Let it be Known, Rock is Ready to Roll

This crop of 3-year-olds has been called inferior and slow, and many are saying the Belmont is a poor field. But when you get right down to it, how many Belmonts can you remember that have had the 2-year-old champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, the Preakness winner, the Blue Grass winner, the Santa Anita Derby winner, the Florida Derby winner, and the Wood Memorial winner? On the other hand, only one of the eight starters is coming off a victory and five of the eight were out of the money in their last start. For now let’s just try to pick a winner and save the reviews for later. ~ Steve Haskin

Let it be Known, Rock is Ready to Roll

By Steve Haskin


Confused you with that headline, didn’t I? Yes, there are two winners cleverly woven into one head, but for good reason, which will be explained shortly.

With my early big value choice for the Belmont Stakes, Rebel’s Romance, now sidelined with a foot infection, I actually considered two headlines for this column but couldn’t decide which one to use. One would have easily lured the reader into this tangled web of befuddlement : “Belmont Winner Finally is Known.” Did you catch the prediction that the 6-1 Known Agenda, who had occupied our Derby Rankings Top 10 for most of the year, will win the Belmont?

But another potentially prophetic headline would be “World Domination.” Not only does this headline also predict the winner, in this case Rock Your World who was ranked No. 1 for several weeks, it also suggests we’re going to witness one of those Risen Star, Point Given, and Bet Twice double-digit-length Belmont romps.
So which headline is more appropriate? That is what we’re here to decide.

Let’s start with Rock Your World, who had nothing more than a leisurely sightseeing tour of Churchill Downs back on the first Saturday in May. If you believe his horrendous start and ensuing lack of interest in the proceedings was reason enough to throw out the race, and if you believe his size, speed, and huge stride is made for those big sweeping Belmont turns, then, yes, it is possible that he could take the lead, run his opponents off their feet, and just keep going. There certainly isn’t anything in his pedigree to prevent him from doing so.

That is one scenario if you don’t mind the 9-2 morning line odds on a horse that finished at the back of the pack in the Kentucky Derby. I have maintained for a long time that this colt could be special. He looked far from special at Churchill Downs, and he is still inexperienced and an unknown quantity, but he is trying hard to put the Derby debacle behind him, as evidenced by his five-furlong work in a spectacular :58 2/5, far and away the fastest work of the day. And he did it alone with no company. So would it be a surprise to see him not only bounce back to his Santa Anita Derby form, but surpass it and win by a pole? Not at all. Then again, would it be a surprise to see him throw in another disappointing performance? Yes, but it wouldn’t be a complete shock considering how little we know about him and how bad his Derby was. Having been a huge supporter of his before he even set foot on dirt and having him ranked No. 1 for so long I have to think positive and can certainly envision him winning the Belmont in a runaway.

Now we come to our other headline about the Belmont winner being “known.” Anyone who has followed the Derby Rankings is aware that Known Agenda was ranked No. 8 in Week 1 when he was just a maiden winner, moved up to No. 1 in Week 11, and ended up No. 2 behind Rock Your World. Being I am in such a forgiving mood, how can I not forgive his ninth-place finish in the Derby breaking from Post 1 and being trapped down on the rail the whole way, which is where he does not like to be. He has had a tendency to turn the switch off in his races when he loses his competitive spirit, and that is usually brought on by a seemingly claustrophobic insecurity of being stuck down on the rail. Even in the Florida Derby, Irad Ortiz had to encourage him three times on the far turn to keep him interested until he was able to ease out into the clear at the head of the stretch. Once he did he drew off to an impressive victory.

What I liked the most about his time off between the Derby and the Belmont was his work last week when Todd Pletcher had him on the inside of the top-class Dr. Post, as if to teach him to be focused and competitive down on the rail. He did just fine down there and was striding out beautifully in the stretch working with a horse who will likely be one of the favorites in the Met Mile.

It might be a moot point, because he drew Post 6 in the eight-horse field. Rock Your World, breaking just outside him, will show speed, and stablemate Overtook in Post 8, will drop far back. So that should leave Known Agenda with a clear outside run to the first turn and you can bet Ortiz will keep him out there, making sure he doesn’t get caught too wide on that big turn. Once he is able to get into that comfortable grinding style of running and keep up a steady pace within striking range, he will be able to use his best weapon, which is his stamina. No one in this field is going to outstay him.

