Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s decades-long quest for the Kentucky Derby
(G1) could reach fruition in 2021. His globally renowned Godolphin operation has more than just promising prospects on the trail. Leading the charge of Godolphin homebreds is a champion – Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Essential Quality
In one of those curious twists of fate, Essential Quality might owe his existence to an older sibling who ultimately didn’t pan out on the track.
His dam, fellow homebred Delightful Quality, had visited leading sire Tapit in 2016 and produced a fine colt in 2017. You can guess that he was well regarded by his very name, Astaire.
“He was a good-looking colt, and we had high hopes for him,” recalled Michael Banahan, Godolphin USA’s Director of Farm Operations.
“Astaire was such a good-looking colt that he encouraged us to go back to Tapit. Have to stick to your convictions!”
Thus Delightful Quality returned to Tapit in 2017. On April 9, 2018, another handsome colt arrived – Essential Quality. Unlike the bay Astaire, the newborn would turn out to be gray.
“Nice shape, light and refined,” Banahan said. “As he developed and got older, he filled out his body very readily and very nicely.”
Essential Quality also has a sensible mind and good demeanor. As a yearling, he had a minor setback that confined him to his stall for a brief time. At first he was not pleased to be kept inside while his buddies got to go outside and play, but he had the sense to accept the situation, and took it all in stride. Once reunited with the other yearlings, Essential Quality never missed a beat.
“He was always fairly straightforward, an easy horse to deal with,” according to Banahan. The colt was not high-strung, but he had “a bit of that Tapit personality to him, a full-of-energy type of horse.”
In the fall of that year, Essential Quality was sent to Niall Brennan Stables in Ocala, Florida, to begin his education. Brennan’s academy boasts an extensive list of high-profile graduates, including 2013 Kentucky Derby hero Orb and Belmont winner Palace Malice.
Essential Quality continued to make a favorable impression in his early lessons.
“He was always a good student and mature physically and mentally early on,” Brennan commented. “He was well behaved and focused, especially for a Tapit colt. He had his first easy breeze this time last year and showed his ability and desire to compete.”
Essential Quality still had to make the transition from school to racetrack, but he kept progressing on the learning curve after joining his trainer, Brad Cox. Again, he showed his good mind to overcome trouble and win well in his career debut, on the pandemic-delayed Kentucky Derby Day card Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs. And he displayed tactical versatility when graduating to the top level at Keeneland, where he captured the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and the championship-clinching Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
At last, with Essential Quality, Delightful Quality was making her mark as a broodmare. Her first two foals were unraced, and the aforementioned Astaire did not run up to his early looks. He finally made his debut at Gulfstream Park in February 2020, wound up 10th of 11, and never ran again.
Delightful Quality was consistently producing nice foals, Banahan noted. It was just a case of their putting it together on the racetrack.
Consistency was the defining quality of Delightful Quality as a racehorse. She hit the board in 12 of 13 starts, and the only time she was out of the top three, she finished a close fourth. Seven times she placed in stakes company, including a second to champion My Miss Aurelia at Saratoga.
“She was always competitive,” Banahan remembered.
Delightful Quality is out of the Storm Cat mare Contrive, who was brought into Sheikh Mohammed’s fold for $3 million. Contrive was a hot property at that 2005 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November Sale because her first foal, Folklore, had just won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) en route to an Eclipse Award.
Fast forward 15 years later, and the family is enjoying another purple patch. Folklore is now the ancestress of 2020 Japanese Triple Crown winner Contrail. Folklore’s half-sister, Delightful Quality, has produced a Breeders’ Cup champion of her own, and a leading contender on the U.S. Triple Crown trail, in Essential Quality.
Delightful Quality is scheduled to return to Tapit’s court this breeding season. By the time that foal arrives in 2022, the family could have furnished more cause for celebration.
That celebration would resound especially among Godolphin’s team members in Kentucky. After the Breeders’ Cup at nearby Keeneland last fall, Godolphin USA President Jimmy Bell spoke of how meaningful it was for the farm staff to be on the scene and witness the culmination of all the hard work that goes into raising horses right.
“That’s one of the joys is to be able to share this with as many of the people that put so much time, as you well know, into the behind-the-scenes of all this,” Bell said at the postrace press conference. “And so it just made it so much more special to have the whole team over here. And, again, a tribute to Sheikh Mohammed and his overall breeding program globally.”
Foal photos courtesy of Godolphin