By Richard Rosenblatt
No questions about this finish!
Essential Quality made a powerful move on the far turn and defeated a determined Keepmeinmind to win the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) at Saratoga on Saturday, reaffirming his status as the top 3-year-old in the land.
As if there were doubts, the Brad Cox-trained gray colt owned by Godolphin won for the seventh time in eight career starts, his only defeat a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1) in which he had a troubled run from the start.
Sent off as the 2-5 favorite in a field of five (Risk Taking was scratched), Essential Quality under Luis Saez sat outside in fourth place as Dr. Jack set the early pace. But as the field rounded the final turn, Essential Quality struck, moving past the leaders and winning by a half-length without any issues — for a change.
Essential Quality, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner and 2-year-old champion, came into the race after winning the Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 5. He had three strong works at Saratoga before the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, and Cox was quite confident before the race.
Now, Cox not only has the top 3-year-old but also the likely favorite for the Travers Stakes (G1) on Aug. 28.
The 2020 Eclipse Award-winning trainer also conditions Mandaloun, who finished second to Medina Spirt in the Derby on May 1 but may end up the winner if Medina Spirit is disqualified for a post-race positive drug test. Mandaloun also won the Haskell Stakes (G1) on July 17 after first-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified for clipping heels with Midnight Bourbon near the top of the stretch.
Essential Quality returned $2.80 on a $2 win bet, with Keepmeinmind second, Masqueparade third, Weyburn fourth and Dr. Jack fifth.
“The really good horses just show up and find a way to get things done and he has seemed to do that every start,’’ Jimmy Bell, president of Godolphin USA said. “Consistency has been his hallmark and it was a battle down the stretch. It was probably good for him, which is easier to say after the race than when they’re at the sixteenth pole. He shows that determination, that class and that grit.”
Cox was aware Keepmeinmind would be a tough contender.
“When they straightened up, I thought, ‘Wow we’ve been wide both turns,’ and then we see a horse slip up the inside (Keepmeinmind) who looked like he had some run left,’’ Cox said. “It made for some anxious moments down the lane. Overall, he’s a very determined horse. He has the heart of a champion. He’s a good horse, he stays on.”
And now, it’s on to the Travers, the Mid-Summer Derby.
“As long as he comes out of it well, we’ll probably work him 7-14 days out weather permitting on the main track,’’ Cox said. “Similar works to what he had leading up to this. He’s going to get more out of this that he is working in the morning. I’m glad we were able to get this in him as a tightener for the Travers.”
Lexitonian ($70), with Jose Lezcano aboard, pulled off a 34-1 upset in the $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1), setting the early pace and then outdueling Special Reserve by a half-length in the 6-furlong sprint.
Mischevious Alex, the 3-2 favorite, drifted out in the stretch and had no chance in finishing eighth in the nine-horse field. Whitmore had a troubled trip early but managed to finish third, with Montauk Traffic fourth, Firenze Fire fifth, followed by Strike Power, Three Technique, Mischievious Alex, and Miles Ahead.
The 5-year-old Lexitonian, owned by Calumet Farm, ended an 0-for-6 losing streak with the surprise win.
“Growing up, this sport was a passion of mine and now it’s a livelihood. I’m speechless,’’ winning trainer Jack Sisterson said. “To be up here on a stage like today and even to compete in a race like this is very humbling.”
Cross Border ($14.40), with Luis Saez aboard, took the $250,000 Bowling Green (G2) after taking the lead in the final furlong for a 1 ¼-length win over Rockemperor. Channel Maker, the 3-1 favorite, was seventh the field of eight 4 year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles on the turf.