Saratoga special: Japan is undone by Gufo as Essential Quality takes Travers

Horse Racing Gufo and Japan
Gufo (Joel Rosario) holds off Japan in the Sword Dancer at Saratoga: Photo: NYRA/Janet Garagulo (Coglianese)

By Nicholas Godfrey

Saratoga: Sword Dancer Stakes G1 $750,000, 1m4f, turf, 4yo+
Gufo (Christophe Clement/Joel Rosario)

Japan missed out on handing Aidan O’Brien another major US prize this term when the Ballydoyle five-year-old narrowly failed to claw back Gufo.

Both horses came from off the pace in the $750,000 contest but Gufo got first run as his Irish rival had to be switched outside before bearing down inside the final furlong.

Although Japan finished powerfully under a strong drive from Ryan Moore, the post was always coming in time for narrow favourite Gufo, who held on by a diminishing neck. Swap the trips, and it is fair to say you could also have swapped the result – but it is the US-trained four-year-old who earned a guaranteed fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf as part of the ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge.

Fancy a bite? Watch the video as Saratoga savage Firenze Fire tries to nip Yaupon in Forego finish

Shall we talk about it?

Christophe Clement (Gufo’s trainer): “I am delighted with this horse and the way he ran today. He is a top-class horse; he’s always been a top-class horse. A mile-and-a-quarter, a mile-and-a-half, it really doesn’t matter for him. I am delighted to win this race. The race set up perfect – there was plenty of pace and he seems to be running better, more mature, with blinkers on.”

Ryan Moore (Japan’s jockey): “He ran very well today. I was pleased with it.”

Travers: He’s Essential Quality – and he’s essentially tough

Saratoga: Travers Stakes G1 $1.25m, 1m2f, dirt, 3yo
Essential Quality (Brad Cox/Luis Saez)

He may never look brilliant but boy, is Essential Quality hard to beat. Front-running Midnight Bourbon had things all his own way ambling along unchallenged on the lead in the ‘midsummer derby’ only to be undone in the stretch drive – like virtually every other horse who has ever gone eyeball-to-eyeball with Essential Quality.

The Godolphin colt has now won eight of his nine career starts, among them four G1s including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Belmont Stakes before the Travers. His sole career defeat came after a wide trip in the Kentucky Derby.

In typical fashion, the redoubtable son of Tapit looked hard enough work for his jockey in the Travers, off the bridle on the far turn before overcoming a stubborn rival in the closing stages to win by a neck as odds-on favourite. And this despite a bobble and a bump at the gate.

Shall we talk about it?

Brad Cox (Essential Quality’s trainer): “He’s danced a lot of dances and shown up. His lone defeat was the Kentucky Derby, where we felt he was right there in the mix. He’s done nothing wrong. We’re proud of what he’s accomplished this year and he’s a very good horse with a fantastic resumé.
“I was a little worried up the backside once he [Midnight Bourbon] cleared up with softer fractions. He’s a tremendous horse. He’s a champion and he ran like one today.”

• Visit the NYRA Saratoga website

Fancy a bite? Watch the video as Saratoga savage Firenze Fire tries to nip Yaupon in Forego finish

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