Consistency Over Long Haul Stands Out for Top Soph

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Essential Quality takes the Jim Dandy | Sarah Andrew

The Week in Review by T.D. Thornton

For the past two racing seasons, we've seen two top-rated United States 2-year-olds in each year maintain impeccable form for a period of about 12 months, straight through to a deep point in their sophomore campaigns. That's a fairly remarkable occurrence in this day and age.

Tiz the Law (Constitution) broke his maiden at Saratoga on Aug. 8, 2019, then prevailed in the GI Runhappy Travers S. exactly one year later. The compact bay who raced with a relentless swagger lost only once in seven starts during that time frame, racking up other tour-de-force Grade I victories in the Champagne S., Florida Derby, and Belmont S. during a campaign whose Triple Crown scheduling was convoluted by the pandemic.

Outside of missing a few days of training in early March because of a heel bruise, Tiz sailed all the way through to the Sept. 5, 2020, GI Kentucky Derby before getting outpunched in a stretch fight and finishing second. He subsequently was a no-factor sixth in the GI Breeders' Cup Classic, which ended up being his final race prior to an unexpected retirement Dec. 30 because of bone bruising.

The charismatic colt's final two subpar races don't at all encapsulate the flair and panache with which he helped carry the sport through a difficult year.

The career arc of 'TDN Rising Star' Essential Quality (Tapit) neatly overlaps with Tiz's meteoric rise and gradual, two-race descent. This assertive, athletic gray broke his maiden on the 2020 Derby Day undercard at Churchill Downs–just hours before Tiz tasted defeat as the odds-on Derby favorite.

Then Essential Quality tore off back-to-back Grade I autumn wins, including a victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile that earned him 2-year-old Eclipse Award championship honors.

Essential Quality, pretty much like Tiz, managed to avoid nagging setbacks during the transition from two to three. He scored smartly in both of his 2021 spring stakes preps before heading undefeated to the Derby, also as the fave.

Despite minor jostling at the break and a wide go into the first turn, he eventually settled into an in-the-clear, stalking stride that was reminiscent of Tiz's own no-excuse clean trip in the Derby. Essential Quality responded gamely when set down and very willingly dug in for a stretch fight. But, like Tiz the Law, he couldn't close the gap despite trying hard, and finished fourth.

Five weeks later, Essential Quality rebounded with a high-torque win in the Belmont S., launching a bold bid half a mile out and sustaining pressure through deep stretch before finally kicking clear a sixteenth from the wire.

The colt he beat, Hot Rod Charlie (Oxbow), came back to cross the finish wire first in the July 17 GI TVG.com Haskell S. but was DQ'd from the win for interference. Those two colts are clearly at the top of the sophomore pecking order heading into the back half of the season.

Essential Quality hasn't quite hit the one-year mark of sustained excellence the way Tiz the Law did. But he's close on the calendar (331 days) and his seven wins from eight starts resonate not only from a statistical sense, but because of the “how he did it” authority of those victories.

Saturday's GII Jim Dandy S. score at Saratoga by Essential Quality might have been a closer shave than his connections (and the betting public) cared to sweat out at 2-5 odds.

But I'm willing to shrug off that half-length narrow escape over the pesky 9-1 Keepmeinmind (Laoban) based on three factors:

1) Essential Quality wasn't fully cranked, training-wise, for a prep race designed to have him tight for the Aug. 28 Travers.

2) Keepmeinmind's brief seizing of the lead a sixteenth out was more attributable to a momentary focus lapse by the champ, which was evident when Essential Quality instantly flashed back into attack mode to polish off Keepmeinmind.

3) Essential Quality gave up copious real estate while wide around both turns, traveling 6,060 feet over nine furlongs according to Trakus, versus Keepmeinmind's mostly rail-running 6,022 (a difference of 38 feet over the course of the race).

The Jim Dandy victory was the second straight homebred score (and third win overall as an owner) for Godolphin, which won last year with Mystic Guide (Ghostzapper) and in 2012 with Alpha (Bernardini).

The last time a Jim Dandy winner won the Travers was when Alpha finished in a dead-heat for first with Golden Ticket.

First 'Vandy', then Dandy

The Jim Dandy was the second straight graded dirt stakes on Saturday's Saratoga card in which the winner lost the lead in deep stretch then roared back to snatch victory from the proverbial jaws of defeat.

Except Lexitonian (Speightstown)'s win in the GI Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. was way at the other end of the pari-mutuel spectrum. The five-year-old Calumet Farm color bearer was 34-1, the longest shot in the field of nine.

Lexitonian was hell-bent for the lead in the six-furlong sprint but appeared pressure-cooked by the quarter pole.

Yet the pursuers who looked certain to swallow him up couldn't seal the deal, and Lexitonian clawed back a half-length win for his first trip to the winner's circle in 14 months.

The win also was the first leg of a dirt-stakes double at Saratoga for homebreds.

In an era in which we lament that horses don't race as frequently or robustly as they once did at the top end of the sport, Calumet homebreds seem to dance every dance, and have accounted for some pricey graded stakes upsets over the last decade.

Prime examples are Oxbow's 15-1 GI Preakness S. win in 2013, Bravazo's 21-1 GII Risen Star S. score in 2018, and Everfast's 29-1 near-miss second in the 2019 Preakness. And just three months ago, we witnessed Bourbonic (Bernardini)'s 72-1 last-to-first thriller in the GII Wood Memorial S.

“I have to give Lexitonian a ton of credit,” trainer Jack Sisterson said. “He ran in the [GI] Met Mile and he was eased. You'd think a horse that was eased and thrown in some clunkers, you'd sit back and think let's drop him down a grade and give him a confidence builder. But I've run him in every Grade I and been hard on him and this is how he responds today. I have to give credit to Lexitonian.”

So which Grade I sprint was best?

Dr. Schivel (Violence) powered home first in a multi-horse photo to win the GI Bing Crosby S. at Del Mar later on Saturday, running his record to 3-for-3 at Del Mar in advance of a presumptive start in the Gi Breeders' Cup Sprint that will be run over that same surface Nov. 6.

The $6.80 win by a neck marked the second straight year that the trainer/jockey tandem of Mark Glatt and Flavien Prat won the Bing Crosby. The colt was one of only two 3-year-olds entered against older rivals.

A fondness for the seaside oval must run in Dr. Schivel's family. His dam, Lil Nugget, was 2-for-2 at Del Mar, with both wins coming during the 2007 campaign against claiming company. The modest offspring she produced via her first seven foalings (three career maidens and four lower-level claiming winners) didn't suggest a multiple Grade I-winning colt like Dr. Schivel was in the pipeline.

Dr. Schivel ran a 90 Beyer Speed Figure, and the two horses hot on his heels at the wire, Eight Rings (Empire Maker) and the favored C Z Rocket (City Zip), both delivered emphatic second- and third-place performances that were otherwise good enough to win.

Back East at the Spa, Lexitonian earned a 102 Beyer (Coincidentally, Lexitonian was second, beaten only a nose in the 2020 version of the Bing Crosby).

The sense from this vantage point is that Dr. Schivel's race featured stronger competition but the weaker speed figure.

Lexitonian's triple-digit Beyer trumps that performance numbers-wise, but the heavy-hitting competition in his race for the most part failed to fire.

Ordinarily I'd rate those two performances more or less as equal based on the above-outlined reasoning.

But because the Breeders' Cup is at Del Mar this year, the longer-term track-familiarity edge goes to the horses who'll be running back out of the Bing Crosby.

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