Essential Quality rallied past 94-1 longshot Hot Rod Charlie to score by three-quarters of a length in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland, remaining unbeaten and confirming his status as a leading 2021 Kentucky Derby contender.
Luis Saez was up for Brad Cox on the Godolphin homebred son of three-time leading sire Tapit, and Essential Quality improved to 3-for-3 in his career when completing 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.09. Cox also won the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) with Aunt Pearl on Friday.
A convincing maiden winner at Churchill Downs in early September, Essential Quality followed with a front-running, 3 1/4-length triumph in the Oct. 3 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland. The gray colt switched to rating tactics in the Juvenile, and Essential Quality left the starting gate as the 7-2 second choice among 14 runners.
“He’s a tremendous horse, has an amazing amount of stamina,” Cox said. “We’re going to enjoy this one and obviously (the Kentucky Derby) will be our goal moving forward.”
A hot pace developed up front as the expected pacesetter, 9-10 favorite Jackie’s Warrior, was beaten to the early lead by 41-1 outsider Dreamer’s Disease, who sped through wicked opening splits of :22.58 and :45.31 while being chased the 37-1 Likeable. Jackie’s Warrior was up close tracking the leaders.
Essential Quality settled nearly 10 lengths back in eight during the opening half-mile, and began to edge closer while wide entering the far turn. Jackie’s Warrior launched his bid rounding the bend and Hot Rod Charlie emerged out of the pack to challenge for the lead while three wide entering the stretch.
Jackie Warrior took a short lead while turning for home, but Hot Rod Charlie had him measured and Essential Quality was closing rapidly on the far outside. Hot Rod Charlie took the lead in deep stretch but could not withstand the momentum of Essential Quality, who powered past to win going away under the wire.
“I had a perfect trip, a beautiful trip,” Saez said. “My horse broke so well. He was in the right spot. I knew there was going to be a lot of speed so we were in the right spot. At the three-eighths he gave me that kick so I knew we had a chance to win the race. He can run all day. He’s a nice horse.”
“It was a tremendous effort by this horse,” Cox added. “Luis stayed after him the whole way. He overcame a lot today. He’s a nice colt. Distance is no issue with him. He’ll run all day. I’m very proud of him and I’m so happy for the Godolphin organization. What a horse.”
Hot Rod Charlie, who was overlooked for Doug O’Neill following a neck maiden win at Santa Anita on Oct. 2, wound up 1 1/4 lengths better than 30-1 Keepmeinmind, who closed from last in the early stages. Jackie’s Warrior weakened to fourth. Rombauer, Dreamer’s Disease, King Fury, Classier, Sittin On Go, Reinvestment Risk, Calibrate, Camp Hope, Likeable, and Next completed the order of finish.
After earning 10 points in the Breeders’ Futurity, Essential Quality picked up another 20 points for winning the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier.
The Kentucky-bred hails from the stakes-placed Delightful Quality. She is a daughter of Elusive Quality, the sire of 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, and Delightful Quality is a half-sister to the Godolphin-owned 2005 champion 2-year-old filly Folklore.