Godolphin homebred Essential Quality, last year’s Champion 2-Year-Old Male, notched his fourth Grade 1 victory with a determined score over fellow Kentucky-bred Midnight Bourbon in the 152nd running of the historic Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 28.
The Brad Cox trainee stumbled slightly at the start after breaking from post position No. 2 and tracked the early pace of Midnight Bourbon while racing in second position around the first turn and down the backstretch. He tracked Midnight Bourbon through an opening quarter-mile in :24.18, a half in :48.96, and three-quarters in 1:14.49 over the fast track.
Heading into the far turn, jockey Luiz Saez gave Essential Quality his cue to go after Midnight Bourbon. Essential Quality collared Midnight Bourbon in the lane and the two hooked up in a spirited stretch duel. Saez kept his mount to task through the stretch, prevailing by a neck over his stubborn and game rival at the finish. Essential Quality covered the 1 ¼ miles in 2:01.96 in winning for the eighth time in nine career starts.
“He broke well,” said trainer Brad Cox. “We were hoping that he wouldn’t lose as much ground and have more of a ground-saving trip as opposed to the Jim Dandy. “Luis did a good job of recognizing that there wouldn’t be a whole lot of pace. He asked him to run out of there and established good position and didn’t let Midnight Bourbon get too far away up the backside. He’s a tremendous horse. He’s a champion and he ran like one today.”
Undefeated last year at two and with victories in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Essential Quality has added wins this year in the Belmont Stakes (G1), the Jim Dandy S. (G2), the Southwest Stakes (G3), and the Blue Grass Stakes (G2).
“He’s danced a lot of dances and shown up,” Cox said. “His lone defeat was the Kentucky Derby, where we felt he was right there in the mix. He’s done nothing wrong. We’re proud of what he’s accomplished this year and he’s a very good horse with a fantastic resume.”
Saez added, “It’s amazing, that’s my second Travers, and I’m so thankful to be here and be a part of it in this amazing race. To me, he’s the best horse, the Horse of the Year, and he deserves all the credit.”
With the win, Essential Quality, a gray or roan colt by Tapit out of the Elusive Quality mare Delightful Quality, swelled his career bankroll to more than $4.2 million.
“It says a lot about his (Sheikh Mohammed) breeding and racing program to be able to put an athlete like this to the forefront as a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old,” said Jimmy Bell, Godolphin USA president. “He’s brought a lot of joy to everyone. It’s been a great team effort. Brad and his team have done a great job.”
Runner-up Midnight Bourbon, winner of the Lecomte Stakes (G3) in January, was game in defeat for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
“I’m very proud of his effort,” Asmussen said of the Winchell Thoroughbreds colorbearer. “He’s a first-class horse that is getting better.”