Defending juvenile champion Essential Quality (Tapit) is expected to make his next start in the Apr. 3 GII Toyota Blue Grass S. at Keeneland, according to trainer Brad Cox Tuesday. The Godolphin homebred, who is slated to post his final major work this Saturday, most recently won the GIII Southwest S. at Oaklawn Feb. 27.
“The Blue Grass is what we have zeroed in on,” confirmed Cox. “He's done extremely well [since the Southwest]. We breezed him last Saturday [Mar. 13], and we clocked him at a half in :48.20, well in hand, and I'm excited about how he looked [5/84]. He galloped out in 1:01 and three, also well in hand.”
He added, “He'll go five-eighths at the Fair Grounds Saturday morning and then on to the Blue Grass.”
Earning TDN Rising Star status following an impressive debut winner at Churchill last September, Essential Quality added consecutive wins in Keeneland's GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity in October and the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile back at the Lexington oval Nov. 6.
Also representing Cox on the Triple Crown trail are TDN Rising Star Mandaloun (Into Mischief), slated for Saturday's GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, and Smarty Jones S. scorer Caddo River (Hard Spun), who most recently finished fifth behind dominant winner Concert Tour (Street Sense) in the GII Rebel S. at Oaklawn.
“We weren't quite where needed to be with Caddo River last Saturday [in the GII Rebel S.],” admitted Cox. “Caddo River showed that he wants to be very close, and probably, the longer the distance–a mile and an eighth and beyond–he would likely be more forwardly placed. Hopefully, we can make some adjustments there and we can be back on track for the [GI] Arkansas Derby [Apr. 10].”
Runner-up in his first two career starts in New York last fall, Caddo River posted an eye-catching score going a mile at Churchill Downs Nov. 15.
And while 'Derby Fever' can often prove overwhelming with even one Classic contender, Cox admits he relishes the added pressure.
“There is a lot that goes into the Derby. I think it's more because you're not only watching your horse, but you're also watching every impressive horse throughout the country,” he explained. “When there is a horse that breaks its maiden and you wake up the next morning and there is a new TDN Rising Star on your email, the first thing you do you click and watch the replay. There is definitely more to the Kentucky Derby dream. It represents so many horses and so many people's goals. I really enjoy it. This is what it's all about. Watching other horses' races and trying to figure out how our horses will stack up.”