The dappled gray late-running favorite Essential Quality didn’t have many serious challengers in the short 7-horse field for the $$1.25 million 2021 Travers who looked as if they might take him down, but en route to his narrow win by a neck, he and his his jockey Louis Saez did have their hands full with Midnight Bourbon and Ricardo Santana Jr. in the last quarter-mile. The stretch duel was held under heavy handling, with Essential Quality on the outside and his opponent inside. Midnight Bourbon ground on past the wire to place, a long five lengths ahead of the show horse, Miles D.
Essential Quality paid $2.90 on the nose, Midnight Bourbon upped that with a flat $4.00, and Miles D paid $4.90 in show.
Although the race was considered Essential Quality’s to lose, the 4-5 morning line favorite had an uncertain start from his stall on the rail, then got lightly bumped by Keepmeinmind. It didn’t seem to break, or even affect, Essential Quality’s composure as he settled into second place in the first turn behind a quite frisky Midnight Bourbon. Midnight Bourbon and Essential Quality ground up the backstretch in this fashion, with the far turn looming.
Having gained a bit of ground on his opponent, Essential Quality was still running second by a half-length at the mile mark, which didn’t leave him a lot of room to win the race. In a furious drive under a right hand crop, and now outside Midnight Bourbon, Essential Quality eked into first by a head in the stretch, and then just managed to lengthen that thin lead to a neck by the time the horses met the wire.
There was another sort of stretch duel further down in the order of battle, as it seemed that Keepmeinmind, after bumping into Essential Quality in the early going, was trying mightily get around Miles D to show. He just couldn’t manage it. Miles D had been running third for the entire race and just didn’t want to give up his skinny slice of the money.
As it would, the win bodes well for Godolphin, Essential Quality’s owner, and trainer Brad Cox. The principals will be well within their rights to see how their athlete comes out of this race with a view towards the Breeders’ Cup. Essential Quality began making his statement about who he is at last year’s Breeders’ Juvenile, which he won handily.