By Duane Fonseca
Godolphin could claim a first ever Grade 1 Kentucky Derby if Essential Quality manages to stretch his undefeated run to six in the 2000m contest at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on 1 May.
While victory Saturday will mean a third Grade 1 win for the 3yo Tapit colt, it will additionally bring his conditioner Brad Cox a maiden Kentucky Derby success too.
Essential Quality won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as a 2yo under Luis Saez, and showed he had kept his winning momentum intact when landing a couple of Grade 2 events in the form of the Southwest Stakes (27 February) and Blue Grass Stakes on 3 April.
At the post position draw, Essential Quality attracted the wider stall No.14, but that did not worry trainer Cox, who believes he has the necessary skill and form to get into the mix.
The grey will be ridden by Saez once again and Cox, who also saddles Mandaloun (No.7) said: “I think it’ll be a good spot. He’s got good tactical speed that he’ll be able to get into a good position from there.”
Essential Quality dug deep to beat Chad Brown’s Highly Motivated by a neck in the Blue Grass and will be up against the same foe yet again here. Brown’s charge is fifth among the favourites, having finished third and then second on his two starts in Graded company.
The Into Mischief colt leaps out of No.17, Brown said: “It’s a little farther outside than we would have liked, but there’s a long run into the turn and this horse clearly has a lot of natural speed. Hopefully, we’ll be forward enough to come over and get some position into the first turn.”
John Sadler’s Candy Ride colt Rock Your World brought himself into contention after winning the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on his third career start earlier this month. Unraced at two, Rock Your World is three in three, having won a 1200m maiden on his first start at Santa Anita and followed that success with victory in the Listed Pasadena Stakes at the same venue over 1600m. Rock Your World jumps from No.15 and will carry Joel Rosario, who rode him on his debut, in the saddle.
Two-time winning trainer Todd Pletcher saddles Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby champion Known Agenda, who takes his spot under Irad Ortiz Jr. in Gate No.1. A son of Curlin, Known Agenda romped to a two and a three fourth length success in the race named after his illustrious sire where he beat Mark Casse’s Soup And Sandwich.
Pletcher, who has two others competing in Bourbonic (No.20) and Dynamic One (No.11) was unhappy with the draw, but is looking forward to a third victory.
“Obviously it’s not what we were hoping for. But of course this is one of the things you can’t control,” said Pletcher, who won the 2010 and 2017 editions with Super Saver and Always Dreaming.
“With the new (20-stall) gate, we’re hopeful that things will be better than they were in the past and the post won’t be that bad. He had an inside trip in the Florida Derby, and he handled it very professionally.”
Winner in 2012 and 2016 with I’ll Have Another and Nyquist respectively, trainer Doug O’Neill saddles Hot Rod Charlie this time. The son of Oxbow nicked the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on his last start in March. It was his second career win in seven starts, but his narrow second place finish behind Essential Quality in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has made him one of the top candidates in the field.
Six time winning trainer Bob Baffert saddles rank outsider Medina Spirit, winner of the Grade 3 Robert B Lewis Stakes, while two time winning jockey Mike Smith gets the leg up on Steve Asmussen’s Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes winner Midnight Bourbon.