June 5 (UPI) — Essential Quality avenged his only defeat, a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, with a gutsy victory over Hot Rod Charlie in Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in New York.
To accomplish the win, he had to survive a long, head-to-head stretch duel with a familiar rival, Hot Rod Charlie.
Essential Quality, last year’s 2-year-old champion, finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby and did not contest the middle leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes.
With no Triple Crown winner this year, the colt now is poised to take over command of the 3-year-old division and pursue year-end honors.
Asked if the win makes Essential Quality the country’s top 3-year-old, trainer Brad Cox said, “Right now, I think he is.”
Jockey Luis Saez held Essential Quality well back of an extremely fast pace in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, moved up approaching the end of the backstretch and then engaged in a heated battle with Hot Rod Charlie.
The two raced side-by-side down the long stretch with Essential Quality finally edging clear in the final yards to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Hot Rod Charlie, who finished third in the Derby, was second, far in front of Preakness winner Rombauer in third.
“Today, we made history,” Saez said. “In the Kentucky Derby, we were so confident we were going to win the race. But we had an unlucky start. The main thing today was to get a clean break. The rest, I knew he was going to do it.”
“It was a long way around there,” winning trainer Brad Cox said. I could see Hot Rod Charlie ran a great race keeping up with that pace. I knew it was going to be a battle down the lane.”
Essential Quality, a Tapit colt, was bred by his owner, Godolphin, the racing entity of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai. He was undefeated in three starts as a 2-year-old, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and won his first two races this year before finishing fourth in Louisville.
“We’re so fortunate to have another opportunity,” said Jimmy Bell, head of Godolphin’s U.S. operations.
The finish could presage a hot rivalry for the remainder of the year. Before their battle in the Derby and the dramatic showdown in the Belmont, Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie were first and second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, only 3/4 length apart.