender.

Best Undercard Bet

Mike Conti: Race 10 — No. 7 Channel Cat (12-1)

Channel Cat is my top undercard bet. He’s coming in off a win in the Grade 1 Man of War right here at Belmont Park. It’s also important to note he won that race over a good turf course, which is what I expect the grass to be listed as for this race.

He’s run a 100-plus Brisnet speed figure in eight of his last 10 races, with only one other horse running at least a 100 before in their career.

Sean Zerillo: Race 9 — No. 5 By My Standards (10-1)

The Metropolitan Handicap aka the “Met Mile” is my favorite race every year, and my favorite horse in training — By My Standards — stands out at his price point.

He won the Oakland Mile first off the bench on April 10, and figures to improve here in the second start of his form cycle. Like any edition of the Met Mile, there are plenty of talented horses in this field and By My Standards is not the most likely winner of this race.

However, if you tailed me on Arkansas Stakes Day last year, then you are duty bound to throw some change on the horse who was the key to our significant payday, with his win at 5-1 in the Oaklawn Handicap

I’m playing By My Standards across the board (Win-Place-Show) at odds of 5-1 or better and we’ll hope he’s in his ideal stalking position behind the leaders as the field enters the first turn.

Jeremy Pond: Race No. 6 — Got Stormy (6-1)

Can a lady beat the boys in the Grade 1 Jaipur Stakes? I’m hoping the answer is “yes” since I’ve landed on Got Stormy as my top undercard play in the six-furlong turf sprint on Belmont Park’s inner track.

The 6-year-old daughter of Get Stormy has more than $2.1 million in career earnings, highlighted by a second-place finish in the 2019 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile. I’m not a huge fan of her breaking from the No. 11 post in the 12-horse field, but jockey Tyler Gaffalione should have her clear of any trouble.

Just one of two mares entered in the race, Got Stormy is sitting on a big effort and has found success turning back in distance. Trainer Mark Casse made this successful move a year ago, leading Got Stormy to a win at this distance in the Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint Stakes. He dialed her back even further in her triumph at 5 1/2 furlongs in the Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes.

Oleksandra, the other female entered, is actually the defending champion. However, she’s winless in her last four starts since last year’s Jaipur win, so I’m hopeful it’s the other lady beating the boys in this intriguing $400,000 race.

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