By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Trainer Brad Cox is targeting the Travers Stakes, the ‘midsummer derby’ at Saratoga on August 25, with Essential Quality after the Godolphin homebred became the Dubai outfit’s first-ever winner of any Triple Crown race in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
Essential Quality overcame Hot Rod Charlie by a length and a quarter after an epic stretch duel for the final leg of the Triple Crown, in which he recorded a Beyer speed figure of 109.
That mark is the highest achieved by any three-year-old in 2021 and matches the best overall, a 109 BSF also having been recorded by four-year-old Mischevious Alex in the G1 Carter at Aqueduct on April 3.
The New York Classic was also a first for reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Cox, who had never before won a Triple Crown race. However, once Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby disqualification is ratified, Cox will officially become the winning trainer of the Churchill Downs Classic with Mandaloun, who passed the post in second.
Essential Quality suffered his sole career defeat when only fourth as favourite after a wide trip at Churchill Downs. He may run in the G2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 31 as a prep for the $1.25m Travers.
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“It’s one of the more prestigious races out there for three-year-old colts so that would be the logical spot,” said Cox, speaking to the NYRA media team.
“It’s a mile and a quarter and we know he can handle that. In regard to a race before, it would be nice. Saratoga is obviously a demanding track. I wouldn’t say we have to have a race before that, but it would be nice.
“I think the logical spot would be the Jim Dandy, but we’ll get him back to Churchill and let him tell us over the next couple of weeks how he’s feeling. He looks amazing – it doesn’t look like he lost any weight.”
Belmont runner-up Hot Rod Charlie, who had also come second to Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, may also return for the Travers, raising the prospect of an exciting rematch between the Belmont principals.
“I think that’s very logical,” said Californian-based trainer O’Neill. “We probably won’t decide for another three weeks or so but it is the most logical next spot, if he takes us there.”
Elsewhere on a Belmont card featuring eight G1s, former Mexican champ Letruska earned a career-best 103 Beyer with her front-running score in the Ogden Phipps, where she completed back-to-back G1 wins after the Apple Blossom, where she beat Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver.
The Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Del Mar on November 6 is the principal target, with the G1 Personal Ensign on August 28 at Saratoga a possibility.