Essential Quality stays unbeaten in Southwest Stakes
We’re nearly two months away from the 2021 Kentucky Derby, and some of the early favorites are emerging on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Saturday on a sloppy track at Oaklawn Park, champion 2-year-old Essential Quality won his 2021 sophomore debut in style with a 4 1/2 length victory in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes. Spielberg rallied for second, and early front-runner Jackie’s Warrior was a distant third.
Midday rain and a sloppy surface couldn’t slow or deny Essential Quality. He went off as the favorite at 4-5 odds and was timed in 1:45.48 for the 1 1/16 mile distance, including a solid final sixteenth in :6.43 under jockey Luis Saez.
“Everything came together,” Saez said as they tracked Jackie’s Warrior. “He broke pretty well, and at the five-eighths pole, he took the bridle and was really pulling me, but I was waiting, just trying to wait with him. We came to the stretch just so easy. He switched leads and just took off. What a nice horse. He finished very strong, and I still had a lot of horse.”
Essential Quality is now 4 for 4, and Saez has been aboard for all three graded stakes wins. The Grade III Southwest Stakes victory earned the Brad Cox-trained son of Tapit 10 qualifying points on the leaderboard toward the May 1 Kentucky Derby. Essential Quality now has 40 points, which will be enough for a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
Essential Quality has earned $1.78 million in four starts and wins, and he’ll train at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans prior to his next race before the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Brad Cox and the Godolphin ownership group will decide if that’s going to be either the $800,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keenland or the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Both those major championship series races offer 100 Derby qualifying points to the winner.
Road to the Kentucky Derby Championship Series races
- Feb. 13: Risen Star * – Fair Grounds (Winner – Mandaloun)
- Feb. 27: Fountain of Youth * – Gulfstream Park (Greatest Honour)
- March 6: Gotham Stakes * – Aqueduct (Weyburn)
- March 6: Tampa Bay Derby * – Tampa Bay Downs (Helium)
- March 6: San Felipe * – Santa Anita Park (Life Is Good)
- March 13: Rebel Stakes * – Oaklawn Park (Concert Tour)
- March 20: Louisiana Derby ** – Fair Grounds (Hot Rod Charlie)
- March 27: Jeff Ruby Stakes ** – Turfway Park (Like the King)
- March 27: Florida Derby ** – Gulfstream Park (Known Agenda)
- March 27: UAE Derby ** – Meydan Race Course (Rebel’s Romance)
- March 30: Sunland Derby * – Sunland Park (Canceled)
- April 3: Blue Grass ** – Keeneland (Essential Quality)
- April 3: Santa Anita Derby ** – Santa Anita Park (Rock Your World)
- April 3: Wood Memorial ** – Aqueduct (Bourbonic)
- April 10: Arkansas Derby ** – Oaklawn Park (Super Stock)
* 85-point race and 50 points to the winner
** 170-point race and 100 points to the winner
Essential Quality Profile
Essential Quality is conditioned by EPO trainer Brad Cox. He’s a son of Tapit, who raced just six times and won the 2004 Grade I Wood Memorial before finishing ninth in the Kentucky Derby as one of the top three favorites. Essential Quality is the only winner and the second starter of five foals from the Elusive Quality mare Delightful Quality, who was a sprinter. Essential Quality has shown no distance limitations.
“He’s a very fit horse … really, he doesn’t seem to have a bottom to him. I think the further we go, the better he’s going to get,” Cox said.
Essential Quality has now won three graded stakes races, which includes a pair of Grade 1’s. He’s increased his Equibase Speed Figure (ESF) in each race. He won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with a ESF of 101 and ran faster in winning the Southwest Stakes with a 105 figure.
The Equibase Speed Figure tells you how fast a horse has been running in each of their races, adjusted for track, distances and conditions.
But watch Essential Quality‘s final Derby prep race closely as he stretches out to a 1 1/8 mile distance for the first time. There’s a significant difference between racing 1 1/16 miles on the Derby trail and tackling the classic 1 1/4 mile distance on the first Saturday in May for the Kentucky Derby.
Still, Essential Quality’s pedigree is stacked with classic influences, which makes the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles a solid target for success. The top half of his pedigree is geared toward success at a longer distance. Essential Quality’s sire Tapit produced 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes winners Tonalist, Creator and Tapwrit. Tapit’s sire Pulpit won the Blue Grass and Fountain of Youth and finished fourth in the 1997 Kentucky Derby. Pulpit produced 2010 Florida Derby winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box. Pulpit’s sire was A.P. Indy, who was a son of 1978 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. A.P. Indy won the Santa Anita Derby, Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1992.
Essential Quality is showing the necessary balance of speed and stamina as an emerging sophomore on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. He’ll remain at the top of the NTRA Top Three-Year Old Poll and one of the favorites in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools through March. As his progression continues, Essential Quality is one of the leading favorites to win the 2021 Kentucky Derby.