By Mike Kane
Godoplphin's Essential Quality (Tapit), the winner of seven of eight career starts, including the GI Belmont S., is the headliner for the 152nd running of the $1.25 million Travers.
Though the chestnut colt is fine following his third-place finish in the Curlin S. July 30, McGaughey decided to pass on the Travers and point to the GI Pennsylvania Derby Sept. 25.
“I just don't think he's ready for a mile and a quarter,” McGaughey said. “Essential Quality is pretty good.”
McGaughey said he thinks the 'TDN Rising Star' will benefit from having more time between races. Sent off as the 6-5 favorite in the 1 1/8 miles Curlin at Saratoga, First Captain ended up 8 3/4 lengths behind the winner Dynamic One (Union Rags) in third. First Captain entered the Curlin unbeaten in three career starts.
“I didn't think he ran that bad,” McGaughey said. “He was wide the whole way. He was seven-wide turning for home. First time around two turns. It was a little deeper water. These horses had a lot of races, a lot of experience.”
Bred by Bobby Flay, First Captain sold for $1.5 million, the co-topper at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale. He is owned by the partnership of West Point Thoroughbreds, Siena Farm, Flay and Woodford Racing. He debuted Apr. 24 with a seven-furlong victory, and picked up a one-mile allowance win May 29. First Captain captured the GIII Dwyer S. prior to the Curlin.
McGaughey, 70, has won the Travers with Easy Goer (1989); Rhythm (1990); Coronado's Quest (1998) and Code of Honor (2019). He said First Captain is short on seasoning for the Travers.
“I look back to Code of Honor,” McGaughey said, “and he won the Dwyer and he won the Travers, but he had run as a 2-year-old and all winter as a 3-year-old and had run in the Kentucky Derby. He had a lot of experience. This horse didn't. He lost his whole 2-year-old year, so he's really playing catch-up, I think.”
Other Travers prospects are Keepmeinmind (Laoban), runner-up to Essential Quality in the GII Jim Dandy S., and the second-place horse in the Curlin, Miles D (Curlin).