Keeler Johnson's Belmont Stakes 153 Selections

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

If you're reading this post, then you're probably wondering who I've picked to win Saturday's 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park. Join the club! I'm still wondering myself.

I find this year's renewal of the 1 1/2-mile classic to be among the most perplexing in recent memory. Usually I feel some semblance of confidence in my selection, with time eventually revealing whether I've landed on the winner (Palace Malice remains a favorite of mine) or an also-ran (at least Intrepid Heart has won a couple of races this year!)

But this year, I feel no such confidence. A firm grasp on the race has eluded me. The Belmont field has come up small but competitive with eight entries in the mix, and I feel like I can make a case for anyone to hit the board, and for half a dozen to visit the winner's circle. Hmm, perhaps I could box the entire field in a 10-cent superfecta and hope for a chaotic outcome...?

The problem is, we're less than 48 hours out from the race. So as much as I'd like to wait for a last-minute handicapping epiphany to bring the Belmont Stakes into crystal-clear focus, it's time to put picks down on paper (or pixels, as the case may be) and commit to my selections.

Over the last few days, my meandering Belmont musings have reached a handful of conclusions, from which a general wagering strategy can be concocted:

  • I'm not especially keen to support morning line favorite #2 Essential Quality (2-1). The champion two-year-old male of 2020 is easily the most accomplished runner in the field, and a very wide trip surely cost him victory in the Kentcuky Derby—he was only beaten a length after running at least 5 1/2 lengths farther than his three conquerors. But has Essential Quality already peaked? And is he cut out to handle 1 1/2 miles? He flattened out down the homestretch of the Kentucky Derby, and it's worth noting no Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner has ever gone on to claim the Belmont.
  • Florida Derby (G1) winner #6 Known Agenda (6-1) and Santa Anita Derby (G1) hero #7 Rock Your World (9-2) both have the talent to compete at this level... but both have raced greenly in the past, with occasionally frustrating results. Known Agenda still feels like a work in progress, and Rock Your World blew the start in the Kentucky Derby, costing him any chance at victory. The good news is, the small Belmont Stakes field provides fewer opportunities for Known Agenda and Rock Your World to get into trouble.
  • #4 Hot Rod Charlie (7-2) is a picture of consistency, and his relentless, grinding nature is an ideal fit for the Belmont Stakes. The Kentucky Derby third-place finisher flaunted stamina when edging away from future Preakness (G1) runner-up Midnight Bourbon to win the Louisiana Derby (G2) in essentially gate-to-wire fashion, and he figures to receive a perfect trip on Saturday, likely stalking Rock Your World through a modest pace.
  • #3 Rombauer (3-1) was breathtaking in the Preakness (G1), rallying powerfully from mid-pack to score by 3 1/2 lengths in the rapid time of 1:53.62. The son of Twirling Candy was really motoring around the final turn and down the homestretch, running the fourth quarter-mile in approximately :23 3/5 and the final five-sixteenths in around :18 3/5. Rombauer has always shown talent, but the Preakness suggests he's finally putting everything together and maturing into a star.
  • #8 Overtook (20-1) is a live longshot with the potential to outrun expectations at double-digit odds. He probably wasn't fully cranked for the Peter Pan (G3) at Belmont last month, where he finished third in his first start off a three-month layoff. But the stoutly bred son of Curlin has trained encouragingly in the interim and adds blinkers for his toughest assignment to date. I won't be surprised if Overtook takes a significant step forward for three-time Belmont-winning trainer Todd Pletcher.

So where does this leave me? Arguably my most valuable opinion (if I'm correct, of course) is the notion that Essential Quality is vulnerable as the favorite. His impressive resume notwithstanding, I'm tempted to exclude the champion gray from my exacta and trifecta wagers, opening the door for big payoffs.

Among the rest, Hot Rod Charlie is my tenuous selection. As much as anything, I feel like I can count on the son of Oxbow to bring his A-game every time, and in a race as competitive as this Belmont, that's a virtue not to be underestimated. I'm thinking of keying Hot Rod Charlie for first, second, and third place in trifecta tickets while using Rombauer, Known Agenda, Rock Your World, and Overtook for the remaining slots. It's something of a scattershot approach, sure—but if the right combination hits, we could be looking at a four-figure return on a relatively modest investment.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Belmont Stakes?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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