Essential Quality digs deep to take G2 Blue Grass Stakes
Champion juvenile Essential Quality maintained his unbeaten record and booked his spot in the Kentucky Derby with a determined victory over Highly Motivated in the nine-furlong G2 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, USA, on Saturday, 3 April.
Returning to the scene of both his two-year-old G1 wins, the Brad Cox-trained colt disputed the early running before settling in a half-length second on the outside of Highly Motivated.
The duo looked to have the race to themselves as they pulled six lengths clear of the field turning in, with Highly Motivated continuing to hold a narrow advantage at the top of the straight.
Essential Quality mounted a resolute challenge under Luis Saez but looked held in second entering the final furlong before rallying strongly to assert in the final strides for a neck verdict. The first two home finished a full five and a half lengths clear of Rombauer in third.
Godolphin USA President Jimmy Bell said: “Essential Quality grew up a lot today. When you go to these big races, especially where we think we are headed, you better have been tested and he got battle-tested today.
“It’s a great credit to Luis for his perseverance and to the runner-up – they had a heck of a horserace down the lane. You need one of those very tight races and Essential Quality got that today.
“He showed what champions are made of – he had to dig down and find a little something that we hadn’t seen before – and it was great to see that dimension. He got hooked but kept coming, so that was a very, very positive sign.
“We have learned patience and perseverance over the years. This is no easy game, we all know it, and that is why we love it so much. The greatest thing is that His Highness Sheikh Mohammed puts no pressure on us. He is such a horseman, who has been through all this, and he just says: ‘keep trying and, if it is meant to be, it will happen’.
“Hats off to the Maktoum family, with Shadwell winning the G1 Ashland Stakes with Malathaat and Essential Quality here. It’s a special day for Keeneland, a special day for both farms and I am very happy for the Maktoum family.”
Brad Cox said: “Highly Motivated was travelling really well on the inside and Javier Castellano looked very comfortable. It looked like it was going to be tough to get by and he was extremely tough. He is a good horse, who has run good numbers and likes Keeneland, so we thought that he would be our main competition.
“Luis Saez did a good job of getting our horse home. Essential Quality needed a good, strong race today and we got that out of him, there’s no doubt about it.
“He is getting better all the time – not that he is bad or anything – but he is a colt who is maturing all the time mentally and physically. I thought he ran a huge race today and he is a tough horse.
“Essential Quality has shown us an unbelievable amount of stamina. It’s the one thing I keep going back to, he never gets tired. When you breeze him, it doesn’t take a lot out of him. Luis said that he was a monster today and felt like he never really got to the bottom of the horse. I think the further, the better for him.
“I am very optimistic about the opportunity we are going to have in four weeks and I am looking forward to the first Saturday in May.”
Luis Saez added: “When we came to the stretch, Javier’s horse was really fighting and I thought for a second that we weren’t going to get it but I always have a feeling with Essential Quality. He is a nice horse and, no matter how fast or slow the pace, he always wants to be the first on the wire.
“He came to the stretch, he fought and he got by. What a big heart this horse has. In that type of moment, we try to do anything and he finally gave me that last try. He is a fighting horse and always in a battle.”