So there you have my two winning scenarios and my exacta box…and my two headlines. Win bets in an eight-horse field in New York are difficult to commit to because the odds have a tendency to be too low for ones liking. Known Agenda is the only one I can think of right now that might be worth a straight win bet, and you’re still not going to get great odds.

Now, what about the logical horses, Essential Quality, Rombauer, and Hot Rod Charlie? How do you leave any of them out? They are all classy and consistent, and have had their moments to shine in big races.

But if you’re looking for a reason to bet against them at their short odds, we’ll give it a shot.

No one is debating the fact that Essential Quality is a worthy favorite and always runs his race. And he has the versatility and tactical speed you want to see in the Belmont Stakes. And, yes, he lost an awful lot of ground on both turns in his fourth-place Derby finish, which enabled him to equal his career-high Thoro-Graph number of negative-1/2. That was two full points faster than the victorious Medina Spirit and one point faster than third-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie. The question with him is how he will handle the mile and a half, especially with his paddling action that may or may not have any effect on his performance. So far it hasn’t. Despite his wide trip, he still was almost on even terms with Medina Spirit, Mandaloun, and Hot Rod Charlie turning for home and couldn’t catch any of them. If he had managed to finish second or even third I believe it would have boosted one’s confidence more for the Belmont, considering he was an undefeated champion. But he just couldn’t improve his position despite having the length of the stretch to do so. That at least gives one food for thought if you’re trying to beat him.

Now we come to Rombauer, who was much the best in the Preakness and just blew right by Midnight Bourbon and Medina Spirit in the final furlong. Even a slight improvement should make him extremely difficult to beat, or even just maintaining his Preakness form. But again, if you are looking for a reason to bet against him other than the fact that his pedigree does not exactly shout a mile and a half, he is on a Thoro-Graph pattern that suggests he could “bounce” coming back in three weeks. Again, that is not to say he will, but consider that he ran back-to-back numbers of “7 ½” before jumping to a “4” in the Blue Grass Stakes. Given six weeks off after that race he made an even bigger leap in the Preakness, running a “zero.” Now he is coming back in only three weeks following a career-high number and stretching out to a mile and a half. Again, it is possible he is simply improving at the right time and he is that good, but if you are looking for a reason to try to beat him and you believe in the bounce theory then you can feel comfortable looking elsewhere.

Finally, we come to Hot Rod Charlie, whose best race was when he was able to control the pace up front in the Louisiana Derby. In his other races he was run down by Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and failed to catch Medina Spirit in both the Robert B. Lewis and Kentucky Derby, again, having the entire length of the stretch to do so in both races. He showed no improvement on his Thoro-Graph numbers from the Breeders’ Cup to the Louisiana Derby, but did improve in the Kentucky Derby off a six-week layoff. He is another whose pedigree is in question going a mile and a half, so can he improve again stretching out that far, especially if he doesn’t get the lead and again has to catch a horse in the stretch?

So, as talented as the three likely favorites are, there are reasons to play against them if you want to look for more value.

To be honest, there really is little to choose from if you’re looking for a straight win bet that will pay a decent price. Known Agenda as the fifth choice is the logical bet and after that you’e taking a chance with Todd Pletcher’s second and third string entries Bourbonic and Overtook, who both will have to hope for a fast pace and that everyone else comes back to them. The Japanese horse France Go de Ina is a total guess and did nothing to boost one’s confidence in the Preakness other than be in the hunt for the first half of the race before retreating. He could certainly improve in the Belmont, but how much?

So I am not going to devote a lot of time and money trying to figure out who to bet. Known Agenda will be my only win bet in an attempt to get a decent payoff, if of course he doesn’t get bet down too low. But if Rock Your World is 5-1 or higher he would have to be considered for a win bet as well.

I will also box Known Agenda and Rock Your World in the exactas. If I want to stretch out my bets I will be box Known Agenda with “all” and key Rock Your World on top with “all” and hope a price horse sneaks in for second.

Nothing interesting or creative here, but this field is not conducive to creativity or large investments.

So take your pick – “Belmont Winner Finally is Known” or “World Domination.” I’ll take either one. But for monetary purposes I have my own agenda…I think.




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