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The third and final leg of the American Triple Crown will take place on Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. Although there is no Triple Crown on the line this year, the mile-and-one-half Belmont Stakes may end up being the most competitive of the three legs of the 2021 Triple Crown, potentially creating an appetizing wagering opportunity. Given the anticipated full field and the nuance of the race, one of the more intriguing questions about the event is a simple one: who will be the favorite?

This weekend’s Belmont Stakes will not feature Medina Spirit, as his trainer, Bob Baffert, has been barred from entering horses at NYRA racetracks until further notice. While there will be no Kentucky Derby winner running this weekend, there will be a Preakness winner racing, as Rombauer enters the Belmont on the heels of a career performance for trainer Michael McCarthy. Although Rombauer owns the most prestigious victory of any of the competitors likely to race this weekend, there is a real scenario in which he does not even threaten for favoritism given the stature of this field.

The second choice in this year’s Kentucky Derby was the California import, Rock Your World. Trained by John Sadler, the son of Candy Ride was brilliant when winning this year’s Santa Anita Derby, leading to many handicappers identifying him as one of the most likely winners on the first Saturday in May. Unfortunately for his backers, Rock Your World was bumped hard once the gates opened, leading him to fall back to an unfamiliar position racing well off the pace. With a clean break and a more forward placement on Saturday, Rock Your World figures to be a horse who will take a great deal of money at the betting windows.

One of the more consistent horses of this crop is Hot Rod Charlie, who is another Southern California shipper. Trained by Doug O’Neill, the son of Oxbow finished third in the Kentucky Derby earlier this month, giving another strong account of himself. Combine that strong finish with his victory in the Louisiana Derby and third-place finish when beaten a neck by Medina Spirit earlier this year, and Hot Rod Charlie becomes a compelling entrant in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. Despite his credentials, he seems like a colt unlikely to go off as the favorite in a spot like this.

Of the locally based runners, perhaps no horse makes more sense than Known Agenda. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Known Agenda was a “steam” horse headed into Louisville on the heels of an emphatic victory in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Much to the dismay of his connections – and anyone who intended on betting him in the Kentucky Derby – Known Agenda drew the dreaded #1 post in Louisville, essentially eliminating any chance he had at victory before the race even began. In the grand scheme of things, the son of Curlin ran credibly earlier this month, and there is no reason to believe he will not fire on Saturday given his trainer’s penchant for successfully preparing horses to handle the mile-and-one-half test of the Belmont. Another who offers plenty of intrigue, however, likely not enough to earn favoritism.

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Other horses listed as potential runners for Saturday’s race include Rebel’s Romance, France Go de Ina, Bourbonic, Keepmeinmind and Overtook, all of whom have effectively zero chance of going to the post as the favorite. So, if it is none of these runners, then who?

Essential Quality.

Sent off as the 5/2 favorite in the Kentucky Derby, Essential Quality was forced to race wide every step of the way at Churchill Downs before rallying gamely to finish fourth, beaten by just over a length when all was said and done. Considering the trip he endured, the Brad Cox trainee ran an exceptional race. So exceptional, in fact, that it can be argued that Essential Quality ran the best race in the Kentucky Derby despite finishing outside of the top-three. Given the fact that he has been favored in five of his six lifetime starts along with the strong effort he put forth when last seen in the afternoon, there is every reason to believe Essential Quality will be the favorite in the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes.