June 21, 2024

Essential Quality gets tested, gamely wins Blue Grass

Essential Quality
Essential Quality wins the Blue Grass Stakes (Photo by Coady Photography)

Essential Quality needed nearly the entire stretch, but the classy gray colt would not be denied in Saturday’s $800,000 Blue Grass S. (G2) at Keeneland, wearing down Highly Motivated to prevail by a neck.

The unbeaten champion may have wrapped up Kentucky Derby favoritism with the determined victory.

“It’s a tremendous feeling, he had to dig in today,” trainer Brad Cox said. “It was probably what he needed. It was good for him to get a good test today He did everything easy enough in his last race. I was proud of what he was able to overcome today. Big effort.”

After opening the year with a 4 1/4-length victory in the Feb. 27 Southwest S. (G3) at Oaklawn Park, Essential Quality improved his record to five-for-five.

“That other horse was fighting, and I thought we weren’t going to get him,” regular rider Luis Saez said. “But I always had faith in Essential Quality. He’s a nice horse. No matter how fast or slow the pace, he always wants to be first at the wire.”

A Godolphin homebred Tapit colt, Essential Quality also captured the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland last fall. He opened his racing career with a four-length maiden special weight win at Churchill Downs in early September.

Essential Quality tracked in second as Highly Motivated sprinted to the fore at the break, establishing fractions in :23.83, :48.21, and 1:12.08 while up by about a half-length. The pacesetter was still clinging to a short lead in midstretch, but Essential Quality kept plugging away and gained the upperhand approaching the wire.

Off as the 1-2 favorite, Essential Quality completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:48.50.

The Blue Grass is a major Kentucky Derby qualifier, awarding points on a 100-40-20-10 scale, and Highly Motivated stamped his ticket with the commendable performance.

“He ran a huge race,” Javier Castellano said of the runner-up. “I’m very satisfied the way he did it today. I got beat, finished second, but I’m so proud of my horse and the way he did it today. Easy fractions on the lead, he galloped along – that’s the first time he did two turns. We tested him a little bit to see how far he could go and he did it.

“He tried with one of the best horses in the country and I give all the credit to the winner. But I would never complain with my horse and the way he did it.”

Off as the 7-2 second choice, Highly Motivated held second by 5 1/2 lengths over 24-1 Rombauer, who never made an impact after stalking the pace in third all the way. Hidden Stash came next in fourth, and Keepmeinmind, Sittin On Go, Hush of a Storm, Untreated, and Leblon completed the order.

Essential Quality was named champion two-year-old male over the winter. The Kentucky-bred is out of the multiple stakes-placed Elusive Quality mare Delightful Quality, a half-sister to 2005 champion two-year-old filly, Folklore.