Item: Malathaat, the undefeated winner of the Kentucky Oaks, will not race next month in the Belmont Stakes. So much for the battle of the sexes.
Item: Because of his ongoing medication contretemps, Bob Baffert and anyone associated with his stable have been ordered to stay away from New York Racing Association tracks. That means Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit will not be allowed to try to finish in the money in all three Triple Crown races.
Item: Preakness winner Rombauer is already in his barn at Belmont Park. Deep closers like him, though, that have been more than two lengths behind at the top of the stretch have won only five of 89 times that the Belmont Stakes has been run at 1½ miles in its current configuration.
OK, has all that chased the mainstream crowd off to focus on the NBA play-ins? Good. Because the rest of us can ponder what promises to be the best bettors’ edition of the Belmont in recent memory.
One globally based sportsbook has thrust Essential Quality into a familiar role — a favorite for a classic. That is just what he was for the Kentucky Derby, in which he finished fourth. He is one of five horses carrying single-digit odds.
3-1 Essential Quality
9-2 Hot Rod Charlie
5-1 Midnight Bourbon
5-1 Rock Your World
10-1 Known Agenda
12-1 Rebel’s Romance
16-1 Promise Keeper
20-1 Brooklyn Strong
25-1 France Go de Ina
The odds that these exact 12 horses will actually be the Belmont field seem long, but each is under serious consideration for the race or, in the case of Rombauer and France Go de Ina, already committed to it.
The merits of the names listed are greater than usual for this race. Lately, what has been known as the Test of the Champion has been the Test of the n1x — allowance races for non-winners of one other than a maiden, claiming or starter. Accomplishments of the current dozen may be parsed thusly:
Grade 1 winners: Essential Quality (Breeders’ Futurity, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile), Rombauer (Preakness), Rock Your World (Santa Anita Derby), Known Agenda (Florida Derby).
Grade 2 winners: Hot Rod Charlie (Louisiana Derby), Rebel’s Romance (UAE Derby), Keepmeinmind (Kentucky Jockey Club), Brooklyn Strong (Remsen).
Grade 3 winners: Midnight Bourbon (Lecomte), Promise Keeper (Peter Pan), Weyburn (Gotham).
Only the Japan-based colt France Go de Ina, seventh in the Preakness, has yet to win in graded-stakes company.
How does this field look from a pace perspective? Using the Quirin Speed Points shown for each horse on its current past performances at Brisnet.com, the early 1-10 on the backstretch could look something like this:
E 8: Weyburn
NA 6: France Go de Ina
E 5: Midnight Bourbon
E/P 5: Rock Your World
E/P 4: Essential Quality, Promise Keeper
P 3: Hot Rod Charlie, Known Agenda, Brooklyn Strong
S 3: Rombauer
S 2: Keepmeinmind
The higher it is listed, the more of a pacesetter it tends to be. It is likely that 46-1 Gotham Stakes winner Weyburn will lead the field off the clubhouse turn, especially since he has not been more than a half-length out of the lead at the second call of his last four races. Rebel’s Romance is not listed since he has never raced in North America, but being a mid-pack horse he probably would be an E 3 or E 4.
Finally there is that old handicapping standby known as the dosage index. This is based on pedigree. The lower the number, the more likely a horse is to stay the 1½ miles.
1.10 Rebel’s Romance
1.44 Known Agenda
2.20 Rock Your World
2.50 Midnight Bourbon
3.00 Essential Quality, Hot Rod Charlie, Weyburn, Brooklyn Strong
3.57 Promise Keeper
7.00 France Go de Ina
The bad news for Promise Keeper and France Go de Ina is that American Pharoah is the only horse since 2004 to win a 1½-mile Belmont with a dosage index higher than 3.00.
Finally, in the last 14 normal runnings of the Belmont (in other words, ignore last year), the only two winners that had also been in the Preakness were Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify. That trend would seem to work against Rombauer, Midnight Bourbon, Keepmeinmind and France Go de Ina.
The message here is that a good, strong case may be made on behalf of most of the horses in the Belmont Stakes field. God bless France Go de Ina, but he seems to have come a long way just to get the same experience as a Jamaican bobsled team.
Want to back horses who have shown they belong in this class? Then Essential Quality, Rombauer, Rock Your World and Known Agenda have your attention. Considering something forwardly placed? Weyburn and maybe Promise Keeper come into the mix. Is the horse bred to run all day? Throw in Rebel’s Romance and Keepmeinmind.
Thankfully, there is a lot of time between now and June 5. Who knows? Other candidates might slip into the conversation while some of those on the current list slip out.
As for all who are disappointed there will be no Baffert or filly in the Belmont Stakes, let them be fanned by the flames of the cynical mainstream bettor. Lord knows few of those made it this far in the story.
In addition to this weekly report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at VSiN.com. You can also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week owners John and Diane Fradkin discuss Rombauer’s win in the Preakness. Louis Rabaut, Megan Devine and Mike Gandolfo of “The Horse Racing Happy Hour” share their Triple Crown perspective. VSiN’s Vinny Magliulo will handicap weekend races. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST Bet.