Essential Quality Masters Test Of The Champion; Cox, Saez Celebrate First Classic Winners

Godolphin homebred Essential Quality entered the starting gate as the undefeated favorite in the Kentucky Derby, but a difficult start marred the first Saturday in May for the talented gray son of Tapit. Instead, the first Saturday in June proved to be Essential Quality’s coming out party, with a 1 1/2-length victory over Hot Rod Charlie as the 6-5 favorite in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes. Tapit has now sired four Belmont winners.

It is the first official Triple Crown victory for both the Louisville, Ky.-born trainer Brad Cox (though his Derby runner-up, Mandaloun, may be promoted to victory by virtue of the winner Medina Spirit’s medication overage), as well as for jockey Luis Saez, who crossed the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby on Maximum Security in 2019 only to be disqualified for interference.

In the post-race interview, Saez dedicated the victory to his late brother, jockey Juan Saez, who was killed in a horse racing accident at Indiana Grand in 2014.

“I know he’s always watching over me,” Saez said.

Godolphin’s Jimmy Bell celebraltes Essential Quality’s Belmont Stakes win with trainer Brad Cox and jockey Luis Saez

Cox remembered calling Essential Quality his Belmont horse the first time he saw the colt in person, and was thrilled to be proven correct.

“That was a tremendous race today,” Cox said.

After the five-week break between the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, Saez made sure Essential Quality broke cleanly and found a position off the rail in sixth around the clubhouse turn. Meanwhile, Hot Rod Charlie surprised many by out-sprinting Rock Your World to the front end, with France Go De Ina also showing speed through a first quarter mile in :22.75.

Rock Your World moved up into second in the backstretch run, chasing Hot Rod Charlie through a half in :46.49 and six furlongs in 1:12.07. Saez kept Essential Quality out in the center of the course in fifth position, staying in the clear and not allowing any excuse for trouble as the race unfolded.

Rounding the far turn after a mile in 1:37.40, France Go De Ina was the first to challenge the frontrunning pair while three-wide. Saez had moved Essential Quality into contention, keeping him in the four-path as the leaders rounded toward the straight. Rock Your World was the first to drop out of it, while France Go De Ina couldn’t keep pace when Hot Rod Charlie and Essential Quality started to do battle.

Hot Rod Charlie battled valiantly after setting the pace, but had no answer for Essential Quality in the final eighth of a mile. The juvenile champion went on to hit the wire 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Hot Rod Charlie, mirroring the exacta of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Preakness winner Rombauer was many lengths back in third, while Florida Derby winner Known Agenda checked in fourth.

Bred in Kentucky by his owner, Essential Quality is out of the graded stakes-placed Elusive Quality mare Delightful Quality. He won on debut, then annexed both the G1 Breeders’ Futurity and G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile en route to championship 2-year-old honors. This year, he won both the G3 Southwest and the G2 Blue Grass Stakes before his fourth-place effort in the Kentucky Derby. Overall, Essential Quality has won six of his seven lifetime starts for earnings of over $3.3 million.

Essential Quality, winner of the Belmont Stakes, the “test of the champion” over 1 1/2 miles at Belmont Park

Post-Race Quotes From New York Racing Association Media Office:

Jimmy Bell, President of Godolphin USA, the winning owner of Essential Quality [No. 2, $4.60*]: “We were so fortunate to have another opportunity [after running fourth in the Kentucky Derby]. He has never run a bad race in his life, and I think he showed today he met the test of a champion. To do what he did as a 2-year-old and come through these races as a 3-year-old with the mile-and-a-half classic, it’s a great tribute to him.

About the Kentucky Derby race: “In all fairness, he probably ran as good a race as he has run. We all sometimes wish to work out a better trip, but it wasn’t meant to be and that’s horse racing. We were just looking for an opportunity to showcase his talent and his versatility, and I am very happy he got the job done for us today.”

Brad Cox, winning trainer of Essential Quality (No. 2): “It was a long way around there for a mile and a half, but it was exciting.

“I thought it [the pace] benefitted our horse. Hot Rod Charlie ran a tremendous race and I thought, with the hot pace, we were in a good spot where they’d come back. He [Luis Saez] did a fantastic job putting him in position turning for home and he really showed his stamina late.

“It looked like the horse on the inside still had run left, so I knew it was going to be a battle down the lane.

“He broke well, but it took four or five strides to get position going into the first turn. I was a touch shocked. I thought we’d be a little closer on our own. When we saw the opening quarter, I felt good. And then the 46 he was laying mid pack and on the outside.

“At that point, even going the distance, he should be closing at this pace. Luis did a good job of getting him into position. Turning for home, we were pretty much on even terms with the leader. Hot Rod Charlie ran a tremendous race to hang around that late after doing most of the dirty work. Our horse really showed his talent and stamina.

