SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Godolphin’s Essential Quality has gone off as the favorite in six of his seven career starts. The reigning Champion 2-Year-Old has rewarded that confidence almost every time, notching six wins along with a competitive fourth-place effort in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby in May at Churchill Downs. This Saturday, Essential Quality will likely be the top mutuel choice again, with the 1-2 morning-line favorite headlining a six-horse field in the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy for sophomores going 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga Race Course.
Essential Quality’s appearance in the 58th running of the Jim Dandy will mark his first race since besting Hot Rod Charlie by 1 1/4 lengths in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 5, which gave conditioner Brad Cox – who won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer in 2020 – his first career win in a Triple Crown race. The Tapit colt has breezed three times this month at Saratoga since shipping from Churchill, including a five-furlong work in 1:00.90 on Saturday over the main track, with Cox saying he’s adapted well to his new surroundings.
“I think he looks like he put on weight. He looks great,” Cox said. “I feel like he’s grown just in the short time he’s been here at Saratoga, from his muscle-tone to his weight. Everything has been positive since he’s moved here. I think he really likes it here.”
Essential Quality surged on the scene with a 3-for-3 juvenile campaign in which he won his debut by four lengths in September before capturing the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity in October at Keeneland and winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by three-quarters of a length over Hot Rod Charlie in November over the same Kentucky track to secure the Eclipse Award.
As a sophomore, Essential Quality sustained those winning ways with scores in the Grade 3 Southwest and Grade 2 Blue Grass on the Kentucky Derby trail. In the “Run for the Roses,” the Kentucky homebred overcame a bump at the start to still finish a competitive fourth, just one length back to winner Medina Spirit and behind runner-up and stablemate Mandaloun and third-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie. Essential Quality cracked triple digits for Beyer Speed Figures for the first time in the Kentucky Derby, earning an even 100, which he then surpassed by garnering a 109 for winning the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes a month later.
“I thought the Kentucky Derby was one of his best races. He’s a horse who acts like he’s getting better as the year goes on,” Cox said. “He doesn’t over-do it in training. You can tell this week, that’s he’s just a little more antsy, biting at the grooms, but feeling really well. He’s showing us he has plenty of energy.”
Essential Quality, with regular rider Luis Saez in the irons, drew post 5 in the Jim Dandy field which also includes Keepmeinmind, Weyburn, Dr Jack, Masqueparade and Risk Taking. The Jim Dandy also serves as a prep for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers for sophomores going 1 1/4 miles on August 28.
Expectations are high when a three-time Grade 1 winner is loaded in the starting gate, but Cox said he welcomes the challenge since it means he has a talented contender to send out in another prestigious race.
“I’m assuming he’ll be a short price on Saturday and when you’re a short price, there’s always pressure,” Cox said. “It’s one of those things where you are excited about it, but you almost want to have things go your way and get it over it from a trainer’s view of it. I’m excited. There is pressure, but it’s good to be in position to have that pressure on you. It means you’re in a good spot.”
Another potential starter for the Travers is Juddmonte’s Grade 1 Haskell-winner Mandaloun, who could also target the Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on September 25 at Parx.
Mandaloun ran second in the Kentucky Derby, a half-length back to Medina Spirit, before winning the Pegasus on June 13 at Monmouth. Running back a month later, the Into Mischief colt crossed the wire second to Hot Rod Charlie in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell but was elevated to first when Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified for interference.
“We’ll probably make a decision next week but I can tell you, the horse really came out of the Haskell in good order,” Cox said. “He’s been training over here on the Oklahoma [training track] and I’m really happy with the way he’s moving. He looks tremendous and has really put on weight since the Haskell. He’s recovered well and very sound and we’re in a good spot. We’re happy with him.”
Mandaloun has posted a 2-2-1 record in six starts this year.
“The horse has run six times this year and I think we’d be five weeks between the Haskell and Travers,” Cox said. “We’d like to get to the Breeders’ Cup somehow, and that doesn’t mean we can’t get there through the Travers, but he’s a horse that we want to try to map out the schedule that makes the most sense for him. Essential Quality has already run the four times and he doesn’t have as many miles on him this year, and that’ll play a big role in what we do.”
Juddmonte homebred Snow House stepped up to stakes company for the first time with a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Dwyer going a one-turn mile last out on July 5 at Belmont and will now contest a stakes going two turns as part of a seven-horse field in Friday’s nine-furlong $120,000 Curlin for 3-year-olds at the Spa.
The Twirling Candy colt made his debut with a fourth-place finish on the Fair Grounds turf in March before breaking his maiden in April at Keeneland in a one-mile off-the-turf contest. Following another main track win over the Churchill main track in May, Cox elevated Snow House to stakes company in the Dwyer, where he tied a personal-high 86 Beyer in a race won by First Captain.
“He wasn’t the sharpest gate horse early on. He’s not a real big horse, but once we ran him at Keeneland, it came off the turf, and he performed well and had plenty of time to recover from the maiden victory,” Cox said. “I thought he ran a really good race in the Dwyer. This will be his second start around two turns, so I feel it could be an advantage getting him around two turns. I think he can handle it.
“He didn’t get started until March, so he’s been pretty straightforward,” he added.
Arklow is also a possibility to run on Travers Day, with the Grade 1, $750,000 Sword Dancer for 4-year-olds and up going 1 1/2 miles on the turf a possibility for the 7-year-old son of Arch. Arklow ran sixth in the Grade 1 United Nations on July 17 at Monmouth going 1 3/8 miles after clipping heels.
Cox said Arklow is also acclimating well to Saratoga as he readies for his next start.
“He’s great. He’s here; he stumbled enough to cost him a placing at Monmouth but he recovered well and the Sword Dancer is a possibility for him later in the meet,” Cox said. “He’s doing really well.”
Owned by Donegal Racing, Joseph Bulger and the Estate of Peter Coneway, Arklow ended his 2020 campaign with a victory in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup in November at Del Mar. Following a six-month freshening, he made a triumphant seasonal debut with a win in the Grade 3 Louisville going 1 1/2 miles on the Churchill turf in May before the United Nations effort. Arklow is 9-7-2 in 33 lifetime starts with earnings of more than $2.75 million.
NYRA Press Office
Photo: Essential Quality at Belmont Stakes, Luis Saez up. (NYRA/Joe Labozetta)