SARATOGA SPRINGS — Minutes after Essential Quality was installed as the 4-5 favorite for Saturday’s 152nd running of the Grade I, $1.25 million Travers at Saratoga Race Course, trainer Brad Cox acknowledged the pressure that comes with being such a heavy favorite.
Knowing the expectations, Cox said, makes the waiting until post time the hardest part.
“You just kind of want to get it over with,” Cox said after post positions were drawn Wednesday morning at Saratoga’s Marylou Whitney Pavilion. “If they were to line them up right now, I’d be content with running him. He’s right where we want him. I know it’s trainer talk, but that’s how I feel. I feel like he’s as good as he’s ever been.”
Essential Quality, a winner in seven of his eight lifetime starts who is coming off victories in the Belmont Stakes and the Jim Dandy following his fourth-place effort in the Kentucky Derby, will break from the No. 2 post under jockey Luis Saez in Saturday’s Travers.
In a seven-horse field, Cox is completely comfortable with Essential Quality’s draw.
“Hopefully, we can just break, everyone around us breaks well, and it’s a clean race,” Cox said.
Midnight Bourbon was installed as the 9-2 second choice and will break inside of Essential Quality from the No. 1 post.
To Essential Quality’s outside will be the joint third selections on the morning line with Keepmeinmind from the No. 3 post and Dynamic One from post No. 4.
Keepmeinmind gave Essential Quality everything he could handle in the Jim Dandy on July 31, eventually finishing second by a half-length.
Keepmeinmind’s trainer, Robertino Diodoro, said his colt is heading into Saratoga’s signature event in even better form than he was going into the Jim Dandy.
Though Keepmeinmind has only won once in 10 lifetime starts, and is winless in six starts this year, Diodoro is hopeful that Saturday will be when everything comes together.
“He’s come out of the [Jim Dandy] great, and we really feel like he’s coming into the Travers a lot better,” Diodoro said. “We’ll see if we get lucky on Saturday.”
Masqueparade, who finished third in the Jim Dandy for trainer Al Stall Jr. and jockey Miguel Mena, was set at 8-1 on the morning line and will start from the No. 6 hole.
After shipping into Saratoga for the Jim Dandy, Masqueparade has trained at the track heading into the Travers.
“We all do well in Saratoga, and he’s done extremely well,” Stall said. “He’s gained a little weight, like the rest of us, and I think he’s coming into it well. I love the draw. It’s completely different, in my mind, compared to the Jim Dandy draw.”
On the far outside will be King Fury, who missed a planned start in the Jim Dandy due to a 21-day quarantine at trainer Ken McPeek’s barn following a confirmed case of Equine Herpesvirus-1 in a horse trained by Jorge Abreu and housed in one of the stalls there.
King Fury instead went to the turf in the Saratoga Derby on Aug. 7, drew the far outside post and ended up 10th in an 11-horse field.
”In hindsight, I probably should’ve scratched [from the Saratoga Derby] because he drew the 11 hole and he got hung even wider on both turns,” McPeek said. “I wish I could unring that bell, but that doesn’t happen. It’s a shame he didn’t get to run in the Jim Dandy, it is what it is.”
Miles D, second to Dynamic One in the Curlin on July 30, rounds out the field from post No. 5, looking to give trainer and Mechanicville native Chad Brown his first Travers win.
As for the heavily favored Essential Quality, the 2020 2-year-old champion could add another signature win for Cox during the 2021 Saratoga meet.
In addition to Essential Quality’s Whitney win, Cox also won the Whitney — Saratoga’s most prestigious race for older horses — with Knicks Go on Aug. 4.
“Winning the Travers and Whitney in the same year would be the icing on the cake,” Cox said. “We’ve already had what I would call a great meet to begin with, from the Jim Dandy to the Whitney, but if we could cap it off with this, it would be huge.”
Cox said he expects the pace scenario for the Travers to be similar to the Jim Dandy, where Essential Quality sat fourth after a wide early trip before taking the lead from pacesetting Masqueparade and denying Keepmeinmind during the stretch run.
Drawing the No. 2 post, Cox said, should help to avoid the wide trips that have caused Essential Quality to do a little extra work in many of his starts.
“If we run our race,” Cox said, “we’re going to be tough. We’ve still got to get around a mile-and-a-quarter. There’s six other good colts in there. We’ve still got to play our game.”
(Trainer, Jockey, Odds)
1 Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr., 9-2)
2 Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Luis Saez, 4-5)
3 Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, Joel Rosario, 6-1)
4 Dynamic One (Todd Pletcher, Irad Ortiz Jr., 6-1)
5 Miles D (Chad Brown, Flavien Prat, 12-1)
6 Masqueparade (Al Stall Jr., Miguel Mena, 8-1)
7 King Fury (Kenneth McPeek, Jose Ortiz, 15-1)
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