2021 Belmont Stakes preview

All of the Bob Baffert drama still has not dampened the enthusiasm for wagering during the Triple Crown season.

The 2021 Preakness drew a record betting handle despite the controversy surrounding Medina Spirit’s now-positive drug test. And the second leg of the Triple Crown was still the highest-rated sporting event of the weekend — even if ratings sagged a bit.

The question now is: Without the prospect of one of the horses joining the elite 13 member club of Triple Crown winners, will the Belmont Stakes still generate interest from the viewing and betting public?

I believe so. Betting only eight horses as opposed to 20 in the Kentucky Derby increases chances that you can actually hit that trifecta you hopelessly throw a few dollars at every Triple Crown race.

I would know; I had a winning ticket in 2015 when American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes and joined Triple Crown immortality.

Man holding tickets
WTOP’s Chris Cichon was all smiles as his 2015 Belmont Stakes bet paid off. (WTOP/Chris Cichon)

There are only eight horses running the 1.5-mile race — same as 2015. The purse is $1.5 million with a post time of 6:47 p.m. Saturday.

Below are their current odds in the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes, courtesy of U.S. Racing.


#1 Bourbonic

#2 Essential Quality 2/1
#3 Rombauer 5/2
#4 Hot Rod Charlie 5/1
#5 France Go de Ina 33/1
#6 Known Agenda 6/1
#7 Rock Your World 6/1
#8 Overtook 25/1

I will be placing a Trifecta Box on FanDuel Sportsbook and I believe this is how the top three will finish up in New York Saturday:

WIN: #4 Hot Rod Charlie

This horse finished third in the Kentucky Derby and could have had a chance to pass Medina Spirit at some point, had he not run into any traffic. He’s never really done anything wrong and his Louisiana Derby in March was such an impressive win — especially against tough competition.

What might be the most enticing for a bettor who likes Hot Rod Charlie’s chance to win are the jockey musical chairs.

Flavien Prat is honoring his commitment to trainer Doug O’Neill to ride the Hot Rod in the Belmont after doing so in the Derby.

I understand keeping your word, but he won the Preakness with Rombauer who is running this same race! He won’t say it publicly, but to me this spells Prat believing he has a better shot of winning this race aboard Hot Rod Charlie.

There are question marks when it comes to how he’ll run at this distance, but those linger with most of this field, right? Horses do not often run this 1.5-mile race, so it can be a crapshoot to predict how they react.

His pedigree is there: His grandfather was Awesome Again who rated well in long distances and he’s the son of Oxbow, who finished second in the 2013 Belmont Stakes.

There should not be any hiccups or bumps out the gate in an eight horse field, so I believe his tactical speed will propel him to the front late for a first place finish.

PLACE: #7 Rock Your World

He was supposed to get the lead with Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby but ended up finishing 17th, as he got pinched at the start and never got into it at all. That can certainly happen in a 20-horse field, so I won’t crush him too much for that.

Joel Rosario is a perfect fit for this horse and will ride him again. With a clean break it’s certainly possible that Rosario could capture the lead and keep it all the way to the finish line.

History is not exactly on his side with that, as only four horses this century have gone gate to wire to win the Belmont Stakes.

Rock Your World will need to have some fast fractions like he had when he won the Santa Anita Derby and keep it up all the way through Saturday’s race.

Even without a ton of speed in the race, I believe he will lose the lead late after running in first most of the race. Rock Your World is bred to go this far, but I just can’t see a gate to wire win for this John W. Sadler trained horse.

SHOW: #3 Rombauer

Rombauer has gone forward with every single step of his career and that’s what you want to see from 3 year olds. With Mike McCarthy training, he should be able to replicate his efforts and even possibly improve from his Preakness win.

The question for me is the jockey switch, and unlike Hot Rod Charlie I believe the jockey shuffling works to Rombauer’s disadvantage.

No disrespect to Johnny Velazquez, who has won the Belmont Stakes twice (in 2007 and 2012) and was victorious aboard Medina Spirit in this year’s Kentucky Derby.

However, the jockey aboard Rombauer in the Preakness win is on a different — and maybe better — horse.

I just wonder if Johnny Velazquez will be able to turn Rombauer loose at the end and allow him to showcase that same closing ability he possessed in Baltimore?


You didn’t think you would get through this article without some love for a Todd Pletcher horse right?

Irad Ortiz Jr. appears to have avoided major injury when he unfortunately took a tumble on Thursday, which led to a hospitalization.

If he were unable to ride, I would certainly not consider this horse in your tickets as Ortiz Jr. is one of the best riders in the world.

He rode Known Agenda to a win at the Florida Derby and was victorious in the Belmont Stakes five years ago when he was aboard Creator.

Pletcher and Ortiz Jr. are a deadly combination and are very familiar with the New York tracks. Not to mention Pletcher frequently likes to preserve his horses by not running them in the Preakness, rather taking a shot at winning the Belmont — which he’s done three times.

My biggest concern with this horse ultimately is speed — and I do not believe he will have the closing ability to win at this distance.

That being said, it certainly would not shock me if he won the whole thing as it’s only an eight-horse race and the 1.5-mile trip can be somewhat unpredictable.

Chris Cichon

Chris Cichon (aka "The Big Chee on WTOP") has been a sports anchor with WTOP since 2013. In addition to reporting on sports, Chris coaches football at Towson High School in Maryland.

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