Essential Quality prevails at 152nd Travers


SARATOGA SPRINGS – It was a wild, crazy and jubilant scene in the crowded winner’s circle at Saratoga Racecourse on the last Saturday in August, a cool and overcast late summer day. It was done this way because a muscular, athletic gray colt named Essential Quality scolded below the finish line first in the 152nd Annual Grade I, $ 1.25 million Travers Stakes.

As Essential Quality and jockey Luis Saez returned to claim their flowery Travers blanket, the winner’s circle filled with people. An army of people wearing blue and white baseball caps – the iconic piece of equipment for anyone associated with victorious coach Brad Cox – has spilled over into the winner’s circle.

The new governor, Kathy Hochul, in office for less than a week, was there with her entourage. It presented the Man o ‘War Cup, the trophy awarded to the winner of Travers.

“She told me she was an Essential Quality fan,” Cox would say later, and he was beaming. “It meant a lot. Pretty cool.”

The essential quality arrived as announced on Saturday. He was called the best 3 year old horse in the country for much of the year and, for those who didn’t believe it, maybe they do now. Count the 44,507 who came to Travers as believers.

Sent off as the 2-5 favorite in the seven-field, Essential Quality followed a slow pace set by Midnight Bourbon, and then when the real race had to start, he did.

At the pole of the three sixteenths, the two horses could not be separated and they were heading for the house. Saez was never worried because these are the types of fights her colt lives for.

“When he comes into the race he knows what to do,” Saez said outside the jockhouse after the day’s races were over. “All he wants is to win.

On the eighth pole, Essential Quality edged out its rival, who had finished second in the Preakness earlier this year, then pushed the determined Midnight Bourbon back. The final time for the 1 1/4 miles on a fast track was 2: 01.96.

“Jimmy (Bell, president of Godolphin USA, horse owner) and I were watching him after the race and it looked like he had never raced,” Cox said. “He wasn’t exhausted or tired. He’s just a great horse.”

Le Travers capped a two-day whirlwind for Saez, 29, leader of Spa. After winning three races on the Friday card at Saratoga, he hopped on a plane to West Virginia, where he took home the $ 800,000 Charles Town Classic onboard Art Collector on Friday night. He said he got back to Saratoga at 12:30 a.m. on Saturday and was ready to roll on Travers Day.

He took part in 12 of the 13 races on the map. He only had one win, but it was the big one.

“I feel great,” Saez said. “I felt good all day. I couldn’t wait to go up the map.”

At the end of the Travers, Essential Quality, which seems to do everything almost effortlessly, wins a neckline. When he won the Jim Dandy here on July 31, the margin of victory was half a length.

Prior to that he was the winner of Belmont by 1 1/4 lengths.

“While it may be close, he’s kind of thriving on the way, more so than we are,” Bell said. “He’s never had a bad race. He’s always getting closer.”

His resume dictated that he would be such a lopsided choice. He entered the Midsummer Derby with seven wins from eight starts. The rest of the field, combined, had 12 wins.

He becomes the first horse since Alpha (2012) to sweep Jim Dandy and Travers. Alpha had to share his Travers as he and Golden Ticket ended in a dead end.

Cox knew his horse was sitting on a great performance after seeing how he trained here for the past two weeks.

“He had his gaming face,” he said. “He’s been bragging for the past two weeks. This horse can fight.”

Miles D, coached by Chad Brown, finished third, a neck ahead of Keepmeinmind. It was followed by King Fury, Masqueparade and Dynamic One.

“The two horses that went on the wire were clearly better than this group,” said Brown. “We’re going to regroup with our guy. Hats off to the winner. He’s a real champion.”

Coach Robertino Diodoro, whose Keepmeinmind was only beaten by half a length in the Jim Dandy by Essential Quality, could only shake his head as he returned to the seating area.

His horse was no match for Saturday.

“He’s just a great, awesome horse,” said Diodoro. “It’s frustrating not being able to beat him for me and other trainers, but it’s good for racing. This horse is the real deal.”

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