Essential Quality had his three-year-old reappearance in Saturday’s $750,000 Southwest S. (G3) delayed 12 days due to adverse weather, and caught a sloppy track at Oaklawn Park, but the unbeaten two-year-old champion did not disappoint as the odds-on favorite, rallying to win going away by 4 1/4 lengths.
Trained by Brad Cox, the Godolphin homebred Tapit colt was guided by regular rider Luis Saez.
Essential Quality stalked well off the rail, a few lengths behind pacesetter Jackie’s Warrior, who established fractions in :23.52, :48.11 and 1:13.59 before giving way entering the stretch.
Utilizing an eye-catching turn of foot leaving the backstretch, Essential Quality rallied boldly on the far turn to take the lead while straightening for home, and quickly drew clear while finishing under a hand ride.
The gray three-year-old completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:45.38.
As the second of four qualifiers at Oaklawn, the Southwest offered points on 10-4-2-1 scale. Essential Quality now ranks third on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points, picking up 20 for his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile win and 10 for a 3 1/4-length decision in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland.
Point values will increase for the March 13 Rebel S. (G2) and April10 Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn.
Grade 2 winner Spielberg, who shipped in for six-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, rallied from last in the seven-horse field to be a good second, 4 1/4 lengths clear of 6-5 Jackie’s Warrior in third. Woodhouse, Last Samurai, Santa Cruiser, and Saffa’s Day completed the order.
Out of the multiple stakes-placed Elusive Quality mare Delightful, Essential Quality is from the immediate female family of 2005 champion two-year-old filly Folklore. The Kentucky-bred broke his maiden at first asking on the Sept. 3 Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs.
The April 3 Blue Grass S. (G2) at Keeneland and Arkansas Derby are options for Essential Quality’s final Kentucky Derby prep.