Edited NYRA Release — The last few years have brought trainer Brad Cox to new heights of the sport. Cox has saddled multiple high-quality graded stakes winners, with Essential Quality among his highlights. The Tapit colt will look to add to that legacy and give Cox his first win in a Triple Crown race when he competes in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets.
The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival runs from Thursday, June 3 through Saturday, June 5, and is headlined by the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes. The festival will encompass 17 total stakes, including eight Grade 1s on Belmont Stakes Day, capped by the “Test of the Champion” for 3-year-olds in the 1 1/2-mile final leg of the Triple Crown.
A potential favorite for the Belmont, Essential Quality started his career 5-for-5 before running a competitive fourth last out in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, finishing just one length back to winner Medina Spirit in the 1 1/4-mile first leg of the Triple Crown.
The Godolphin homebred earned the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old after winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity in October at Keeneland and followed with a victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over fellow Belmont Stakes-contender Hot Rod Charlie.
Essential Quality was one of four Breeders’ Cup winners for Cox in 2020, with Monomoy Girl [Distaff], Knicks Go [Dirt Mile] and Aunt Peal [Juvenile Fillies Turf] also getting their picture taken. That successful weekend at Keeneland helped earn Cox his first career Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer.
“This horse has put us in this position and we feel very fortunate to be a part of it,” Cox said. “He’s accomplished so much already, being a champion 2-year-old. But at some point, he’ll be retired to stud and it’s our job now to continue to add to his legacy. A Grade 1 win at 3 is going to be huge for this horse and we’re hopeful it can happen in the Belmont.”
Cox will be saddling his first contender in a Belmont Stakes, which this year returns to its famed 1 1/2-mile distance. He has come close to winning an American Classic twice, with Owendale running third in the 2019 Preakness and Mandaloun finishing second, just a half-length back to Medina Spirit, in the Kentucky Derby earlier this month. Mandaloun will not be part of the Belmont Stakes field, but Essential Quality, with earnings of more than $2.4 million through six starts, gives his conditioner a formidable contender.
“It’s a great feeling to be in this position and have a realistic shot,” Cox said. “He gives us a fantastic opportunity on Saturday.”
Essential Quality is expected to arrive at Belmont on Tuesday morning. The Kentucky bred breezed five furlongs in 59.40 seconds on Saturday over the Churchill Downs main track. That bullet work was in company with 4-year-old filly Bonny South, who will also be shipping to New York to run in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ogden Phipps going 1 1/16 miles on Belmont Stakes Day as part of a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup qualifier for the Distaff.
“He had a great work Saturday and looked great Sunday morning,” Cox said. “He’ll ship Monday afternoon. But he breezed great and we’re going in the right direction.”
Essential Quality has improved his Beyer Speed Figures in each of his six starts, culminating with his first triple-digit number when earning a 100 for his “Run for the Roses” performance.
Other expected contenders for Cox on a loaded 13-race Saturday card that will feature nine graded stakes and eight Grade 1 contests will be Shedaresthedevil, who is also targeting the Ogden Phipps; Knicks Go for the Grade 1, $1 million Hill ‘N’ Dale Metropolitan that’s a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile; two-time Grade 2-winner Travel Column for the Grade 1, $500,000 Acorn for sophomore fillies going a one-turn mile; and Caddo River, fresh off the Triple Crown trail, shortening to seven furlongs for the Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Nassau County Industrial Development Agency.
Cox will also send out Kinenos for the two-mile Grade 2, $500,000 Belmont Gold Cup for 4-year-olds and up on the Widener turf course on Friday.
***Keepmeinmind to skip G1 Belmont Stakes and consider G1 Belmont Derby
Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennewith, and Spendthrift Farm’s Keepmeinmind, with exercise rider Walter Davila up, worked a half-mile in 46.92 seconds from the gate over a sloppy Belmont dirt training track Monday morning.
Initially under consideration for the Belmont Stakes, Diodoro said the Laoban colt will have his next work on turf with an eye towards a start in the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational at 10 furlongs on turf for sophomores. The first leg of NYRA’s lucrative Turf Triple series is slated for July 10.
“He worked great this morning, but thinking about it some more, I think he needs a little more time,” trainer Robertino Diodoro said. “We were always 50-50 for the race, but I think as soon as we arrived at Belmont people got the impression we were leaning towards that race and it really wasn’t the case.”
NYRA clockers caught Keepmeinmind, who was a step slow out of the gate, through an opening quarter-mile in 23.40 and out five furlongs in 59.98.
“He went pretty well this morning. He always trains really well. The track was a little wet,” said Davila.
Diodoro said the nine-furlong Grade 3 Ohio Derby on June 26 at Thistledown is still a possibility, but he would like to see Keepmeinmind work on the Belmont grass and continue to hone his gate skills.
“The gate crew has been really good with us up at Belmont on working with him breaking from the gate, but he still broke a step slow this morning,” said Diodoro. “I don’t know if he’s ever going to change that, but the gate crew will get to know him better and we’re not rushing him into next Saturday. We’ll work him on the grass and go from there.”