“With the Tapit on top we really thought he would get the mile and a half when given the opportunity. We always thought he had the ability. After the Derby, you just have to see what it takes out of them. It’s a demanding race as well as the Belmont. We were watching him for a week or so. We put our heads together and felt like if we we’re going to keep him in training we might as well run him. I really didn’t think I could keep his feet on the ground the next couple of months without keeping him on some type of breeze schedule. He’s a very smart horse. He has a lot of energy, but he lets you know when he’s ready to run.”

Luis Saez, winning jockey aboard Essential Quality (No. 2): “This is my second home. This is the race I wanted to win. We made history.

“I was giving thanks to the Lord and my [late] brother Juan and I dedicate this race to him. My wife and my daughters are out there waiting for me. I’m just so grateful to be here.

“In the Kentucky Derby, we were confident and thought he was going to win. But we had a little unlucky start breaking from there. Today, the big thing was to try to break cleanly. For the rest, I knew he was going to do it.

“It was a pretty nice trip. That’s what I was expecting, we knew there was going to be a lot of speed, so we tried to get a clean break and be right there. I knew he was going to run his race at the top of the stretch. On the backside, he picked up the bridle and was moving pretty well, so I’m not going to try to take him back and go inside when he was running pretty well.

“I had a lot of horse and the good thing about Essential [Quality] is that he always fights. He doesn’t care who it is, he’s going to want to beat them, so I knew he was going to show up at the top of the stretch.”

On his first Triple Crown race victory: “It was so special. I’m so proud to be here and come out with a victory. The [2019 Kentucky] Derby was a little [tough], but you know stuff happens so I’m OK.”

Doug O’Neill, trainer of runner-up Hot Rod Charlie (No. 4): “It was such a great stretch duel and he ran against the 2-year champ. This may sound cocky but I wasn’t that surprised when they went as fast as they did early and he kept fighting on the inside. I knew Flavien [Prat] is so confident in this colt, and this colt is so confident in Flavien. He rode with a lot of confidence and I wouldn’t second-guess him and I wouldn’t do anything different. We just got beat by a better horse today.

“The heart this horse has in him is unbelievable. He’s got so much try in him it’s crazy. So does the winner, of course. Those are two top horses and hopefully, they both stay injury-free and we get a good rivalry for a long time. That would be really cool.

“Our horse told us today that he’s a gamer. He got pushed. He did all the dirty work. Essential Quality ran a huge race and I think Charlie showed he was trying every step of the way from gate-to-wire. He just couldn’t hold off a champ.

“During the stretch run I thought he was going to come back, honest to God. In my mind he did come back. He gave everything he had today. There is definitely a part of me that thought they’d start bobbing heads and it would be whoever gets the head bob. Essential Quality just had more today. Thank God they don’t run mile-and-a-half races often so we should be OK.

On potentially running in the G1 Travers at Saratoga: “I’d love to bring him back to New York. I can’t wait to get back to the barn and give him a big hug. Just as long as he’s doing well and is injury-free, and he’s telling us through his training that he’s doing well and is ready to go, he obviously loved to travel and we all love New York so he’s a possibility. There are many more chapters for this horse, hopefully.”

Flavien Prat, jockey aboard runner-up Hot Rod Charlie (No. 4): “We had a good race. He was traveling well on the lead and he was really game today.

“It was a great effort. We had a lot of pressure, but I don’t think it would have mattered today. I’m really proud of my horse.

“I was travelling well the whole way around there. I wish we could have gone a little slower, but there wasn’t much I could do about that. He was very game.”

John Velazquez, jockey aboard third-place finisher Rombauer (No. 3): “He broke good. We saved all the ground. He tried his best, couldn’t get there.

“I had a good trip. I went behind the winners and the winning move was on the outside, a little too soon for me, so I waited a little longer and was a good third.

“Two fresh horses, that’s why the Triple Crown is so difficult to win. When you have fresh horses going into the races it’s really hard.”

Jose Ortiz, jockey aboard fourth-place finisher Known Agenda (No. 6): “My horse ran well. I knew today he was going to be ready and he’s a very nice horse. I thought he ran a good race, he was just a little lazy and I had to keep after him the whole time. It’s a long distance, too but he didn’t have that kick. He didn’t pick up the bit like I wanted him to at the eighth pole and he stayed even.

Kendrick Carmouche, jockey aboard fifth-place finisher Bourbonic (No. 1): “I had him in the perfect spot. He just wasn’t good enough today.“

Joel Rosario, jockey aboard sixth-place finisher Rock Your World (No. 7): “I was in a good spot. I thought I was going to go to the lead, but the other horse decided to send, so I was laying in second. He was there for a little while and then he just got a little tired.”

Manny Franco, jockey aboard seventh-place finisher Overtook (No. 8):“The pace was quick in front so I was expecting to make a move. But he didn’t give me much today.”

Ricardo Santana, Jr., jockey aboard France Go de Ina, who was eased to the wire (No. 5): “He put me in a great spot and travelled well. I think it was too far for him.”

The post Essential Quality Masters Test Of The Champion; Cox, Saez Celebrate First Classic Winners appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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