Thursday's Trackside Belmont Stakes Report

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Essential Quality training at Belmont Thursday | Sarah Andrew

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ELMONT, NY – The handsome gray Knicks Go (Paynter) was among several high-profile runners spotted stretching their legs on an overcast and humid Thursday morning at beautiful Belmont Park ahead of this weekend's GI Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.

The GI Hill 'n' Dale Metropolitan Mile H.-bound GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and GI Pegasus World Cup winner wrapped up his exercise just before 6 a.m.

With an on-and-off light drizzle falling throughout the morning as temperatures hovered in the low 60s, GI Preakness S. upsetter and Belmont S. second-choice Rombauer (Twirling Candy) appeared very well in the flesh during his gallop about an hour and 20 minutes later. Sporting a white bridle, he was on his toes nicely while making his way back through the scenic barn area.

Speaking of white bridles, trainer Michael McCarthy's former boss Todd Pletcher will have three chances of his own for a fourth Belmont victory with Known Agenda (Curlin), Bourbonic (Bernardini) and Overtook (Curlin), respectively.

Trainer John Sadler was in attendance as the striking Rock Your World (Candy Ride {Arg}) took a spin around Big Sandy at 7:25 a.m. and also visited the starting gate. If his bullet five-furlong breeze at Santa Anita last Friday was any indication, the previously unbeaten GI Runhappy Santa Anita Derby hero figures to be on the engine following a disastrous go five weeks ago in Louisville. Hronis Racing and Sadler will also be well-represented by GISW Flagstaff (Speightstown) in Friday's GII True North S.

Photographers and media members lined up by the clubhouse turn as the blinkered Essential Quality (Tapit) entered the track by the gap. A wide-trip fourth in the Derby, his first defeat in six career attempts, last year's champion 2-year-old stood like a gentleman along the outer rail before heading to the gate for a schooling session. Just as he did at Churchill Downs during Derby week, the 2020 GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile hero once again subsequently ditched the Godolphin-branded shades for his gallop.

In addition to the aforementioned pair of morning-line favorites for the Met Mile and Belmont S., trainer Brad Cox's powerhouse weekend line-up also includes: 'TDN Rising Star' Caddo River (Hard Spun) (GI Woody Stephens S.); Shedaresthedevil (Daredevil) (GI Ogden Phipps S.); and 'TDN Rising Star' Travel Column (Frosted) (GI Acorn S.).

With the rain picking up during the break and the main track now sealed, trainer Doug O'Neill opted to instead send GII Louisiana Derby winner and Kentucky Derby third Hot Rod Charlie (Oxbow) to gallop over the training track-which remained harrowed–as training hours began to wind down.

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