Essential Quality gives Cox a chance to join elite company

August 28, 2021

History abounds at Saratoga Race Course, especially when it comes to the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers. The country’s oldest stakes race for 3-year-olds will have its 152nd edition on Saturday in headlining a stacked card of seven graded stakes and six Grade 1 contests.

The Runhappy Travers – for sophomores contesting the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles, is slated as Race 12 on the packed 13-race card. First post is set for 11:35 a.m.

For the third consecutive year, FOX will air the Runhappy Travers as the centerpiece of a 90-minute telecast beginning at 5 p.m. The networks of FOX and FOX Sports will air 7 1/2 total hours of live racing and analysis on Runhappy Travers Day, with coverage scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. on FS1.

Trainer Brad Cox can join an elite group Saturday if his entrant, 4-5 morning-line favorite Essential Quality, can win the Runhappy Travers. Should Essential Quality earn a winner’s circle trip tomorrow, Cox would become just the eighth trainer overall to win the Grade 1 Whitney and Travers in the same year – and just the third to do so with two different horses after Knicks Go won the Whitney by 4 1/2 lengths on August 7.

The last trainer to pull off the double of the two most prestigious races of the Saratoga summer meet was Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, who saddled fellow Hall of Famer Easy Goer to the sweep in 1989. 

Prior to 1954, the Whitney was run at 1 1/4 miles as a weight-for-age event, and from 1957-69 it was restricted to 4-year-olds and up. Beginning in 1955 it was run at its current distance of 1 1/8 miles. Since 2020, when Improbable won, the Whitney has been restricted to 4-year-olds and up.

Other conditioners to notch both wins in the same year were MacKenzie Miller [Java Gold in 1987], John Veitch [Alydar in 1978], J. Elliott Burch [Key to the Mint, 1972] and Bert Mulholland [Eight Thirty, 1939].

Cox can join an even rarer group of trainers to win both races with two different horses. 

James G. Rowe, Jr. saddled St. Brideaux to the Whitney win in 1931 and Twenty Grand to a Travers score that summer, while John M. Gaver, Sr. conditioned Swing and Sway to Whitney glory and Shut Out to Travers success in 1942. 

Cox will be looking to accomplish a feat last reached 79 years ago when Essential Quality breaks from post 2 in the seven-horse field in Race 12 at 6:12 p.m. Eastern.

“When you can win Grade 1s at Saratoga, whether it’s the Whitney or Travers, it’s always huge to win any of them on the NYRA circuit, period,” Cox said. “To win the Travers and Whitney in the same year; we’ve already had a great meet to begin with, but if we can cap it off with this, it would be huge.

“It’s the biggest 3-year-old race outside of the Triple Crown races, so it would be right up there with winning the Belmont, for sure.”

Essential Quality has already made an indelible mark on Cox’s career, providing him his first American Classic victory with that 1 1/4-length score in the Belmont Stakes on June 5. The Godolphin homebred has won seven of his eight career starts with six graded stakes victories, including a 3-for-3 effort last year en route to winning the Eclipse Award as Champion 2-Year-Old following wins in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, both at Keeneland.

That run helped Cox earn his first Eclipse Award as Outstanding Trainer, and the Tapit colt continued his dominance to begin his sophomore campaign, winning the Grade 3 Southwest and the Grade 2 Blue Grass before running a competitive fourth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby in his lone career defeat on May 1 at Churchill Downs.

Undeterred, Essential Quality showed he could handle Belmont’s famed 12-furlong distance, overcoming Hot Rod Charlie’s blistering fractions to collar his rival and win the Belmont Stakes, earning a personal-best 109 Beyer Speed Figure. Getting his first taste of the Saratoga main track, Essential Quality registered a half-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 31 in preparation for the Runhappy Travers.

“I think he’s bigger, there’s more of him. He’s stronger than he was leading up to the Belmont,” Cox said about Essential Quality’s physical maturation. “It comes with age. He’s still a young horse and still developing. I’ve continued to see signs of progression and that’s why he’s 4-5.”

NYRA Press Release

Photo: Brad Cox ( NYRA Photo)

@jonathanstettin Wonderful article! You’re a great ambassador for the game! We’ve been spoiled with elite equine athletes in recent memory.

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