Essential Quality will carry a 5-for-5 record to Churchill Downs next month with a chance to stay unbeaten on racing’s biggest stage.
2020’s champion 2-year-old reigned supreme Saturday in the Grade 2, US$800,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. The Tapit colt outduelled game rival Highly Motivated, winning by less than a length at the wire.
Essential Quality covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.50 under jockey Luis Saez, returning $3 as the heavy 1-2 favourite.
The Brad Cox-trained champion earned 100 Road to the Kentucky Derby points with the victory, further cementing his status as the one to beat come May 1. The Godolphin homebred closed last weekend as the 4-1 favourite in Pool 5 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.
The Blue Grass awarded Kentucky Derby points Saturday on a 100-40-20-10 basis. Finishing second through fourth and earning those valuable Derby points were Highly Motivated, Rombauer and Hidden Stash.
Cox and Saez are both pursuing their first Kentucky Derby triumph. Cox is a Louisville, Ky., native who earned the 2020 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer, while Saez’s apparent 2019 Derby win aboard Maximum Security was lost after stewards disqualified the colt for interference.
Essential Quality will hope to become the first Blue Grass Stakes winner to score a Kentucky Derby triumph since Strike the Gold in 1991.