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The 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy serves as local prep for the US$1.25 million Travers Stakes (G1), scheduled for Aug. 28. Saturday marked Essential Quality’s first start since earning trainer Brad Cox his first Triple Crown victory June 5 in the Belmont Stakes.
Essential Quality notched his seventh victory Saturday in eight career starts, and sixth win in graded company. A fourth-place Kentucky Derby finish remains the lone defeat for the Tapit colt, who was last year's Eclipse Award winner as top 2-year-old male.
"He always fights and he always wants to win," jockey Luis Saez said.
Under Saez, Essential Quality broke from the outside post in a five-horse field. Early on, he and Keepmeinmind stayed behind pace-setting Dr Jack, plus Grade 3 winners Masqueparade and Weyburn.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Dr Jack set fractions of 23.81 and 47.41 seconds through the first half-mile. Coming through the far turn, the second-through-fifth place runners drove past the leader and set up a four-way battle into the stretch.
Essential Quality was widest of that quartet, with Keepmeinmind running along the rail. Those two put away Weyburn, then Masqueparade, and then battled on to the finish.
The 2020 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) winner Keepmeinmind pushed Essential Quality to the wire, but the Belmont hero prevailed by a half-length. The Godolphin homebred covered nine furlongs in 1:49.92,.
“There was a lot of ground lost today," said Cox, 2020 Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Trainer. "Luis obviously had to work to win. He got something out of it, I do think that. I think he’s carrying a little more weight now than he was leading up to the Derby or Belmont. I think this was a good tightener for him, four weeks out (from the Travers)."
Masqueparade, Weyburn and Dr Jack finished third, fourth, and fifth Saturday, respectively.
For his career, Essential Quality is now 8: 7-0-0 with nearly US$3.55 million in earnings. His graded wins have come in 2020's Breeders' Futurity (G1) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and this year's Southwest Stakes (G3), Blue Grass, Belmont and Jim Dandy.