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Essential Quality rallies to win Belmont Stakes

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Coming off the only defeat of his career, finishing fourth as the Kentucky Derby favorite, Essential Quality got redemption last Saturday when he edged past intense pacesetter Hot Rod Charlie down the stretch for a thrilling 1 1/4-length victory in the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes.
Sent off as the 6-5 betting favorite, Essential Quality triumphed for the sixth time in seven starts and provided trainer Brad Cox and jockey Luis Saez with their first career Triple Crown wins. Owned by Dubai-based Godolphin Stables, the Tapit colt completed the famed 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion” in 2:27.11 and paid $4.60 to win. Preakness winner Rombauer finished a distance third.
“With the Tapit on top we really thought he would get the mile and a half when given the opportunity,” Cox said. “We always thought he had the ability. After the Derby, you just have to see what it takes out of them. It’s a demanding race as well as the Belmont. We were watching him for a week or so. We put our heads together and felt like if we we’re going to keep him in training we might as well run him.”
In the winner’s circle, Godolphin President Jimmy Bell said Essential Quality, who last year won an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old, has never run a bad race in his life. “He probably ran as good a race as he’s run in the Derby,” Bell added. “We all wish sometimes to work out a better trip, but it wasn’t meant to be and that’s horse racing.”
It was an ideal trip for Essential Quality in the eight-horse Belmont, however. He broke clean from the No. 2 post and sat chilly in fifth place as Hot Rod Charlie set a blistering pace just ahead of Rock Your World, going 22.78 seconds in the first quarter and 46.49 for the opening half mile.

“He broke well, but it took four or five strides to get position going into the first turn,” Cox said. “I was a touch shocked. I thought we’d be a little closer on our own. When we saw the opening quarter, I felt good. And then the 46 he was laying mid-pack and on the outside.”
Still in a comfortable spot as the hot pace continued through a mile run in 1:37.40, Essential Quality made a strong move coming out of the final turn as Rock Your World backtracked out of contention, setting the stage for a crowd-pleasing two-horse stretch duel.
“Luis did a good job of getting him into position,” Cox said. “Turning for home, we were pretty much on even terms with the leader. Hot Rod Charlie ran a tremendous race to hang around that late after doing most of the dirty work. Our horse really showed his talent and stamina.”
Essential Quality, who earned $800,000 to boost his career bankroll to more than $3.2 million, moved a neck in front of Hot Rod Charlie at the eighth pole and inched further away in the final strides as the 11,238 fans in attendance roared.
“It was a pretty nice trip,” Saez said. “That’s what I was expecting, we knew there was going to be a lot of speed, so we tried to get a clean break and be right there. I knew he was going to run his race at the top of the stretch. On the backside, he picked up the bridle and was moving pretty well, so I’m not going to try to take him back and go inside when he was running pretty well.”