Essential Quality puts in quality work for final serious prep for Travers

Essential Quality, left, works in company with stablemate Bonny South on the Saratoga main track on Saturday morning.

Essential Quality, left, works in company with stablemate Bonny South on the Saratoga main track on Saturday morning.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Essential Quality is on schedule for next Saturday’s 152nd Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

Well, almost.

Because of more rain overnight, trainer Brad Cox sent his Belmont Stakes winner onto the main track for his final serious breeze at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday, instead of the planned 5:30. It was a minor glitch in what has otherwise been a smooth path from Essential Quality’s victory in the Jim Dandy on July 31.

Working in company with stablemate Bonny South to his inside and ridden by jockey Luis Saez, the Godolphin colt went five furlongs in 1:01.58.

“I thought it was a good move, and Luis was happy with him,” Cox said. “We had to delay it a little bit. We were meant to go at 5:30, but overall it worked out good.

“We’ve got a week, and I feel like we’re right where we want to be as far as fitness. I don’t think there’s anything much more we could’ve done with him, given the fact he that had a mile-and-an-eighth race three weeks ago. So, fitness-wise, I feel like we’re right where we want to be, and Luis seems to be really, really happy with his last two works. I think we’re in a good spot.”

Cox said he had considered moving the work to the Oklahoma Training Track, but the three-hour time adjustment was enough of a change for a horse who is used to the early-morning routine, especially since he can be on the rambunctious side.

“He can be,” Cox said. “Before he trains, we keep a shank over his nose, and you just have to watch him. He can be a little bit of a handful at times.”

It was the second weekend in a row that Essential Quality breezed in company with Bonny South, who is gearing up for the Grade I Personal Ensign on Travers Day.

“You just try to match up horses that are the same with what you’re looking for,” Cox said. “They’re both running on the same day, they’re both running in Grade I’s, so we need Grade I works. I felt like we got enough out of both horses to be confident in both next weekend.”

Besides Essential Quality, some other Travers horses went out after the 8:15 track renovation break instead of the 5:30 start of workout hours.

Keepmeinmind was sharp going four furlongs in 47.55, and Masqueparade went four furlongs in 48.11. They were second and third, respectively, behind Essential Quality in the Jim Dandy.

“He was doing it nice and easy all on his own and with a strong gallop-out once again,” Keepmeinmind’s trainer, Robertino Diodoro, told the New York Racing Association. “Touch wood, everything is on schedule. This was easy as could be, and I thought [exercise rider] Dennis [Means] did a good job, because he’s not an easy horse to slow down.

“I thought the maintenance crew did a great job. The track, after the break here, looked good.”

“He [Masqueparade] was traveling like a winner, hopefully,” trainer Al Stall Jr. said. “Visually, with what I saw, I’m happy.”

Travers horses who breezed on the Oklahoma included Curlin winner Dynamic One for trainer Todd Pletcher (50.67), King Fury for Kenny McPeek (1:01.13) and Miles D for Chad Brown (1:01.16 in company with maiden winner Southern District).

“I thought it was a good steady work with a solid gallop-out over a track that’s not very fast,” Pletcher said. “He’s had two solid works back now and two good gallop-outs.”

King Fury had jockey Jose Ortiz in the irons.

“It was a nice, solid maintenance breeze,” McPeek said. “The horse can run all day. He’s coming into the race great. I think a mile and a quarter will be right up his alley.”

“His last piece of work was on the training track because the main track was still wet and such, but he went well,” Brown said of Miles D.


Letruska, the division leader for older females on the dirt, was among the fillies and mares who breezed in preparation for the Grade I Personal Ensign on the Travers card.

She went five furlongs in 59.02, the fastest of 18 workouts on the main track at that distance on Saturday.

Irad Ortiz Jr., who last rode her to a nose victory over Monomoy Girl in the Grade I Apple Blossom three starts back, was in the irons for the breeze. He’ll ride her in the Personal Ensign.

“Normally, she is a horse who likes to work fast, and she worked well today,” trainer Fausto Gutierrez said. “The idea was to feel full of horse, and she’s a horse that is ready to run.”

Swiss Skydiver breezed on the Oklahoma Training Track under Jose Ortiz in 1:00 for five furlongs, second-fastest of 38 works on that track.

Ortiz was forced to steer her around a team of workers in the stretch before she finished with a strong gallop-out.

“We tried to time it so it wouldn’t be so crowded out there, but it was,” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “I think she needed that. She galloped out great and cooled out good. No problem.”

Like Essential Quality, Bonny South was timed in 1:01.58. She’s coming off a fifth in the Delaware Handicap after having finished second to Letruska in the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park.

“Super-good move,” Cox said. “She’s been on it since she’s been here, and I’m super-pleased with how she’s been training. She’s set up for a big race in the Personal Ensign.

“We’re going to draw a line through her last one at Delaware, and hopefully she can come back to her race at Keeneland in April [victory in the Grade III Doubledogdare], or her Ogden Phipps was a very good effort. I think it’s going to be a solid, solid group, and I’m hopeful there’s going to be a good bit of pace. If it does, I think she’s going to be a big factor.”


Unraced since March 6 — and also undefeated from three starts — Life Is Good worked five furlongs in 1:00.61 under exercise rider Amelia Green on the Oklahoma in preparation for the Grade I Allen Jerkens on the Travers card. It was Life Is Good’s fifth breeze at Saratoga.

He’ll be making his first start for Pletcher, after having been transferred from Bob Baffert’s barn.

“Another very impressive breeze with a tremendous gallop-out,” Pletcher said. “He seems to do things effortlessly. He’s impressive to watch, and it should have him ready to go in what is a demanding task going seven-eighths in a Grade I off a layoff. I would argue that today was his best work of all, particularly the gallop-out. I had him out the mile in 1:39 and one [fifth of a second] under a motionless rider. He has a good foundation of fitness.”

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who has been on Life Is Good for all three of his starts, will travel to Saratoga for the Allen Jerkens.

Drain the Clock went four furlongs in 47.47, the sixth-fastest of 41 at that distance on the main track on Saturday.

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