(Essential Quality’s new logo…just joking…maybe)

(Essential Quality’s new look on Saturday, winning the G1 Belmont Stakes / Photo Courtesy of NYRA)

It was another wonderful weekend of marvelous Thoroughbred racing, and the stars shined both brilliant and bright on the racetrack and at night. The list of plaudits to hand out are many:

Belmont Park did a masterful job of producing one of the world’s best day of Stakes events and races. The quality of the fields was both deep and wide. The racetracks — both dirt and turf — were both amazingly safe and fair. And, the races that were contested over each? Amazing to watch, witness, wager on and enjoy. Congrats.

Fox Sports, which has been contracted to televise the Belmont Park and Churchill Downs race cards each and every day, had a wonderful crew on board to help provide analysis and programming. Not a fan of Andy Serling, who is the most surly and uneducated commentator in the entire sport. A buffoon. But, other than that? Masterful. Congrats.

NBC, which has the broadcast rights to the Triple Crown, swept in on a brilliant summer, sunny day and matched the sky and the weather with a picture-perfect production. Congrats.

The singing of “New York, New York” was impeccable and entertaining. Not as good as “My Old Kentucky Home,” that is played each and every Kentucky Derby Day. That’s the greatest sporting song of all time. Yet, this year’s version of “New York, New York?” A very good rendition of one of Frank’s finest tunes. And, I love a lot of Frank’s old lyrics. Congrats.

Churchill Downs did a wonderful job of timing its’ races to fill in the blanks in-between the Belmont Stakes card. For the racing fan in all of us, we could switch our attentions and wagering efforts to one and then the other without fear that one track was going to step on the other with simultaneous post times. Amazing how that can be configured and orchestrated. Wish the Stronach tracks had the interest of the fan in mind when it tramples on the post times of all others. But then, again, I wish the Stronach tracks were owned by real racing fans and professionals. Congrats.

And, guess what?

Not one person — not a single one of us — missed Bob Baffert or the controversy that comes along with the baggage that he ships in. The fact was and still is — thank God — that he and his horses were and still are prohibited from gaining entry to the track or the stable area, and could not and still can not run in any of the races.

Did the game miss him? Nope.

Did the sport miss him? Not even a little bit.

And, the races went on. Just the same as they will for generations to come.

The game is bigger than Bob Baffert. The integrity of the sport is so much larger than Bob Baffert. And, it was great to see the New York Racing Association join with Churchill Downs in making that paramount for this monumental weekend in racing.

As for Monmouth Park and the consortium of tracks that Belinda Stronach controls? Maybe you all can do the right thing some day and join with Churchill Downs and NYRA to ban Baffert and his horses until he is willing and able to conduct a clean operation that is free of positive drug tests. Maybe you, too, can say enough is enough until Baffert is willing to allow oversight of his barn operation to ensure compliance with all rules and regulations and not just the ones he wants to observe. Until then, no reason to even consider having major races at your tracks.

Here’s a few more of our opinions, observations and outlooks. Hope you enjoy:

(Essential Quality at Keeneland / Coady Photography)

Essential Quality:

He was magnificent, just as he has been in every single race he has ever run or been a part of, to date. Despite falling a bit farther off the lead than some of his supporters may have liked or preferred (blush!), the steely gray responded with a run that was both impressive and massive.

When asked, the colt immediately picked up the bit and the ground.

When asked, the colt responded with speed and determination that were equal in abundance and talent.

When asked, the colt demonstrated his immense talent and his tremendous heart/will to win.

All of it — rolled into this beautiful gray blur — was thrilling to simply watch and admire.

Rarely, does one get to witness a horse that has all the right ingredients to be something very special. Seldom, do we have the opportunity to watch greatness in our very midst. It just doesn’t come along that often. That’s why we should reserve the word “great” for the truly great ones.

My recommendation is for all of us to take note. And, enjoy. This guy is very special, already, but he has the chance to be one of the most special of a lifetime. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t miss the ride. Don’t try to find the chinks and the chunks. Just cherish the chrome.

Truly, this one has a chance to join the greats.

(Hot Rod Charlie / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

Hot Rod Charlie:

Ran his guts out. Ran his heart out. Threw it down and let it ride. That’s all you can ask of anyone or any thing. And, he proved — once again — to be a championship competitor.

