Essential Quality dug deep to avert an upset in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga (NYRA/Coglianese Photos/Joe Labozzetta)
Heavily favored champion Essential Quality overcame a wide trip, and a strong challenge from Keepmeinmind, to prevail in Saturday’s $582,000 Jim Dandy S. (G2) at Saratoga. The Godolphin homebred had to pull out extra in deep stretch to avert an upset, and defy the Spa’s reputation as the graveyard of champions.
Essential Quality was sent off as the 2-5 favorite against only four rivals in this prep for the Aug. 28 Travers (G1). Drawn on the outside with regular rider Luis Saez, the Brad Cox trainee found himself hung wide on the first turn as the field sorted itself in the early going.
The 11-1 Dr Jack set the pace on the rail, tracked by the 5-1 duo of Masqueparade and Weyburn. Essential Quality eased a few lengths back in tandem with Keepmeinmind.
On the far turn, Masqueparade and Weyburn took over from a tiring Dr Jack, but Essential Quality was already advancing. With a circling move, the champion began to impose his authority and appeared poised to draw off in the stretch.
Then Keepmeinmind, who cut the corner turning for home, rallied on the inside to pose a threat. The 9-1 chance wasn’t expected to offer the boldest challenge to Essential Quality. After all, the champion had comfortably beaten him in all their previous meetings. Keepmeinmind had placed to Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and Breeders’ Futurity (G1), finished a remote fifth behind him in the Blue Grass (G2), and checked in seventh when Essential Quality was fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1).
But in midstretch at Saratoga, a surging Keepmeinmind came closer to beating Essential Quality than ever before. As Keepmeinmind was running the race of his life with new pilot Joel Rosario, Essential Quality’s trip brought back memories of his lone career loss in the Derby. He lost a lot of ground on both turns at Churchill Downs too.
Essential Quality was also just gearing back up here, with a view toward peaking in the Travers. The Tapit colt was coming off a tough victory in the June 5 Belmont S. (G1) at 1 1/2 miles, and cutting back to 1 1/8 miles on Saturday. Was that constellation of factors aligning for an upset in the Jim Dandy?
Not for Essential Quality. Finding more to repel Keepmeinmind, the champion edged away by a half-length in a final time of 1:49.92.
Masqueparade crossed the wire another 2 1/4 lengths back in third, followed by Weyburn and the eased Dr Jack. Risk Taking was scratched.
Now 7-for-8 with a bankroll worth $3,545,144, Essential Quality remains the pro tem divisional leader going into the Travers. Cox forecasts improvement from this stepping stone.
Another Derby alum who just won at the Spa could also move forward for the Travers – Dynamic One
. The Wood Memorial (G2) runner-up never got involved when 18th in the Derby, but the Todd Pletcher colt rebounded with a vengeance in Friday’s Curlin S
. Like Keepmeinmind in the Jim Dandy, a still-developing Dynamic One could be a tougher opponent in his rematch with Essential Quality.