Essential Quality Gives Tapit Fourth Belmont Win

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Essential Quality | Sarah Andrew

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ELMONT, NY – After suffering his first career defeat as the 5-2 favorite in the GI Kentucky Derby, 'TDN Rising Star' Essential Quality (Tapit) ran to his championship form at two and wore down a super game Hot Rod Charlie (Oxbow) by 1 1/4 lengths to capture Saturday's GI Belmont S. It was a long way back to GI Preakness S. winner Rombauer (Twirling Candy) in third. The Godolphin homebred becomes a record fourth Belmont winner for his all-conquering sire Tapit.

With the late money pouring in on a steamy and sun-splashed afternoon on Long Island with a spaced out and COVID-19 reduced crowd of 11,238 on hand, the 6-5 favorite was a bit further back than expected in a ridden fifth as Hot Rod Charlie and Rock Your World (Candy Ride {Arg}) secured a ridiculous early pace through fractions of :22.78 and :46.49 in the 1 1/2-mile Classic.

Luis Saez kept Essential Quality, drawn in post two, in the clear on the outside and under a busy ride. He crept closer down the backstretch and began to rev up four wide entering the far turn.  Now three deep and looking every bit the winner, he set his sights on the top two midway around the final bend.

Rock Your World was the first to blink and Essential Quality narrowly hit the front approaching the quarter pole. But Hot Rod Charlie wasn't giving up without a fight. Saez kept Essential Quality's mind on business in the stretch and his class showed up in spades from there, shaking clear late to bring home the white carnations.

This is the first win in the Triple Crown series-at least for now-for last year's Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox. The 41-year-old also saddled this year's Kentucky Derby second-place finisher Mandaloun (Into Mischief), who could be elevated to first after a split sample confirmed the prohibited corticosteroid betamethasone in the race's winner Medina Spirit (Protonico) earlier this week. Cox began training for Sheikh Mohammed's global operation just two years ago.

“It was a long way around there for a mile and a half, but it was exciting,” Cox said. “Turning for home, we were pretty much on even terms with the leader. Hot Rod Charlie ran a tremendous race to hang around that late after doing most of the dirty work. Our horse really showed his talent and stamina.”

Cox continued, “With Tapit on top, we really thought he would get the mile and a half when given the opportunity. We always thought he had the ability. After the Derby, you just have to see what it takes out of them. It's a demanding race as well as the Belmont. I really didn't think I could keep his feet on the ground the next couple of months without keeping him on some type of breeze schedule. He's a very smart horse. He has a lot of energy, but he lets you know when he's ready to run.”

Essential Quality put an exclamation point on the day for Godolphin, which also annexed the G1 Epsom Derby with Adayar (Ire) (Frankel {GB}) and recorded a one-two finish on the Belmont undercard in the GI Longines Just a Game S. with Althiqa (GB) (Dark Angel {Ire}) and 'TDN Rising Star' Summer Romance (Ire) (Kingman {GB}). Godolphin's Frosted was second in American Pharoah's Triple Crown finale in 2015.

“We were so fortunate to have another opportunity [after the Derby],” Jimmy Bell, President of Godolphin USA, said. “He has never run a bad race in his life, and I think he showed today he met the test of a champion. To do what he did as a 2-year-old and come through these races as a 3-year-old with the mile-and-a-half Classic, it's a great tribute to him.”

Essential Quality kicked off his career with a five-for-five record, led by wins in last year's GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile with Hot Rod Charlie in second and the GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity. The versatile gray kicked off his sophomore campaign with a visually impressive performance in the slop in Oaklawn's GIII Southwest S. and punched his ticket to Louisville with a hard-fought decision in the GII Toyota Blue Grass S. at Keeneland Apr. 3. He covered all the ground in the Derby and held his own with a good fourth, beaten only a length.

“This is the race I wanted to win. We made history,” said Saez, famously disqualified from first aboard Maximum Security in the 2019 Derby, after getting his first Classic win. “I'm so proud to be here and come out with a victory. The [2019 Kentucky] Derby was a little [tough], but you know stuff happens so I'm OK.”

He continued, “I had a lot of horse and the good thing about Essential [Quality] is that he always fights. He doesn't care who it is, he's going to want to beat them, so I knew he was going to show up at the top of the stretch.”

Hot Rod Charlie, one slot ahead of Essential Quality by a head in the Derby, lost little in defeat in the Belmont.

“It was such a great stretch duel and he ran against the 2-year-old champ,” trainer Doug O'Neill said. “This may sound cocky, but I wasn't that surprised when they went as fast as they did early and he kept fighting on the inside. We just got beat by a better horse today.”

The Belmont returned to its traditional spot on the calendar, and distance, after behind held spectator-free and around a one-turn 1 1/8 miles on the third Saturday in June to kick of last year's Triple Crown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pedigree Notes:

Essential Quality becomes a record fourth Belmont Stakes winner for his leading Gainesway sire following Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016) and Tapwrit (2017). Essential Quality's graded stakes-placed dam Delightful Quality (Elusive Quality) is a daughter of the unraced Contrive (Storm Cat). The latter produced champion and 2005 GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies heroine Folklore (Tiznow). Contrive was purchased by Sheikh Mohammed's operation for $3 million in foal to Pleasantly Perfect at the 2005 Fasig-Tipton November Sale. Delightful Quality's most recent produce is the 2-year-old filly Famed (Uncle Mo). Barren for 2020-21, she was covered again by Tapit this spring. As a broodmare sire, the late Elusive Quality has 10 Grade/Group 1 winners worldwide. This is also the family of recent Japanese Triple Crown winner Contrail (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}).

Saturday, Belmont
BELMONT S. PRESENTED BY NYRA BETS-GI, $1,500,000, Belmont, 6-5, 3yo, 1 1/2m, 2:27.11, ft.
1–ESSENTIAL QUALITY, 126, c, 3, by Tapit
1st Dam: Delightful Quality (GSP, $253,900), by Elusive Quality
2nd Dam: Contrive, by Storm Cat
3rd Dam: Jeano, by Fappiano
O/B-Godolphin (KY); T-Brad H. Cox; J-Luis Saez. $800,000.
Lifetime Record: Ch. 2yo Colt, 7-6-0-0, $3,215,144. Werk Nick
   Rating: A. Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree.
2–Hot Rod Charlie, 126, c, 3, Oxbow–Indian Miss, by Indian
Charlie. ($17,000 Ylg '19 FTKFEB; $110,000 Ylg '19 FTKOCT).
O-Boat Racing, LLC, Gainesway Stable (Antony Beck),
Roadrunner Racing and Strauss, William; B-Edward A. Cox (KY);
T-Doug F. O'Neill. $280,000.
3–Rombauer, 126, c, 3, Twirling Candy–Cashmere, by Cowboy
Cal. O/B-John & Diane Fradkin (KY); T-Michael W. McCarthy.
$150,000.
Margins: 1 1/4, 11 1/4, 3/4. Odds: 1.30, 4.80, 5.70.
Also Ran: Known Agenda, Bourbonic, Rock Your World, Overtook, France Go de Ina. Click for the Equibase.com chart, the TJCIS.com PPs or the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree. VIDEO, sponsored by TVG.

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