Essential Quality is a three-year-old colt who is owned by the highly-regarded Godolphin Stables. He is trained by Brad H. Cox and was considered the favourite heading into the 2021 Kentucky Derby following an unbeaten record in qualifying. However, he had a tough time getting started and failed to recover, finishing fourth behind Medina Spirit, Mandaloun and Hot Rod Charlie.
Essential Quality is the son of Tapit, who became the leading sire in North America in 2014. Tapit won three of six total races and set an earnings record that year, which he then broke in 2015 and again in 2016. His stud fee in 2015 was $300,000, the highest in North America. Tapit's earlier crops include five Breeders’ Cup winners and three Belmont Stakes winners.
Tapit is a grey horse, inheriting the gene through his dam, Tap Your Heels. This means that any foal sired by him on a non-grey mare will be grey, which is the case for Essential Quality.
Tapit won both of his races at age two, including a one-mile maiden special weight race at Delaware Park and the G3 Laurel Futurity Stakes on November 15, 2003. After suffering shin problems, he returned for his three-year-old season to finish sixth in the G1 Florida Derby on March 13, 2004. The bad finish was due to a lung infection, but he recovered strongly and went on to take the G1 Wood Memorial Stakes after moving up from last to first. Coming in as the 5/1 second favourite, he finished ninth in the 2004 Kentucky Derby.
Dam: Delightful Quality
Elusive Quality, who is Essential Quality's damsire, was a record-setting sprinter. The leading sire in North America in 2004, Elusive Quality is responsible for names like Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones. He raced a total of 20 times with nine victories, including two stakes races. His victories came on both turf and dirt.
Essential Quality's owner, Godolphin Stables, is a thoroughbred racehorse ownership, training and breeding operation. Located in the English town of Newmarket, Godolphin is considered one of the top owners in the sport. They have produced many high-level racehorses and are regarded as one of the best racing establishments worldwide.
Road to the Kentucky Derby
Essential Quality was the leading contender on the 2021 Road to the Kentucky Derby, a series of races leading up to the Kentucky Derby. The eligible races award qualifying points to the top four finishers, who fight for spots on the standings board. Higher point amounts are awarded in the prep races taking place in March and April.
Essential Quality was flirting with qualifying for the Kentucky Derby, sitting on 40 points following his success in the Southwest Stakes on February 27. He confirmed his place at Churchill Downs by winning the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 3, picking up 100 additional points.
Strong start for Essential Quality
Next time out, Essential Quality moved up in class for the G1 Breeders' Futurity Stakes at Keeneland on October 3. The colt came in as the 2/1 favourite in a field of nine, which caused a lot of attention given his inexperience. After the early pace was set by Upstriker, Essential Quality took the lead in the final turn, eventually beating Keepmeinmind by three-and-a-quarter lengths.
With his Breeders' Futurity Stakes victory, Essential Quality received an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, which ran on November 6 at Keeneland. He went up against a field of 14, coming in as the 7/2 second favourite behind the undefeated and fellow Road to the Kentucky Derby contender Jackie’s Warrior. Jackie’s Warrior had many big wins under his belt, including the Saratoga Special Stakes, the Hopeful Stakes and the Champagne Stakes.
Essential Quality had a bad break, making contact with Keepmeinmind before settling into the middle of the pack. Dreamer’s Disease set the fast early pace with Jackie's Warrior following. Dreamer’s Disease took the lead turning into the stretch, followed by Hot Rod Charlie, who also held the lead for a time. In the final turn, Essential Quality made a sweeping move before closing strongly to win by three-quarters of a length over Hot Rod Charlie.
The colt has had success with jockey Luis Saez, who was aboard the runner in his Breeders' Futurity Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victories. He registered a winning time of 1:44.37 in the Futurity and 1:42.09 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.