In an age when too many horses are either retired abruptly or are unable to retain their form, hard-nosed ESSENTIALLY QUALITY showed why he is standing the test of time, in the 152nd edition of the Travers Stakes.
He became the 29th horse to complete the Belmont-Travers double. He stands as the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Winner to capture the Travers since STREET SENSE in 2007.
When trainer Brad Cox was asked about those distinctions he offered a ready response; “He’s a true champion, that’s what it says”.
It was the eighth Victory in nine starts for ESSENTIAL QUALITY, upping his career earnings to $4,215,144. But the element that towers above the rest is his willingness to slug it out with the best of his generation and dispatch them in the end.
Which is what he did to HOT ROD CHARLIE in rallying to Win the Juvenile and the Belmont Stakes. He fought to a neck decision against HIGHLY MOTIVATED in the Blue Grass Stakes. And he endured a wide trip in the Jim Dandy, but he still found a way to be half a length better than KEEPMEINMIND.
On Saturday MIDNIGHT BOURBON broke sharply from the rail for jockey Ricardo Santana, and was allowed a comfortable lead in the Travers. He covered the opening quarter of a mile in a dawdling 24.18 seconds. He barely broke a sweat in a half that went in 48.96 seconds. He was still coasting through three quarters in 1:14.49 seconds on a fast track while ESSENTIAL QUALITY and his rider, Luis Saez, patiently tracked them in 2nd place.
Saez gave ESSENTIAL QUALITY his cue that it was time to throw-down with three furlongs remaining. The colt sliced into the lead with every stride. Once he edged past MIDNIGHT BOURBON, there was no doubt he would stay on top. “He gets past the horse and he can stay there,” Saez said. “He don’t waste energy.”
ESSENTIAL QUALITY seemingly has the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, taking place November 6th at Del Mar, on his radar. But will he be given one more race as a prep to get there?
“I have no clue right now,” Cox said. “We’ll take a deep breath and, obviously, watch him over the next week and go from there.”
It might be the only time Cox has been stumped since the hard-hitting ESSENTIAL QUALITY began proving his quality and grit at the start of his career.