Essential Quality goes about his business in first work at Saratoga

Essential Quality, under exercise rider Jose Gallego, gets his first breeze on the main track at Saratoga on Saturday.

Essential Quality, under exercise rider Jose Gallego, gets his first breeze on the main track at Saratoga on Saturday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — There were some serious faces at Brad Cox’s barn on the Oklahoma Training Track side of Saratoga Race Course on Saturday morning, as Essential Quality was being tacked up for his first serious work here.

Those expressions changed to satisfied after a half-mile breeze in 50.44 on the main track under exercise rider Jose Gallego, not exactly an eye-popping number, but representative of what the Cox barn was looking for as the top 3-year-old male in the country prepares for the biggest two races in his division at the Spa.

Essential Quality, the 2020 2-year-old male champion whose only career loss is a close fourth to Medina Spirit in the Kentucky Derby, will shoot for the July 31 Jim Dandy and the Aug. 28 Travers.

“It was his first work over the track, so we weren’t looking to do a whole lot,” Cox said. “By himself, he’s pretty easy on himself. He won’t overdo it, so it was solid enough.

“It was pretty much a carbon copy of his work post-Belmont, at Churchill, and that one was solo, as well. We’ll put him in some company next week, do a little more with him to start getting him sharpened up.”

Essential Quality won the Belmont Stakes in a fierce stretch duel with Hot Rod Charlie in his last start, on June 6.

Cox said the gray colt recovered well from the Belmont and is looking forward to running in the Jim Dandy instead of skipping it to train up to the Travers.

“He bounces back really quick,” Cox said. “I think that’s one of the more remarkable things about him and some of the other better horses I have. They just recover so fast.

“You have a 3-year-old going a mile and a half, in a stretch duel on a demanding track … and we had to van him down, it wasn’t like he jumped on a plane. He had to go through a lot, and a couple weeks after, he’s like, boom, he’s right back at it. I mean, he’s pretty solid. That’s what good horses do. He’s a solid animal.”

Essential Quality, who clinched the 2020 Eclipse Award by winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by three-quarters of a length over Hot Rod Charlie, arrived in Saratoga from Kentucky on Tuesday and had a few easy gallops over the main track before Saturday’s more aggressive breeze.

“We’re preparing for the Jim Dandy,” Cox said. “With the timing and everything, it would be beneficial for him to have a race over the track leading up to obviously our main goal, which is going to be the Travers.”

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