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Coveted Belmont stakes to take place today

America has had a love affair with horse racing since before this country was born, dating back to at least 1665. That love helps explain why Long Island is still the location of Belmont Park, the longest race track in the northern hemisphere. At 1 1/2 miles in circumference, it is a half mile longer than both Churchill Downs and Pimilco, the respective homes of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

This year is the 153rd running of the Belmont, the third and longest leg of the Triple Crown. Although they will be no Triple Crown winner this year, several top 3 year olds will attempt to win this $1.5 million Grade One Classic. Post time is set for 6:49 p.m. with NBC providing coverage beginning at 5 p.m.

Bourbonic, who finished a distant 13th in the Kentucky Derby, is a huge longshot from post No. 1. His biggest win to date was April 3 when he won the Wood Memorial at 72-1. With three wins in seven lifetime starts, this deep closer will have to hope that the 1 1/2 mile Belmont wears down the favorites. Look for him to pass tiring horses late, and at best get up to third, which would be a win for him.

Essential Quality, who suffered his first defeat in the Derby after winning his first five starts, is the morning line favorite. This lovely gray will exit post No. 2 and should be sitting just off the early pace. His fourth-place Derby finish will likely be elevated to third with the anticipated disqualification of Medina Spirit.

Essential Quality traveled 66 feet more than the winner due to a wide trip, which is a testament to his talent. Essential Quality’s recent workouts indicate that he should run well after a five-week break between starts. By outstanding sire Tapit — who has produced three Belmont winners — I expect another strong performance from this Brad Cox trained entry. Look for him to be closely tracking the early pace and trying to pass coming down the home stretch.

Preakness winner Rombauer, who did not compete in the Derby, should get another decent mid-pack trip. This homebred, who closed well in the Preakness, will have Hall of Fame jockey, Johnny Velazquez aboard for the first time. Rombauer’s Preakness rider Flavien Pratt is already committed to riding his Derby mount Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont. Rombauer, a smallish bay, ran exceptionally well in the Preakness, and will look to duplicate that outstanding performance. Breaking from post No. 3, he could finish in the top-3.

Hot Rod Charlie exits gate No. 4 and was last seen finishing third in the Kentucky Derby. He will likely take up a stalking position in the early stages, also hoping to pass tiring leaders down the homestretch. Although he only has two wins in eight career starts, he has run well after finally breaking his maiden (winning for the first time) in start No. 4, either. Hot Rod Charlie has finished no worse than third in his last five races.

Japanese owned France Go de Ina appears to be over matched again. He exits hole No. 5 and will need to dramatically improve from his previous efforts, including a seventh in the Preakness, where he was beaten by 17 1/2 lengths. This globe-trotter has had an additional three weeks to settle in from his long trip overseas, and his pedigree should allow him to get the added distance.

Florida Derby winner Known Agenda was a non-factor in the Kentucky Derby after drawing the dreaded one hole in the 19 horse Derby field. He has the field’s top speed figure, and should get a much better trip in this eight-horse race. His pedigree says stamina, which is what all the contestants need in this 12 furlong race. A possible upset play, look for Known Agenda to be sitting in mid pack before making his move down the stretch.

Rock Your World had his world rocked at the start of the Derby, getting pin balled out of the gate and losing all chance early. He should be rocketing out of Belmont post No. 7, and this speed ball should set the early pace. The question is whether he can slow that pace down enough to lead gate to wire. His pedigree, demeanor and size reflect that he is capable of getting the 1 1/2 mile distance, and get his fourth win in just five career starts.

Overtook will have to do exactly that based on his closing style of racing. He has finished in the top-3 in four of his five lifetime starts, but only has one win. His pedigree is impressive, as he is out of a Grade One winning mare whose sire AP Indy won the Belmont in 1992. Overtook’s sire (Curlin) was a two-time Eclipse Champion who finished second in the Belmont in 2007. Curlin’s pedigree is well represented in this year’s Belmont, as he is also the sire of Known Agenda, and the maternal grandsire of France Go de Ina. Despite his royal breeding Overtook will have to significantly improve in order to be a factor.

And down the stretch they come!

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