Riders Up

Flavien Prat atop Rombauer crosses the finish line to win the Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 15, 2021, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Posted June 4, 2021 | By Carlos Medina, carlos@ocalagazette.com

Belmont Stakes favorites among local graduates

Saturday’s Belmont Stakes won’t have a Triple Crown contender this year, but at least five of the eight horses scheduled to run are Marion County graduates.

Flavien Prat atop Rombauer crosses the finish line to win the Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course on May 15. [Julio Cortez/Associated Press]

The opening favorite at odds of 2-1 is Essential Quality, who received his early training at Niall Brennan Stables in Ocala. A son of Tapit, Essential Quality also ran in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished fourth.

The horse was bred and is owned by Godolphin, the thoroughbred operation led by Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. He will start from the No. 2 post position.

If Essential Quality wins the 1 ½-mile race it would be the second horse trained by Brennan to complete the feat. In 2013, Brennan-graduate Palace Malice won the race.

Fellow local horseman, Eddie Woods, boasts two contenders in the 153rd Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in New York.

Rombauer and Known Agenda both graduated from Eddie Woods Stable in Ocala.

Rombauer, a son of Twirling Candy, won the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 15. The Preakness was the second leg of the Triple Crown. Rombauer beat Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, who finished third. Rombauer did not run in the Derby which was held on May 1.

Medina Spirit was bred in Marion County by Gail Rice. His Derby win, however, is in dispute after post-race tests showed the horse had a banned substance in its system. Churchill Downs officials had not decided to disqualify the horse as of June 2.

Rombauer opens as the 3-1 second choice in the Belmont and starts from the No. 3 post position.

Woods broke Rombauer for John and Diane Fradkin, who also bred the colt. The Fradkins planned to sell Rombauer as a 2-year-old at the Ocala Breeders’ April auction last year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused demand for racehorses, along with prices, to drop. They decided to race him instead.

Known Agenda was sent to Woods as a yearling by his breeder St. Elias Stables, the racing operation owned by Vincent Viola, who also owns the NHL’s Florida Panthers.

“He might be the sneaky one in there,” Woods said. “He has a lot of experience on that track. I think he will run a big race.”

Know Agenda enters the race at odds of 6-1 and drew the No. 6 post. He ran in the Kentucky Derby, finishing ninth.

The son of Curlin also was on his way to auction last year, this time the Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Sale in South Florida, when it was canceled due to COVID-19. Viola decided to race the colt.

If either of the two horses wins, it would be the second Woods graduate to win a Belmont Stakes. Woods trained 2012 Belmont winner Union Rags.

The Belmont has a post time of 6:47 p.m. on Saturday. Coverage starts at 5 p.m. on NBC.

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