Last seen winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Essential Quality will open his three-year-old season against six rivals in Saturday’s $750,000 Southwest S. (G3) at Oaklawn Park.
The 1 1/16-mile race was delayed 12 days due to weather, but Essential Quality didn’t miss any preparations. The unbeaten two-year-old champion has been based at Fair Grounds with trainer Brad Cox, and the Godolphin homebred Tapit colt has logged a pair of recent works.
A Road to the Kentucky Derby series qualifier, the Southwest awards points on a 10-4-2-1 scale.
Essential Quality ranks second on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. After garnering 10 points for a front-running win in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) in early October, the regally-bred gray switched tactics and netted 20 points recording a three-quarter of a length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland a month later.
Luis Saez retains the mount.
Multiple Grade 1 winner Jackie’s Warrior, unraced since finishing fourth as the odds-on favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, will also ship in from Fair Grounds to make his seasonal bow. The Steve Asmussen-trained colt brings high speed, posting convincing wire-to-wire tallies in the Champagne S. (G1), Hopeful S. (G1), and Saratoga Special S. (G2), and Joel Rosario will be in to guide.
Jackie’s Warrior faltered trying two turns in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but the Maclean’s Music colt performed respectably after prompting a grueling pace battle. The top three finishers were all seventh or worse after the opening half-mile, and Jackie’s Warrior was beaten only 3 1/4 lengths.
Asmussen will also send out stakes veteran Saffa’s Day, who exits a maiden special weight tally at Oaklawn in late January. Ricardo Santana Jr. rides.
Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) winner Spielberg will invade for six-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, a four-time winner of the Southwest. A non-threatening fourth in the Jan. 30 Jan. 30 Robert B. Lewis S. (G3), Spielberg was added to the Southwest cast after training forwardly, recording a recent six-furlong bullet work at Santa Anita. Martin Garcia takes over the reins on the Union Rags colt.
Santa Cruiser will try to turn things around after unplaced finishes in the Risen Star S. (G2) and Lecomte S. (G3) at Fair Grounds. A pair of expected longshots, Last Samurai and Woodhouse, round out the field.