In a hard-fought battle to the wire, Essential Quality, the 2-5 favorite, prevailed by a half-length over a tenacious Keepmeinmind to win Saturday’s nine-furlong Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy for 3-year-olds at Saratoga Race Course.
The Godolphin homebred’s victory in the 58th running of the Jim Dandy stamped him as the favorite for Saratoga’s signature race, the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers on August 28. In June, the handsome gray son of Tapit was the decisive winner of the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
Essential Quality, who has been piloted by Luis Saez in seven of his eight career starts, defeated four rivals after the scratch of Risk Taking.
Dr Jack broke sharp from his rail post and was followed by Masqueparade, Weyburn, and Keepmeinmind. Saez had Essential Quality in the clear on the outside in fifth, not far off the leaders. Following sharp fractions of 23.81, 47.41 and 1:11.13 on the fast main track, the pacesetter was retreating while Masqueparade and Weyburn were taking up prominent positions as the field turned for home.
But Essential Quality, with a sweeping outside move, bore down on those rivals, while Keepmeinmind, whose sire Laoban won the 2016 Jim Dandy, was snaking his way up on the rail. It then became a race down to the finish line between those two, with Essential Quality pulling clear in the shadow of the wire, stopping the clock in 1:49.92.
It was a nail-biter for Essential Quality’s trainer, Brad Cox.
“When they straightened up, I thought, ‘Wow we’ve been wide both turns,’ and then we see a horse slip up the inside [No. 4, Keepmeinmind] who looked like he had some run left,” Cox said. “It made for some anxious moments down the lane. Overall, he’s a very determined horse. He has the heart of a champion. He’s a good horse, he stays on.
“There was a lot of ground lost today,” Cox added. “Luis obviously had to work to win. He got something out of it, I do think that. I think he’s carrying a little more weight now than he was leading up to the Derby or Belmont. I think this was a good tightener for him, four weeks out [from the Travers].”
The win marked a second straight and third overall Jim Dandy win for Godolphin, whose royal blue colors scored last year with Mystic Guide as well as with Alpha in 2012. The last time a Jim Dandy winner connected with a victory in the Travers was 2012 when Alpha finished in a dead-heat for the win with Golden Ticket.
Jimmy Bell, president of Godolphin operations in the United States, said, “The really good horses just show up and find a way to get things done and he has seemed to do that every start. Consistency has been his hallmark and it was a battle down the stretch. It was probably good for him, which is easier to say after the race than when they’re at the sixteenth pole.”
For his part, Saez said, he felt confident he was sitting aboard the winner.
“I saw him [No. 4, Keepmeinmind], but I had a lot of horse and I knew he was going to finish,” the meet’s leading rider said. “The plan today was not to take too much away from him. He always fights and he always wants to win.”
Essential Quality returned $2.80 for a $2 win wager.
Masqueparade finished third, 2 1/4 lengths behind Keepmeinmind, and was followed under the wire by Weyburn and Dr Jack.
The win elevated Essential Quality’s earnings to $3,545,144 and brought last year’s 2-year-old champion’s record to 7-0-0 from eight starts. His lone career loss came in the Kentucky Derby when he crossed the wire in fourth place.
Sunday at Saratoga will feature a 10-race card highlighted by the Grade 2, $200,000 Amsterdam for 3-year-olds going 6 1/2 furlongs on the main track in Race 9. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Race Course Press Release
Photo: Essential Quality, (Adam Coglianese / NYRA Photo)