Belmont Stakes Guide: Can Rombauer Follow Up Preakness Win?

RombauerRombauer is seeking his second Triple Crown score and is the second favorite for the 2021 Belmont Stakes on Saturday (June 5) after his unexpected Preakness win. There is often a heated debate about his race schedule but targeting the Belmont was a no-brainer. Rombauer has reportedly come out of the race in great shape and is showing all the right signs in his work since he arrived at Belmont Park.

He won his first Triple Crown jewel easily, powering past the favorites in the Pimlico stretch in the 2021 Preakness Stakes on May 15 for connections who appreciated it more than most. Rombauer is owned by his breeders, John and Diane Fradkin. They have just two broodmares and would have sold him if not for Covid and other extraordinary circumstances. They were hoping he might ‘hit the board’ in the Preakness rather than win it. They were not alone, his starting odds were 11/1.

The win was a big deal for his trainer and jockey too. Michael McCarthy successfully saddled City Of Light in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the 2019 Pegasus World Cup but had never won a classic. Rombauer’s jockey Flavien Prat had not had a ride in the Preakness before. His only Triple Crown ‘win’ was awarded after he finished second on Country House to the subsequently demoted Maximum Security in the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

Prat did not let the scale of the occasion at Pimlico affect his riding. He managed to give the colt a great trip and timed his challenge perfectly. Having taken a clear lead, he calmly looked behind him to assess the threat posed by his closest pursuers and chose to urge Rombauer home with hands and heels only.

Rombauer beat Steve Asmussen’s Midnight Bourbon by an impressive three and a half lengths and was not slowing down as he crossed the wire. Bob Baffert’s Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness favorite Medina Spirit took third, two lengths further back. Robertino Diodoro’s Keepmeinmind was fourth, well behind the leading trio. He was followed by the Chad Brown trainee Crowded Trade and Unbridled Honor who was saddled by Todd Pletcher in that order.

Owners with Opinions

McCarthy had wanted to run Rombauer in the Kentucky Derby but John Fradkin believed that his son of Twirling Candy would do much better in the Preakness for a number of reasons. Rombauer is at his most effective racing off the pace and closing late, a tactic that is difficult to execute in the Run for the Roses. He also thought that the Preakness was a slightly easier target. His colt would have the advantage of being fresher than the Kentucky Derby runners and encounter a more manageable pack to pass as some were unlikely to reappear so quickly.

They bred him out of Cashmere, a daughter of Cowboy Cal and a half sister to California Flag who scored at graded level. Cashmere’s dam, Ultrafleet, was purchased by John Fradkin for $10,500 using the money he had gained winning with a horse he had bought cheaply from a claimer to help him understand racing in 1993. Ultrafleet failed to hit the board in her four runs and was not a looker. More knowledgeable people thought he was mad to breed from her. Rombauer is her fourth foal to hit the track and by far the best she has produced to date. He was due to be sold at the April OBS sale last year but Covid delayed it and other factors contributed to their unusual decision to keep the colt and put him in training.

Initial reports from McCarthy were not encouraging, Rombauer did not have the raw speed they had hoped for and was never going to cut it in a sprint. His first start was over a mile on turf at Del Mar in July. He won it impressively but the offers to buy him that John Fradkin was hoping for did not materialize. The race time recorded was not a big draw for potential purchasers. A couple of weeks later Fradkin realized that the clock at Del Mar was not working correctly on the turf track and probably added a second to the race-winning time. If the clock had not malfunctioned, they may have received an acceptable bid and watched his progress from afar.

Rombauer’s pedigree suggests that turf is his thing but McCarthy reported that he was training well on dirt and thought that the American Pharoah, a grade 1 on the dirt at Santa Anita in September, was going to come up light. It was a great call, Rombauer ran second beaten less than a length with the favorite Spielberg behind him. He had disappointed in his previous run in a listed race at Del Mar, a contest that Fradkin thought he should win but he had a troubled trip and was sixth.

Fortunately the Fradkins won the Kentucky Derby versus the Preakness argument. Their pragmatic approach won them $600,000 and provided McCarthy with his first win in a classic. He was Todd Pletcher’s assistant for years and has now achieved something that has so far eluded his former boss. Based in California, McCarthy was extremely emotional and wished that his family could have been with him. His daughter and wife are key people in his team.

What happened in the Preakness?

Rombauer was full of energy and enthusiasm in the preliminaries and bounced across the ground. In contrast Medina Spirit was very quiet and his hind feet barely left the ground as he walked to the gates. He had posted a lung-bursting time in the Kentucky Derby, winning the race from the front.

Rombauer broke well from gate six but was not pushed forward and settled in sixth place for the majority of the one mile and three sixteenths trip. John Velazquez tried to replicate the run style that worked so well on Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby, grabbing the lead from gate three by the first turn. It was the 3/1 second favorite Midnight Bourbon who contested it on his outside under Irad Ortiz.

Baffert’s other representative, Concert Tour, usually races prominently but Mike Smith settled for third place on the 7/2 shot who missed the Run for the Roses after disappointing in the Arkansas Derby in early April. He weakened when it mattered at Oaklawn Park and finished third. The same thing happened again at Pimlico, he was beaten over 30 lengths and had only once horse behind him.

Disappointment for Baffert

Baffert did not travel to Pimlico. Saddling duty was delegated to his assistant trainer. He wanted to let his horses to do the talking for him as he was dealing with yet another drugs-related issue that might have distracted attention away from their efforts.

Medina Spirit tested positive for the steroid betamethasone after his Kentucky Derby win. Baffert appeared to be genuinely shocked by the test result as he said that the colt had never been given betamethasone.

His star filly Gamine had tested positive for the same drug in September after her Kentucky Oaks win. That was less of a surprise to him as he knew she had been treated with it. It was simply not withdrawn within the necessary timescale to ensure that it was totally out of her system when she raced.

Baffert was correct that the substance had not been administered in its most obvious manifestation to Medina Spirit but the subsequent investigations revealed that it was an ingredient in another medication used. The drug got into his system through an ointment for skin problems. Baffert has been suspended by the New York Racing Authority and will not saddle a Belmont runner.

Brad Cox’s Essential Quality is the Belmont favorite at 2/1 followed by Rombauer at 3/1 and Hot Rod Charlie at 7/2. Rombauer was beaten six lengths by Essential Quality in both the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Blue Grass Stakes in April but his Preakness win suggests that the Belmont distance of a mile and a half could play to his strengths. He will be without the assistance of Prat who is honoring a commitment to partner Hot Rod Charlie and John Velazquez has been booked instead. The Belmont betting market suggests it should be a closely run contest.