The Kentucky-bred graduated in style with a rallying effort to win the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at fourth asking in November at Churchill Downs to close out his juvenile campaign.
Winless in four sophomore starts, including a fifth in the Grade 2 Blue Grass in April at Keeneland, the late-running bay finished seventh in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and closed to finish fourth last out in the Grade 1 Preakness after a troubled start.
Diodoro said Keepmeinmind’s regular rider David Cohen suggested turf as a possibility for the colt.
“Cohen mentioned that this horse could be a grass horse and a couple of the gallop boys have said the same thing. I’m curious to see what happens,” Diodoro said. “He’s a big 3-year-old and he’s a big baby, still. I think with time he’s only going to get better. We’ll take a step back and let him develop.”
Diodoro will also be represented on the Belmont Stakes Day undercard by Flying P Stable’s Lone Rock in the Grade 2, $400,000 Brooklyn Invitational presented by Northwell Health, a 12-furlong test for 4-year-olds and up on Big Sandy.
The 10-time winner from 32 career starts posted a half-mile breeze in 48.11 on Saturday over the sloppy Belmont main track.
“He’s doing great. He worked great up there the other day and he’s ready to go,” said Diodoro.***Got Stormy turning back in distance for G1 Jackpocket Jaipur
The popular Got Stormy, a 6-year-old Get Stormy chestnut trained by Hall of Famer Mark Casse, will cut back in distance in Saturday’s Grade 1, $400,000 Jackpocket Jaipur, a six-furlong Widener turf sprint for 3-year-olds and up.
Following a pair of turf starts going one mile to start her 2021 campaign, including a nose win in the Grade 3 Honey Fox at Gulfstream Park in February, Got Stormy will cut back to three-quarters of a mile in attempt to replicate winning form from last year that saw her post back-to-back Grade 3 wins in the 6 1/2-furlong Ladies Sprint at Kentucky Downs and the 5 1/2-furlong Buffalo Trace Franklin County at Keeneland.
“It worked for her last year,” said Casse. “The only race so far of any significance this year was too short for her so we opted to give her a try going a mile with moderate success. So, we wanted to see if cutting her back didn’t help.”
Got Stormy boasts a record of 28-11-5-3 with purse earnings in excess of $2.1 million and has faced the boys on six occasions with one win and four seconds, all in graded company, led by a memorable score in the 2019 Grade 1 Fourstardave covering the mile in 1:32 flat over the firm inner turf at Saratoga.
Casse has enjoyed tremendous success with turf females, campaigning stalwarts Tepin, the 2015-16 Champion Grass Mare, who banked in excess of $4.4 million, including a score in the 2015 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile and the 2016 Group 1 Queen Anne at Ascot; and Catch a Glimpse, winner of the 2015 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, who earned Horse of the Year honors in Canada that year.
The veteran conditioner said Got Stormy ranks with the best fillies he’s trained.
“I had Tepin and Catch a Glimpse, who were both Breeders’ Cup winners. Got Stormy is a multiple Grade 1 winner and a track record holder and she’s right up there with those girls,” said Casse.
Casse said he would like to chart a path to send Got Stormy back to the Breeders’ Cup which will eventually involve stretching the chestnut mare out again as this year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint will be contested at five furlongs on the Del Mar turf.
Got Stormy did capture the 2019 Grade 1 Matriarch at one-mile on the Del Mar turf.
“It would be nice to win a Breeders’ Cup with her,” said Casse. “The Sprint is maybe too short, but she’s had luck at Del Mar. Usually, you get a pretty firm turf at Del Mar, so for her to have a shot out there, it would have to be in the Mile.”
Casse said Tyler Gaffalione will maintain the mount aboard Got Stormy against a loaded Grade 1 Jackpocket Jaipur field expected to include Bound For Nowhere (Wesley Ward), Casa Creed (Bill Mott), Fast Boat (Joe Sharp), Gregorian Chant (Phil D’Amato), Greyes Creek (Paulo Lobo), Justaholic (Tom Clark), Oleksandra (Neil Drysdale), Sombeyay (Peter Miller), and Stubbins (Doug O’Neill).***Kimmel looking at G3 Ohio Derby with The Reds
While The Reds didn’t quite knock one out of the park in Saturday’s off-the-turf Grade 2, $200,000 Pennine Ridge, trainer John Kimmel hopes to give the son of second crop-sire Tonalist a graded stakes win and said he is considering the Grade 3, $500,000 Ohio Derby on June 26 at Thistledown.
Owned by Flanagan Racing, The Reds arrived at the nine-furlong Pennine Ridge off a victory, via disqualification, in the Federico Tesio at Pimlico Race Course on April 24. Kimmel said he was hoping Saturday’s test would be a prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational on July 10. But when inclement weather forced the race to the main track, he said that the chestnut colt’s turf debut will likely have to wait.
“Had we gotten to test him out on the grass maybe we could have tried the Belmont Derby, but I’m not really sure now,” said Kimmel. “I think running a mile and an eighth on dirt for a half-million against some of the big class citizens might be a better option for him.”
The Reds was a maiden winner at fifth asking on January 31 over the main track at Aqueduct before finishing fifth in the Grade 3 Gotham at the Big A.