Essential Quality, the reigning Champion 2-Year-Old and Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets winner, was a determined victor of Saturday’s Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga Race Course and will now target the meet’s signature event, the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers on August 28.
The Godolphin-owned son of Tapit, trained by Brad Cox, overcame a five-wide trip on both turns, rating at the rear of the compact field down the backstretch and fended off an inside rally from Keepmeinmind to finish off the nine furlongs in 1:49.92 over the fast main track.
“The more I looked at it, the more I wondered how much pace was in the race and then I thought we’d be forwardly placed just because he was fresh,” Cox said. “The horse to the inside of us [Keepmeinmind] was also fresh. I think it played out kind of the way we expected, obviously I didn’t think we would be caught quite as wide, but I thought it would be a well-grouped bunch of horses going into the first turn. He’s able to dig in and fight and continue on.”
The Jim Dandy marked a sixth graded stakes victory from the gray sophomore colt, who earned championship honors last season with victories in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity and Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, both at Keeneland Race Course.
After a triumphant 3-year-old debut over a sloppy track in the Grade 3 Southwest at Oaklawn Park, he returned to the Lexington oval in the Grade 2 Blue Grass where he bested Highly Motivated to secure victory by a neck.
Essential Quality suffered his only defeat as the favorite in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby when fourth beaten a length after a wide trip in upper stretch, but returned to action with a determined victory in the Belmont Stakes when outdueling Hot Rod Charlie down the lane to win by 1 ¼ lengths.
“We always thought he was a good horse, but you just always hope all of them show that talent to reach a Grade 1 level,” Cox said. “Obviously, he was able to do that in only his second start, so he answered a lot of our questions early on as to how good he was.”
Cox expressed appreciation in being able to train horses for a world-class racing and breeding operation like Godolphin.
“Obviously this is a dream come true, but it’s a lot of hard work, good horses great staff and great clientele that has given us the opportunity and put us in the position to succeed,” Cox said.
Essential Quality would look to become the first horse since Alpha to capture the Jim Dandy-Runhappy Travers double.
Cox could hold a strong hand for the Runhappy Travers as Juddmonte Farm’s Mandaloun, winner of the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, is also a possible contender. Cox said a breeze next weekend will likely determine which direction Mandaloun goes.
Jimmy Bell, president of Godolphin’s North American operations, expressed satisfaction in running Essential Quality before the Travers and said both he and Cox were on the same page in terms of running in the Jim Dandy.
“Things are looking well, we have some nice things to look forward to,” Bell said following the Jim Dandy. “He got a lot out of this race. I would not take this for granted and Brad said very quickly he was glad he ran him. I think this will move him forward to his training for the Travers. We’re obviously very pleased with the effort, the outcome and he keeps on showing up.”
Essential Quality is out of the multiple stakes-placed Elusive Quality mare Delightful Quality, who has a 2-year-old filly by Uncle Mo named Famed in training at Keeneland.
NYRA Press Release
Photo: Essential Quality ( Susie Rasher Photo)