MEET AGAIN?: The connections of Belmont Stakes winner Essential Quality made it clear that the Runhappy Travers Stakes will be among their primary goals for the remainder of the season. Doug O’Neill, trainer of Belmont runner-up Hot Rod Charlie, indicated he would not back away from leaving his West Coast base for a potential rematch in the “Mid-Summer Derby” at a mile and a quarter at Saratoga Race Course. “I’d love to bring him back to New York,” said O’Neill, adding, “Just as long as he’s doing well and is injury-free, and he’s telling us through his training that he’s doing well and ready to go, he obviously loved to travel and we all love New York.”
NO BACK TO BACK: How could Rombauer go from an authoritative 3 ½-length winner of the Preakness Stakes to a non-threatening third in the Belmont? John Velazquez, who replaced Flavien Prat aboard Rombauer after Prat chose Hot Rod Charlie, suspects it all boils down to the intervals between races. He noted that Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie both had five weeks to recover from their previous start in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve while Rombauer had three weeks after the Preakness to prepare to go a mile and a half. “Two fresh horses,” Velazquez said. “That’s why the Triple Crown is so difficult to win. When you have fresh horses going into the races, it’s really hard.”
BACK TO BACK: Trainer Fausto Gutierrez was eager for Letruska to validate her nose victory against Monomoy Girl in the April 17 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park with a win in the Ogden Phipps Stakes. To his delight, she delivered with a front-running 2 ¾-length decision against Bonny South to earn fees-paid entry into the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Del Mar in November. “This is a speed horse that can run long distances. She confirmed what we saw in the Apple Blossom,” said Gutierrez of the 5-year-old daughter of Super Saver. “She’s progressed with age and taking the blinkers off. She ran like a big horse.” Gutierrez said that Letruska will have a light schedule ahead of the Distaff. “We need to focus on the Breeders’ Cup with the form we have,” he said. “These races are really tough.”
UPS AND DOWNS: Charles Appleby shipped four horses to the United States with his eye on two major prizes: the Belmont Stakes and the Longines Just A Game Stakes. He was forced to withdraw Rebel’s Romance from the Belmont due to an infection, but everything went his way when Althiqa and Summer Romance ran one-two in the Just A Game. “We knew we had two competitive fillies,” Appleby said. “It’s one of those days when we prepped well. I was confident they would run a big race and they justified it.” The great news for American racing fans is that Appleby said the Diana Stakes, set for July 17 at Saratoga Race Course, is under consideration for both fillies.
BOFFO BUSINESS: The scene at Belmont Park was grim last year as the Belmont Stakes was run without fans and without much joy. What a difference a year makes! With the country rapidly recovering from the pandemic, the all-sources handle of $112,725,278 on Belmont Stakes Day smashed the record for a non-Triple Crown year and might well have reflected how enthusiastically fans are embracing a return to normalcy. The figure represented more than a 10 percent increase over the previous non-Triple Crown mark of $102,163,280, set in 2019. All-sources handle for the three-day Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, featuring 17 stakes among 33 races from Thursday through Saturday, was a massive $141,984,866.