Champion Essential Quality works in company at Churchill Downs on April 17 in preparation for the Kentucky Derby. Coady Photography.

Essential Quality Puts in Penultimate Work for Kentucky Derby

By Alicia Hughes

Before catching a flight to Arkansas to saddle champion Monomoy Girl in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap, trainer Brad Cox watched another of his Eclipse Award honorees go through their paces as Godolphin’s unbeaten homebred Essential Quality worked five furlongs in :59.60  at Churchill Downs on April 17 in preparation for the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).

With regular rider Luis Saez in the saddle, Essential Quality took to the Churchill Downs oval at 5:15 a.m. ET. The reigning juvenile male champion worked in company with stablemate Spa City, breaking off about a length behind and clocking splits of of :12.80, :24.60 and :47.40 to finish up on even terms before galloping out six furlongs in 1:13.20 and completed seven furlongs in 1:28.60.

“I’m not taking a deep breath yet but we’re very pleased with where we are at today two weeks from the Derby,” trainer Brad Cox said. “He really had to work for that win in the Blue Grass and we were very pleased how well he ended up bouncing out of it. We have two weeks to go but I feel like we’re on track for the Derby.”

Essential Quality stands as the likely Kentucky Derby favorite off the strength of his 5-for-5 career record, including victories in both of his starts this season. The son of Tapit captured the Southwest Stakes (G3) in his seasonal bow at Oaklawn Park on February 27 and most recently scored a triumph in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland on April 3.

“It’s a good group (of Kentucky Derby contenders), but I do feel like Essential Quality deserves to be the favorite with what he’s accomplished in his five starts,” Cox said.

Following Essential Quality’s move, Juddmonte Farm’s graded stakes winner Mandaloun worked six furlongs in 1:11.40 with jockey Florent Geroux aboard in company with maiden winner Colonel Bowman. 

The duo began their move from the five-eighths pole through splits of :12.40, :24.20, :35.60 and :58.80. Mandaloun continued to extend his stride in front of Colonel Bowman through a seven-furlong gallop out in 1:25.20 and completed one-mile in 1:41.60 in his third workout since finishing a disappointing sixth as the favorite in the Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 20. 

“We were looking to do a little more with him just because he hasn’t run since the Louisiana Derby,” Cox said of Mandaloun. “It was a great move, Florent was very happy with him. That’s what makes you scratch your head with the Louisiana Derby. It was not what we were expecting. He was favored for a reason. Based on what he had accomplished prior to the Louisiana Derby and how he had trained gave us a lot of confidence. He just was not himself that day. 

“We could not find any physical reason. So we’re just drawing a line through it.”

Cox added that Arkansas Derby runner-up Caddo River is continuing to train towards a start in the Kentucky Derby but would talk the race over with owner John Ed Anthony and make the decision in the next week. 

Live Oak Plantation’s homebred Soup and Sandwich, who finished second last time out in the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby, was also on the Churchill worktab Saturday, cruising five furlongs in :59.80 with jockey Tyler Gaffalione on board. The son of Into Mischief worked in company with four-time winner Epic Dreamerthrough opening fractions of :12.40, :24.20 and :35.20. Soup and Sandwich began drawing clear of his workmate at the wire and galloped out strongly in front with a six-furlong time of 1:12.40 and completed seven furlongs in 1:25.20. 

“Very impressive breeze, this horse is just starting to figure things around the racetrack,” said David Carroll, assistant to trainer Mark Casse. “Tyler was in cruise control around there and that gallop out was great. You have to think having only run in three races, there is a lot of upside to him. In the Florida Derby, he had every chance to give it up and he didn’t.”

Saturday started the 7:30-7:45 a.m. training period for Derby and Longines Kentucky Oaks contenders. During that time window, Phoenix Thoroughbred’s $200,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) winner Crazy Beautiful worked a five-furlong bullet move in :59 with opening fractions of :12.40, :24, :35.40 and :47. She completed her work with a six-furlong gallop out in 1:12.40. 

At Keeneland on Saturday, Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) winner Like the King continued his preparation for a start in the Kentucky Derby by working six furlongs in company in 1:12.80 over a fast main track. With Julio Garcia aboard, Like the King started three lengths in back of 2020 Canadian champion sprinter Artie’s Princess and drew even at the sixteenth pole.

“That was a good work and the horse he worked with is a champion,” Ward said. “He’ll work again next Saturday or Sunday.”

At Santa Anita Park on Saturday, Rock Your World, winner of the Grade 1 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby on April 3, worked five furlongs in :59.60 in preparation for his expected start in the Kentucky Derby.

The son of Candy Ride (ARG) went in company with stablemate Tripoli, who was clocked in 1:00.20. Trainer John Sadler plans to have one more breeze at Santa Anita for Rock Your World, likely next Saturday, before shipping to Kentucky.

“I had him going a minute for five furlongs with Serapio Figueroa riding, in company with Tripoli,” Sadler said. “It was a pretty effortless work, just smooth and relaxed. I was very happy.”

Also working toward the Kentucky Derby was Dream Shake, third in the Santa Anita Derby, who went five furlongs with Flavien Prat aboard in a bullet :59.20 for trainer Peter Eurton, and Louisiana Derby winner Hot Rod Charlie, who went six furlongs in 1:14.20, also with Prat up for trainer Doug O’Neill.

“It was a pretty comfortable work,” Eurton said. “He was well within himself. I’m very pleased.”

Dream Shake’s time was the fastest of 72 at the distance.

“He looked solid,” O’Neill said of Hot Rod Charlie, who will be ridden on May 1 by Prat.  “So far, so good.”

Concert Tour to bypass Kentucky Derby

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert reported to Churchill Downs publicity via text on April 17 that Gary and Mary West’s Concert Tour, third beaten 2 ½ lengths as the favorite in the April 10 Arkansas Derby (G1), would bypass the May 1 Kentucky Derby and await the Preakness Stakes instead. 

Concert Tour came into the Arkansas Derby off of victories in the San Vicente (G2) and Rebel Stakes (G2) and was heavily favored in his final Kentucky Derby prep. 

Brown confirms Highly Motivated for Kentucky Derby

Trainer Chad Brown will be represented in the Kentucky Derby by Klaravich Stables’ Highly Motivated while Crowded Trade is being aimed towards a start in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes on May 15 at Pimlico Race Course. 

Following a third in the Grade 3 Gotham in his seasonal debut, Highly Motivated gave likely Derby favorite Essential Quality a test in the Blue Grass Stakes on April 3 at Keeneland, battling the 2-year-old champion down the lane en route to a narrow neck loss.

“He’ll work a half-mile at Keeneland tomorrow,” said Brown. “I thought he ran terrific in the Blue Grass and he came out of it good.”