On Sunday morning, one day after ESSENTIAL QUALITY's thrilling victory in the Belmont Stakes, trainer Brad Cox couldn't resist indulging in the "what ifs" of Triple Crown immortality. And rightfully so.
"I thought to myself, this horse might have been a Triple Crown winner," he told reporters at Belmont Park about 15 hours after the victory.
The gray son of TAPIT had never run a bad race. He finished a respectable fourth in the Kentucky Derby, despite having to run wide throughout. He earned a 109 Equibase Speed Figure for Saturday's win, tying the 109 he earned in his 4th-place Kentucky Derby finish.
Note that the Preakness Stakes required just a 103 figure from its winner ROMBAUER; an honest speed figure which happens to be well within ESSENTIAL QUALITY's range.
It's quite a thought whether ESSENTIAL QUALITY could've earned for himself the title, "14th Triple Crown winner."
"He looks amazing. It doesn't look like he lost any weight. We jogged him up this morning and he was moving great," Brad Cox said Sunday.
"He's a very intelligent horse. It's amazing to watch him. We train him on race day and whenever we put him back in, he'll lay down the rest of the day. He knows what's going on and he deserves a good rest today after such a long race yesterday."
A rest seems certainly warranted, after dueling throughout that long Belmont home stretch. If not for that, then perhaps for ESSENTIAL QUALITY's "paddling" running gait (an outward-swinging foot flight), which likely leaves a horse exhausted after twelve furlongs. The ultimate goal is now the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on August 28th, 2021.
"It's one of the more prestigious races out there for three-year-old colts. So that would be the logical spot," Cox said of the Travers Stakes.
"It's a mile and a quarter and we know he can handle that. In regard to a race before, it would be nice. Saratoga is obviously a demanding track. I wouldn't say we have to have a race before that, but it would be nice. I think the logical spot would be the Jim Dandy, but we'll get him back to Churchill and let him tell us over the next couple of weeks how he's feeling."
There was much suspense produced by HOT ROD CHARLIE entering the final turn. The frontrunners were committed to what they started. HOT ROD CHARLIE pushed opening fractions of 22.78 and 46.49 for a one mile and one-half race!
ROCK YOUR WORLD tapped out early, but HOT ROD CHARLIE kept going — hooking up with ESSENTIAL QUALITY before stubbornly giving way to the winner.
It was a brave effort by HOT ROD CHARLIE. Twelve hours after the race, he was still beaming.
"He looks awesome, just awesome," said trainer Doug O'Neill of HOT ROD CHARLIE before jetting back to his Southern California base. "He ate up everything and licked his feed tub. We scoped him after the race, and he scoped clean. He was definitely a little rubber-legged after the race, but by the time he got back to the barn area he had already recovered. He recovered quickly. He's amazing."
Doug O'Neill was ecstatic over the teamwork of HOT ROD CHARLIE and Flavien Prat, praising their "monstrous effort" on the biggest stage. The connections intend to carry the moment for days, weeks and months to come. A rematch in the Travers Stakes (G1), they said, could even be in the works.
"I think that's very logical," O'Neill continued. "The great thing about this group of guys is that they're so patient. I'm sure we'll talk about that in the next week or two, but just knowing the way this journey has played out, and hopefully, there are plenty more chapters in the Charlie tale, we probably won't decide for another three weeks or so. But it is the most logical next spot. If he takes us there."
HOT ROD CHARLIE is scheduled to fly back to O'Neill's stable early next week.
"When you look as good as Charlie does this morning, when you scope as clean, and when his appetite is this good, and you've got a great horse, it's a great journey." he said.
ROMBAUER finished another eleven lengths back in third. The Preakness Stakes champion made an eye-catching move, three-wide into the final turn, but was outrun down the lane. KNOWN AGENDA also moved within striking distance entering the stretch, but couldn't make a serious impact after that and settled for fourth. Then it was BOURBONIC, ROCK YOUR WORLD, OVERTOOK and finally FRANCE GO DE INA completing the order of finish.
This article will be updated once we receive more updates from the connections involved.
Source: NYRA Press Office