For every Affirmed, though, there has to be an Alydar to bring out the best of the best.

For every Sunday Silence, there had to be an Easy Goer to make them both better. To make them both run. To make them both compete. To make them both find greatness.

Seabiscuit and War Admiral. Ferdinand and Alysheba. Your favorite rival and your favorite nemesis.

On Saturday, Hot Rod Charlie made Essential Quality work, alright. He made the “Champion” gear up and reach deep down. Way down. He made the pace and the race. And, he made the Belmont Stakes — once again — a true test of a Champion.

There is no shame in being second to a great one. There can be fame in making the great greater and being as good as you can be. Kudos can go to both, equally and happily.

And, there is sure to be some showdowns still to come. Right? The drama builds for the next encounter. And, that’s a good thing for our sport. Let’s just hope and pray they both stay healthy and ready. We could use another race like Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.

(Luis Saez after winning the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with Essential Quality / Coady Photography)

Luis Saez:

There have been few people more critical of this rider than me. After his reckless ride on Maximum Security that led to a DQ in the Kentucky Derby just a couple of years ago, I documented the serious string of fines, penalties and suspensions that this jockey had racked up and received in his very brief career. It was disturbing. And, it was serious.

But since Saez hired former trainer Kiran McLaughlin as his agent? There seems to have been a major change in this very talented race rider. It seems as if the carelessness and recklessness of his rides have now turned more restrained and controlled. It seems as if the wild maneuvers that caused disqualifications and potential health hazards have now turned into calculated and professional guidance. It seems as if he has matured and is becoming the type of rider that all can trust and depend.

On Saturday, Saez has has never been better. Instead of panicking early and attempting to move Essential Quality into a fierce battle with the leaders, he allowed the pace-setters to go and bide his time. He chose to pick his spot. He was patient and confident. And, when he pulled the trigger and asked? His horse responded with the kind of run that makes people sit up a little straighter in the chair and take notice.

Without question, Luis Saez always had the talent to become of the game’s best.

Now, in appears, Luis Saez is becoming one of the world’s best.

A lot of credit must go to him and his agent.

(Letruska, Brad Cox following after Essential Quality and Ron Winchell / Coady Photography)

Quick Hitters:

  • After winning her second G1 Stakes in a row and beating up on a couple of more wonderful fillies from the barn of Brad Cox, one must give Letruska her due. She has risen to the top. Of a very high mountain. Here’s hoping that Monomoy Girl, Bonnie South and Shedaresthedevil all can make the Breeders’ Cup Distaff with Letruska. Now that, my friends, will be a serious horse race.

 

  • Brad Cox got to celebrate his first Triple Crown victory on Saturday and it soon may become his second Triple Crown win. When all is said and done, it is likely that Medina Spirit will be disqualified from winning this year’s Kentucky Derby and the Cox-trained Mandaloun (who ran 2nd) will be elevated to the winner’s spot. That will give him his “first” Triple Crown win, in terms of dates. Either way you cut it, Cox is on his way to becoming one of the best horse trainers in the world, if he is not there already. Early last week, I reached out to Brad and asked if he had time to do a phone interview and podcast for the site. He graciously agreed and gave me a time to call. We chatted for about 10 minutes and he thanked me at the end of the conversation. He’s humble. He’s dedicated. He’s a class act. And, I hope he goes on to do great things, too.

 

  • Drain the Clock and Jackie’s Warrior are both tremendously talented sprinters, with great courage and heart. Their race in the G1 Woody Stephens on Saturday? Just as classy as the man whom the race was named after. The best.

 

  • Search Results and Domestic Spending give trainer Chad Brown some real good reasons to be optimistic. And, we all know how surly he can be from time to time. But here are two reasons to smile. Right?

 

  • Anybody have a better day on Saturday that Ron Winchell? Seriously? The man owns Tapit, the best sire in the free world that isn’t named Into Mischief and the sire of Essential Quality. The man also owns Silver State, who won the G1 Metropolitan Mile at Belmont Park. This son of Hard Spun — who has suddenly become one of the best older horses in racing today — may be on his way to becoming a great stallion prospect in his own right. Big day for the man, who also owns Kentucky Downs. Nice.