The door has nearly closed on the division title hopes of any three-year-old colt not named Essential Quality, who fought off a stubborn foe in Midnight Bourbon to claim Saturday's $1.225 million Travers S. (G1) at Saratoga under Luis Saez.
The 1 1/4-mile "Midsummer Derby" quickly developed into a two-horse race, as Midnight Bourbon jumped out to an early lead with Essential Quality chasing in second most of the way. Leading by as much as 3 1/2 lengths, Midnight Bourbon saw his advantage whittled to a half-length approaching the quarter pole as Essential Quality made his move.
However, the Travers proved no easy task for the odds-on favorite, as Midnight Bourbon made his gray rival fight every step of the way in the final quarter-mile. At the finish, Essential Quality had a neck to spare on Midnight Bourbon.
A homebred racing for Godolphin, and trained by Brad Cox, Essential Quality paid $2.90 after completing the course over a fast track in 2:01.96. Midnight Bourbon finished five lengths clear of Miles D, who was followed by Keepmeinmind, King Fury, Masqueparade, and Dynamic One.
The Travers was the fifth win in six starts starts this season for Essential
Quality. Favored in the Kentucky Derby (G1) following early-season victories in
the Southwest (G3) and Blue Grass (G2), Essential Quality endured a costly bump
at the start and a wide journey thereafter as he finished fourth in his only
career loss to date.
The 13-10 favorite in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont S. (G1) on June 5, Essential Quality turned in a terrific effort to get past a determined Hot Rod Charlie by 1 1/4 lengths, covering the distance in a sharp 2:27. His prior run at Saratoga, in last month's Jim Dandy (G2), proved nearly as tight as the Travers, with Essential Quality out-gaming Keepmeinmind by a half-length.
Voted champion juvenile last year following wins in the Breeders' Futurity
(G1) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), both at Keeneland, Essential Quality has
now bankrolled $4,215,144.
Bred in Kentucky, Essential Quality was produced by the Grade 3-placed Delightful Quality, an Elusive Quality half-sister to 2005 juvenile filly champion Folklore.