Champion Essential Quality, left, fights past Hot Rod Charlie to capture the 153rd Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 5, 2021. NYRA/Hugh Ducey photo.

Grade 1 Travers Next Major Target for Belmont Stakes Winner Essential Quality

Edited Press Release

Trainer Brad Cox provided a positive report on Godolphin’s newly minted American classic winner Essential Quality, who gave the prestigious racing and breeding operation their first triumph in a Triple Crown race in a memorable edition of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 5. 

The reigning juvenile male champion tracked swift fractions produced by Hot Rod Charlie, and dueled with the pacesetter in a dramatic battle down the stretch, getting the better of his foe by 1 ¼ lengths and produced a career-best 109 Beyer Speed Figure. The result replicated the one-two finish of last year’s Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland. 

“He looks amazing. It doesn’t look like he lost any weight. We jogged him up this morning and he was moving great,” Cox said the morning of June 6. “He’s a very intelligent horse. It’s amazing to watch him. We train him on race day and whenever we put him back in, he’ll lay down the rest of the day. He knows what’s going on and he deserves a good rest today after such a long race yesterday.”

In capturing the “Test of the Champion,” Essential Quality gave his prolific sire Tapit his fourth progeny to conquer the final leg of the Triple Crown joining Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016) and Tapwrit (2017). 

With the Belmont Stakes in the rearview mirror, Cox said the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes on Aug. 28 at Saratoga Race Course is the next major objective for Essential Quality. He did not rule out giving the talented gray colt a start beforehand in the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes on July 31 at Saratoga Race Course.

“It’s one of the more prestigious races out there for three-year-old colts. So that would be the logical spot,” Cox said of a possible start in the “Mid-Summer Derby.” “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.”

The Belmont Stakes was the third time Essential Quality faced off against Hot Rod Charlie. Prior to Saturday’s race, they ran a respective fourth and third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 1. 

“I think it would be great for racing, no doubt about it.” Cox said of a potential rivalry between the Belmont top two finishers. 

A Kentucky homebred, Essential Quality is out of the multiple stakes-placed Elusive Quality mare Delightful Quality. She has an unraced Uncle Mo 2-year-old filly named Famed, who also is trained by Cox. 

“She’s a nice filly,” Cox said. “She shows some gate speed and is a pretty quick learner. Elegant filly with plenty of leg. We’ve had her for about a month and she’s had some three-eighths works under her belt. No rush with her.”

Essential Quality is scheduled to ship back to Cox’s primary division at Churchill Downs on June 7.

Even though he set the blistering pace in the Belmont Stakes and got into a heavyweight battle with Essential Quality down the lane, Hot Rod Charlie was full of energyand enthusiasm the morning after.   

“He looks awesome, just awesome,” said trainer Doug O’Neill before jetting back to his Southern California base. “He ate up everything and licked his feed tub. We scoped him after the race, and he scoped clean. He was definitely a little rubber-legged after the race, but by the time he got back to the barn area he had already recovered. He recovered quickly. He’s amazing.”

O’Neill, who was seeking his first Belmont win, said that how quickly this colt bounced back is a sign of how fit he is. 

“Look at his dapples. He’s so dappled it’s unbelievable. His coat is still beautiful. He’s full of energy and is just great this morning,” said the trainer while showing off his charge.

In 2012, O’Neill saw his hope of winning the Triple Crown with Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner I’ll Have Another dashed when that colt was scratched on the eve of the race, and then he had to withdraw 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist from Belmont consideration when the colt spiked a fever two weeks before the race. 

Twelve hours after watching Hot Rod Charlie, the winner of the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, come so close in the 2021 Belmont, he’d had time to put the performance into perspective.

“We’re so proud of him. Super proud of Charlie,” he said of his team in the barn and the ownership group of Roadrunner Racing, Boat Racing, William Strauss and Gainesway Stable. “We all feel so blessed to be connected with a champion of a racehorse. The whole crew would do this with him even if there was no purse money. To compete at the highest level and see Charlie and Flavien Prat connect on the biggest stage and give such a monstrous effort, we’re going to carry that for days and weeks and months. We’re still buzzing.”

Hot Rod Charlie, by Preakness winner Oxbow out of the Indian Charlie mare Indian Miss, has tangled with Belmont winner Essential Quality twice before. 

O’Neill said a rematch in the Travers is possible.

“I think that’s very logical,” said O’Neill. “The great thing about this group of guys is that they’re so patient. I’m sure we’ll talk about that in the next week or two, but just knowing the way this journey has played out, and hopefully, there are plenty more chapters in the Charlie tale, we probably won’t decide for another three weeks or so. But it is the most logical next spot. If he takes us there.”

Hot Rod Charlie was scheduled to fly back to O’Neill’s stable early next week. 

“When you look as good as Charlie does this morning, when you scope as clean, and when his appetite is this good, and you’ve got a great horse, it’s a great journey,” he said.