By Ray Wallin
Rombauer bucked the trend in the Preakness Stakes. New shooters historically haven’t done well against horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby, but he took advantage of a contested pace and marched home to win by 3 ½ lengths.
Fast forward three weeks to Saturday’s Belmont Stakes and he faces a tougher obstacle. While new shooters win the Preakness at a rate of twice a decade, there’s even tougher odds to overcome for that new shooter in the Preakness winning the Belmont Stakes.
Since the Triple Crown races were run in their current order start in 1932 (excluding 2020), there have only been five horses that were new shooters in the Preakness that went on to win the Belmont Stakes.
When we look at the last 35 Belmonts (excluding 2020) horses that only ran in the Preakness have an abysmal record. They have managed one win out of 27 starters. If you take horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby, regardless of whether they ran in the Preakness, you get 21 of the last 35 winners.
Horses that have not run in any previous Triple Crown races have done respectably in the Belmont, producing 13 winners in the last 35 years. The last two horses that have won the Belmont without running in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness were Tonalist in 2014 and Sir Winston in 2019. Both ran their prior race in the Peter Pan. In fact, between 2009 and 2019, over 10% of the entrants exited the Peter Pan to run in the Belmont.
Rombauer ran a heck of race in the Preakness, but how does he fit into the Belmont Stakes picture?
The Preakness has historically favored off the pace horses, however the Belmont has been less biased. Of the last 35 races contested at 1 ½ miles, wins by E/P types, pressers, and stalker/closers have been equal. Only early speed horses have struggled with three winners (Da’Tara in 2008, American Pharoah in 2015, and Justify in 2018). Like the Preakness, it would take a remarkable early speed horse to overcome this bias.
Rombauer’s running style suits this race well with the likely early pace of Hot Rod Charlie or Rock Your World.
Going into the Preakness I felt that Rombauer had hidden form in his past performances. He had a nice deep closing win in the El Camino at Golden Gate before suffering a bad start and a sluggish pace that didn’t suit his style in the Blue Grass. I wasn’t surprised at the step forward he showed in the Preakness which is why I backed him on May 15.
Three weeks rest is ample, and all reports are that he is in good shape.
This may be the limiting factor on Rombauer. Three entrants have been sired by sires that have progeny that have won the Belmont. Both Known Agenda and Overtook are out of Curlin, who sired the 2010 Belmont winner Palace Malice. Essential Quality is out of Tapit who sired 2011 winner Tonalist and 2014 winner Tapwrit. These three colts are bred to run for days.
Rombauer is out of Twirling Candy, who is more likely to produce runners that are best suited for 8 to 9 furlongs.
Not to detract from Rombauer’s accomplishment of winning the Preakness, but the strength of the field wasn’t as strong as the Kentucky Derby. The Derby features winners of the major preps and many have run against one another. A lot of the quality entrants have been pointed elsewhere after a disappointing finish or a troubled trip. The Belmont field rebounds with horses like Hot Rod Charlie who finished third in the Derby and Essential Quality who had a troubled trip on an uncontested pace and managed to get up for fourth.
Essential Quality and Known Agenda have the best pedigrees in the field and have proven they have more tactical running styles. Essential Quality is the classier of the two and may get redemption for his Derby trip.
Bourbonic will be making a big move late, but I don’t think he possesses the class or distance to hit the wire first.
France Go de Ina couldn’t keep up with the pace in the Preakness but does have Curlin on his dam side. I don’t expect much out of him again.
Hot Rod Charlie may find himself on or near the lead early with no true “need the lead” runners here. He is not the next Justify or American Pharoah, so I don’t expect to see him take the field wire to wire, but I do expect him to be in the picture late in the race.
Overtook comes in fresh off a third-place finish in the Peter Pan. Being a son of Curlin with A.P. Indy as his dam sire does show he has the stamina to compete here but is more likely for a minor share than the win.
Rock Your World is the most likely pace setter after a bad start in the Derby, but it remains to see how he will do with pressure on the lead. In the Santa Anita Derby, he was clear by a length and a half by the second call and never looked back.
While Rombauer bucked the trend by winning the Preakness as a “new shooter,” he isn’t likely to become the sixth horse in modern history to win the Belmont without having run in the Derby. While the pace may set up favorably for an off the pace horse or stalker, the other factors in play all point to either a horse that ran in the Derby or a horse that didn’t run in a Triple Crown race yet.
Ray Wallin is a licensed civil engineer and part-time handicapper who has had a presence on the Web since 2000 for various sports and horse racing websites and through his personal blog. Introduced to the sport over the course of a misspent teenage summer at Monmouth Park by his Uncle Dutch, a professional gambler, he quickly fell in love with racing and has been handicapping for over 25 years.
Ray’s background in engineering, along with his meticulous nature and fascination with numbers, parlay into his ability to analyze data; keep records; notice emerging trends; and find new handicapping angles and figures. While specializing in thoroughbred racing, Ray also handicaps harness racing, Quarter Horse racing, baseball, football, hockey, and has been rumored to have calculated the speed and pace ratings on two squirrels running through his backyard.
Ray likes focusing on pace and angle plays while finding the middle ground between the art and science of handicapping. When he is not crunching numbers, Ray enjoys spending time with his family, cheering on his alma mater (Rutgers University), fishing, and playing golf.
Ray’s blog, which focuses on his quest to make it to the NHC Finals while trying to improve his handicapping abilities can be found at www.jerseycapper.blogspot.com Ray can also be found on Twitter (@rayw76) and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.