December 8, 2021

Essential Quality to meet eight in Blue Grass

Essential Quality
Essential Quality wins the Southwest Stakes (Coady Photography)

Blue Grass S. (G2) – Race 11 (6:35 p.m. ET)

Leading Kentucky Derby contender Essential Quality tops a field of nine in Saturday’s $800,000 Blue Grass S. (G2) at Keeneland. The unbeaten juvenile champion will make his second start of the season, rolling to a 4 1/4-length victory in the Feb. 27 Southwest S. (G3) at Oaklawn Park, and regular rider Luis Saez will be up.

The major Kentucky Derby qualifier will award points on a 100-40-20-10 basis to the top four.

A Godolphin homebred colt by Tapit, Essential Quality has shown an affinity for the Lexington, Kentucky oval, posting wins in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and Breeders’ Futurity (G1) last fall. The Brad Cox-conditioned gray sophomore will stretch out to 1 1/8 miles in the Blue Grass, and he appears to be training forwardly in preparation. Essential Quality should be a prohibitive favorite.

Highly Motivated returns to Keeneland after opening 2021 with a troubled third in the March 6 Gotham S. (G3) at Aqueduct. After breaking poorly and being checked in traffic, the Into Mischief colt found his best stride late to miss by 1 3/4 lengths.

The Chad Brown trainee recorded an impressive win in the Nyquist S at Keeneland last fall, garnering a 102 Brisnet Speed rating for the 4 1/4-length decision, and Highly Motivated is eligible to make a serious impact if he handles the stretch out to two turns.

Longer distances have been no issue for Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile third-placer Keepmeinmind, but the confirmed closer will need to show more after a disappointing sixth in the Southwest following a 3 1/2-month layoff. David Coen rides for Robertino Diordoro.

Rombauer invades for Michael McCarthy after a last-to-first win in the Feb. 13 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. A rallying fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the late runner will pick up a new pilot in Florent Geroux.

John Battaglia Memorial S. winner Hush of a Storm scratched from last Saturday’s Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) in favor of the Blue Grass. He will be tested for class and dirt form, but the improving colt has won three straight for trainer Bill Morey. Santiago Gonzalez retains the assignment.

Hidden Stash exits a pair of respectable performances in his first stakes attempts, finishing third in the Sam F. Davis S. (G3) and second in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2). The Vicki Oliver-trained colt was beaten less than a length in the latter, and Rafael Bejarano guides the chestnut.

Untreated will jump to stakes competition for Todd Pletcher following an 8 3/4-length maiden win at Tampa Bay Downs. Juvenile Grade 3 winner Sittin On Go, unplaced in his last four outings, and Oaklawn maiden scorer Leblon round out the field.