Preakness winner Rombauer finished third.

Essential Quality, the favorite heading into the 153rd Belmont Stakes on Saturday, came out on top to win the final leg of the Triple Crown after a close race.

Hot Rod Charlie took an early lead in the 1.5 mile long race but Essential Quality rounded the final turn to win from only a length-and-a-half.

“This was a long way around there a mile a half but it was thrilling,” coach Brad Cox said. “It looked like the horse to the interior, he had run left. I understood it was going to be a battle down the line.”

Preakness winner Rombauer finished third while Known Agenda, who was ridden by Jose Ortiz after brother Irad Ortiz Jr. was trampled at a race earlier this week, finished fourth.

Belmont Park is home to the longest and final race on the Triple Crown trail, that has been altered last year in part due to the pandemic.

He was aboard Maximum Security when they crossed the finish line in the 2019 Derby, but was disqualified for impeding different horses.

“Luis did a wonderful job of getting him position turning for home and that he was able to really show his endurance late,” Cox added.

Vital Quality’s win follows contentious information from earlier this week which Churchill Downs suspended legendary horse trainer Bob Baffert for two years following the confirmation of the positive drug test for Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit.

Baffert was suspended by entering horses at the Belmont Stakes from the New York Racing Association a month.

While the Belmont Stakes is technically Cox’s first Triple Crown race victory, he could be named the winner of the Kentucky Derby if Medina Spirit is disqualified.

United Arab Emirates ruler Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who owns Critical Quality, has recently faced scrutiny after a judge in England ruled he orchestrated the abductions of two of his adult allies.

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