Essential Quality's Jonabell Farm Homecoming

Champion Essential Quality takes in his new surroundings at the Darley stud barn, where he will stand for $75,000 in 2022. 

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It was a blustery autumn day last week when champion Essential Quality (Tapit – Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality) stepped out of his new stall in Darley's eminent stud barn to make his paces in front of onlooking breeders for his first stallion show, but the regally-bred grey didn't so much as bat an eye as the winds picked up and the surrounding crowd grew thicker.

“I think what has been evident about Essential Quality from the get-go has been his class and his mind,” said Darley's Sales Manager Darren Fox. “He rolled off the van like a pro and he came out and stood up for his first show like a star who had done it 500 times. His intelligence is certainly one of his strengths and one that I think he's going to pass on to his progeny.”

It was a celebratory homecoming for the Godolphin homebred, who was foaled at Jonabell Farm in 2018.

“It's unbelievably special,” Fox said. “There's an immense sense of pride with breeding a horse of this caliber and it's such an endorsement for the home team. To have him go on to achieve what he has done, to become the only horse in American racing history to have won the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the GI Belmont S., it's a huge statement. Now to watch it come full circle back to where it all began here at Jonabell Farm, it's hugely gratifying and in one horse epitomizes what we are trying to do here.”

Essential Quality's graded stakes-placed dam Delightful Quality (Elusive Quality) is out of Contrive (Storm Cat), who was purchased by Godolphin for $3 million at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale days after her first foal Folklore (Tiznow) won the 2005 GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Since then, Folklore has become the second dam of Japanese Triple Crown winner Contrail (Jpn) (Deep Impact {Jpn}).

Delightful Quality, who this year is again in foal to Tapit, has now produced five foals. Her unraced daughter Indelible, a 5-year-old Tiznow mare, brought $1.6 million at last year's Fasig-Tipton November Sale in foal to Nyquist while her most recent foal, a 2-year-old filly named Famed (Uncle Mo), joined her champion half-brother in becoming a 'TDN Rising Star' after a near eight-length win on closing day of this year's Keeneland fall meet. The Brad Cox trainee put in her most recent work at Churchill Downs on Nov. 14 and, according to Godolphin's Michael Banahan, is expected to make her next start in the Nov. 27 GII Golden Rod S.

Essential Quality caps off an undefeated juvenile season in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile | Horsephotos

“It's an exception female family and Essential Quality represents some of the best sires lines that we've had here in North America,” Fox noted.

Essential Quality's physical, Fox said, also reflects the best of his pedigree.

“He has plenty of size and is a very clean-limbed horse who tracks well. I would say he has a real two-turn length of body and he has a very intelligent, attractive head to him. Obviously he's straight off the track now, but I can just see when he fills into his frame that he's going to be an absolute stunner.”

Fox can remember when he first dared to imagine the son of Tapit joining the Darley stud roster. The Godolphin team had been hearing positive comments from Brad Cox as 'EQ' put in works at Churchill Downs throughout the summer last year. But in his six-furlong debut on the GI Kentucky Derby undercard last September, the colt was much the best when he defeated a well-regarded field by four lengths.

“Going into the final sixteenth, it was like he was on a travelator and all the other horses were standing still,” Fox recalled. “It was a sight to behold. I had one client text me after the race saying he wanted to book a season to him when he retires to stud. I joked that I hoped he was right, but all eyes have been on him since that maiden win and he certainly hasn't disappointed.”

Essential Quality's undefeated juvenile campaign continued with wins in the GI Claiborne Breeders' Futurity and GI TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

“He showed that he was quite versatile,” Fox explained of the colt's 2-year-old season. “He was more on the pace in the Breeders' Futurity and then it was a hotter pace in the Juvenile so he was back a little more and came with a devastating run. By the end of his 2-year-old year, we thought we had a horse who was still putting it together, but had immense talent and no bottom to him.”

After earning championship honors as the top 2-year-old colt of 2020, Essential Quality returned at three with back-to-back wins in the GIII Southwest S. and GII Toyota Blue Grass S. He suffered his first defeat in the GI Kentucky Derby, but came back with a vengeance in the GI Belmont S. to give his sire a record fourth winner in the Test of the Champion and become the first horse in history to win both the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Belmont S.

Essential Quality fends off Midnight Bourbon (Tiznow) in the GI Runhappy Travers S., where he earned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure | Sarah Andrew

“It was a very difficult achievement and it just epitomizes Essential Quality,” Fox said. “He had the speed and precocity to win two Grade I races at a mile and a sixteenth as a 2-year-old, but the stamina to win the Belmont over an enduring mile and a half. It didn't matter what trip he had; he would find a way to win.”

In his next two starts in the GII Jim Dandy S. and GI Runhappy Travers S., Essential Quality gave similar performances where he saved his best work for late and fended off rivals in the final strides of the contest.

“You always knew with Essential Quality that he was going to be gaining with every yard to the wire,” Fox said. “He had a sixth sense for where the wire was and he would just do enough. It made for a number of thrilling finishes and it certainly gave us heart palpitations to watch some of his races, but that was just him. That's what champions do.”

After capping off his career with a third-place finish in the GI Longines Breeders' Cup Classic, Essential Quality retired as a four-time Grade I winner with earnings of over $4.7 million.

Entering stud with a $75,000 stud fee, Essential Quality is currently the most expensive stallion of the incoming 2022 crop.

“He's going to one of the most sought-after– if not the most sought-after– freshman sire this year and his book will certainly reflect that status,” Fox said. “It's not easy to get a horse to amass his race record, present his physical and bring the female family. Being by Tapit out of an Elusive Quality mare who is out of a Storm Cat mare, he embodies some of the most important sire lines that we've had. We are very excited and we think he has all the ingredients to make a successful stallion.”

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