Belmont Stakes: Essential Quality was the sure bet holds off runner up Hot Rod Charlie

Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr crosses the finish line with winning horse Essential Quality to win the 128th Metropolitan horse race at the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park NY on Sat Jun 5, 2021 (AP News photo)

By Jessica Kwong

The Belmont Stakes favorite, Essential Quality, won the 153rd running of the third and final leg of the Triple Crown on Saturday evening.

Essential Quality overtook the early leader, Hot Rod Charlie, in the final turn and held him off until the finish line and won the $1 million race.

“That was a long way around there a mile a half but it was exciting,” Cox said. “It looked like the horse on the inside, he still had run left. I knew it was going to be a battle down the line.”

Hot Rod Charlie finished second while the 146th Preakness Stakes champion, Rombauer, finished third.

Essential Quality gave his trainer Brad Cox his first Triple Crown victory. His jockey Luis Saez also won a Triple Crown race for the first time.

Saez said Belmont was his “second home” and that this was the race I wanted to win.”

Cox said that Saez “did a fantastic job of getting him in position turning for home and he was able to really show his stamina late.”

The race did not include Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, after the horse failed a drug test after the Derby. Medina Spirit’s trainer, Bob Baffert, has been suspended from the Derby for two years, it was announced on Wednesday. In addition, the New York Racing Association temporarily suspended Baffert from entering any races this month at the track that hosts the Belmont Stakes.

A limited crowd of 11,000 people attended the race at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, and were required to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test.

Called the “Test of the Champion,” it is the oldest event in the Triple Crown and also the longest, at 1½ miles, or 12 furlongs.

Here is the 2021 Belmont Stakes finish order:

1 Essential Quality

2 Hot Rod Charlie

3 Rombauer

4 Known Agenda

5 Bourbonic