Cox: Belmont Stakes Triumph Can Add To Essential Quality’s Legacy

The last few years have brought trainer Brad Cox to new heights of the sport. Cox has saddled multiple high-quality graded stakes winners, with Essential Quality among his highlights. The Tapit colt will look to add to that legacy and give Cox his first win in a Triple Crown race when he competes in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.

The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival runs from Thursday, June 3, through Saturday, June 5, and is headlined by the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes. The festival will encompass 17 total stakes, including eight Grade 1s on Belmont Stakes Day, capped by the “Test of the Champion” for 3-year-olds in the 1 1/2-mile final leg of the Triple Crown.

A potential favorite for the Belmont, Essential Quality started his career 5-for-5 before running a competitive fourth last out in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, finishing just one length back to winner Medina Spirit in the 1 1/4-mile first leg of the Triple Crown.

The Godolphin homebred earned the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old after winning the G1 Breeders’ Futurity in October at Keeneland and followed with a victory in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over fellow Belmont Stakes-contender Hot Rod Charlie.

Essential Quality was one of four Breeders’ Cup winners for Cox in 2020, with Monomoy Girl [Distaff], Knicks Go [Dirt Mile] and Aunt Peal [Juvenile Fillies Turf] also getting their picture taken. That successful weekend at Keeneland helped earn Cox his first career Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer.

“This horse has put us in this position and we feel very fortunate to be a part of it,” Cox said. “He’s accomplished so much already, being a champion 2-year-old. But at some point, he’ll be retired to stud and it’s our job now to continue to add to his legacy. A Grade 1 win at 3 is going to be huge for this horse and we’re hopeful it can happen in the Belmont.”

Cox will be saddling his first contender in a Belmont Stakes, which this year returns to its famed 1 1/2-mile distance. He has come close to winning an American Classic twice, with Owendale running third in the 2019 Preakness and Mandaloun finishing second, just a half-length back to Medina Spirit, in the Kentucky Derby earlier this month. Mandaloun will not be part of the Belmont Stakes field, but Essential Quality, with earnings of more than $2.4 million through six starts, gives his conditioner a formidable contender.

“It’s a great feeling to be in this position and have a realistic shot,” Cox said. “He gives us a fantastic opportunity on Saturday.”

Essential Quality is expected to arrive at Belmont on Tuesday morning. The Kentucky bred breezed five furlongs in 59.40 seconds on Saturday over the Churchill Downs main track. That bullet work was in company with 4-year-old filly Bonny South, who will also be shipping to New York to run in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ogden Phipps going 1 1/16 miles on Belmont Stakes Day as part of a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup qualifier for the Distaff.

“He had a great work Saturday and looked great Sunday morning,” Cox said. “He’ll ship Monday afternoon. But he breezed great and we’re going in the right direction.”

Essential Quality has improved his Beyer Speed Figures in each of his six starts, culminating with his first triple-digit number when earning a 100 for his “Run for the Roses” performance.

Other expected contenders for Cox on a loaded 13-race Saturday card that will feature nine graded stakes and eight G1 contests will be Shedaresthedevil, who is also targeting the Ogden Phipps; Knicks Go for the G1, $1 million Hill ‘N’ Dale Metropolitan that’s a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile; two-time G2 winner Travel Column for the G1, $500,000 Acorn for sophomore fillies going a one-turn mile; and Caddo River, fresh off the Triple Crown trail, shortening to seven furlongs for the G1, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Nassau County Industrial Development Agency.

Cox will also send out Kinenos for the two-mile G2, $500,000 Belmont Gold Cup for 4-year-olds and up on the Widener turf course on Friday.

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