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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Brad Cox, trainer of Essential Quality (No. 2, 4-5 morning line favorite): “I think he’s a classic-distance horse. He’s proven that already. I like the post. Hopefully, with a good trip, we’ll get the job done on Saturday.

“He’s sharp, mentally. He’s sharper this race than going into the Jim Dandy. My plan all along was to have him peak in this spot. Our goal since the Kentucky Derby was to have him at his best Travers Day and from a mental and physical standpoint, I feel he’s right where we want him.

“I feel like he’s as good as he’s ever been. I feel like if we run our race, we’ll be tough. There’s six other good colts in there and we still have to play our game. If we do, I think we’ll be a big factor.

“This is a demanding track, but he’s fit. He’s as fit as they are and he’s come off a mile-and-a-half race two back [winning the G1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 5]. We’re right where we want to be in preparation for a big performance on Saturday.

“I’d like to run the race right now. What gives me the confidence is how he’s training and how he’s physically behaving around the barn. If we can get a clean trip – obviously, we’re 4-5 and the horse to beat – we can get a big effort and be in good shape.

“He’s able to sit close when there’s a soft pace and he’s able to close into a hot pace. He showed that in the Belmont and the Breeders’ Cup. I thought we had enough pace in the Kentucky Derby; he ran well in the Kentucky Derby, he was running at the end, but you could tell he had to start his run a little wide and maybe a little early. But overall, he’s a horse who is adaptable to the pace, for sure.”

On Essential Quality’s rapport with jockey Luis Saez: “He fits him real well. Luis is riding him with a lot of confidence. He thinks the world of him. He’s been able to breeze him his last two works up here and he’s super excited about the opportunity on Saturday. I don’t give Luis many instructions with this horse. It’s just ‘do your thing’ and it tends to work out.”

Robertino Diodoro, trainer of Keepmeinmind (No. 3, 6-1): “We just started easing off his training going into the races. Each horse is different, and this horse is one that just puts so much into his training On days that he’s down to gallop, he goes out there and gives you 110 percent. He just loves his job. We eased off him going into the Jim Dandy and he was a lot sharper that day. His running was a lot sharper and he laid a lot closer. What’s the old saying? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? We’re not going to change much with his training routine this week.

“I’ve emphasized this quite a bit. Even back in January, he’s a horse that we thought would get better with time; grow into himself and be a good late 3-year-old and hopefully early 4-year-old year. He’s showing signs of that. His last couple of races have been improvements and his works up here have been outstanding.

“He loves his job. When he goes out there to train; he’s a machine. In 20-something years of training, he’s probably the toughest horse we’ve ever trained. He just pulls. He’s tough.”

Al Stall, Jr., trainer of Masqueparade (No. 6, 8-1): “He came out of the Jim Dandy well, and I thought he might have needed the race. We trained too hard from the Ohio Derby. Basically, it was the shipping arrangements from Ohio; he had to ship up to Cleveland and back to Kentucky and all that. I thought he struggled a bit in the race. His breeze on Saturday was by far the best he’s had, 100 percent.

“He’s training exceptionally well. He’s put on weight, like the rest of us, and I think he’s coming into the race great.

“I love the draw. It’s completely different than the Jim Dandy draw. We’re very happy with that. Being on the outside, we can chase some speed. If there’s no speed, we can lay very close. He can be more comfortable. In the Jim Dandy, he was trapped inside between speed horses, so we couldn’t get anything done because they were shuffling us back and we were last on the backside. Now he can float away from there and see how things go. He’s got good natural speed, so I really like where we are. I think he deserves a chance.

“The most important thing is the way the horse is doing. He gives us a lot of confidence. His work on Saturday was his career-best work. It seems like he’s getting everything together and doing everything better since the Jim Dandy. Everything is pointing his way.

“A win in the Travers would be great. I’m not from here but this is my 26th year training here and winning a big race at Saratoga like the Whitney here a few years ago with Blame [2010] is just as big a race as anywhere in the country so it would be the thrill of a lifetime.

“On the charts, it’s a one-horse race. But I’ve always been taught, and I’ve learned every year, that you don’t duck one horse. As far as I’m concerned the ones behind Essential Quality are very even, and in a good way, of course. It’s strictly that one horse to beat and Essential Quality is going to be a legitimate two or three to five shot. If he runs his ‘A’ race and gets the right trip he’ll be virtually impossible to beat, but this is horse racing.”

On Masqueparade taking four starts to break his maiden: “You can say he was a big dummy. He was. I can see him growing up and maturing physically and mentally as he’s putting it together, all of the above. You can see it in his form that he’s gotten much better in the mental department, and he’s gotten better in the last month since he’s been up here. He’s going to be a very nice older horse also and we’re going to keep that in mind moving forward.”

On Saratoga’s reputation of being difficult for favorites and champions: “My horse is a full-fledged New York horse right now. He’s been here long enough and he’s fully acclimated to this track now, but he’s still going to have to go out there and run his ‘A’ race. If we get the right trip and run our “A” race he hopefully will place us in the winner’s circle, but we’ll just have to see.”

On jockey Miguel Mena retaining the mount: “He knows him so well. Very well. He knows how to warm him up, he knows how to let him there, and he’s a smart horse as far as rating so he’ll just turn him off and he’s got a lot of natural speed, too. So, he might be very close to the pace.”

Kenny McPeek, trainer of King Fury (No. 7, 15-1): “This horse, unfortunately, didn’t get to run in the Jim Dandy. He ran really well in the Ohio Derby [second] thinking the Jim Dandy would be a great prep for the Travers. In hindsight, I thought we should have scratched [in the Saratoga Derby] because he drew the 11 [post] and he hanged wide and wider on both turns. I wish I could un-ring that bell, but that doesn’t happen. It’s a shame he didn’t get to run in the Jim Dandy, but it is what it is. We think he’ll perform well this weekend.

“He’s doing great. This horse is really, really a nice horse. He’s been easy to be around. He’s begging for a mile and a quarter. He was unlucky in the spring again because he had a fever on the day before the [Kentucky] Derby, and we really felt like that was going to be a big day but, once again, he didn’t get the opportunity. Saturday is a really big deal to make amends.

“It surprised me, the odds, because we ran right with Robertino’s horse and Al’s horse in the Ohio Derby [Keepmeinmind and Masqueparade]. We split those two and we really thought we could make a case that he should have won that day. He got shuffled back in the second turn and had to rally and still almost won the race. He’s a good colt and he’s going to make his presence felt.

“[Post position] is not going to make any difference. He’s going to get into a nice rhythm and make his run.

“He’s ready to go this weekend. Maybe he makes amends. He should have won the Ohio Derby. He got checked and stopped going into the second turn and still only got beat half a length. He passes both Robertino’s horse and Al’s horse if he doesn’t get stopped.

“He got really sick on us, too. It seemed like it was almost six weeks before he was ready to come back to breezing again. He’s had kind of a rough go, but that’s horse racing.

“I’m not a gambler. The price is the price. When Golden Ticket won [the Travers], nobody paid any attention. When Sarava won [the Belmont], nobody was paying any attention. Maybe that’s better. No pressure.”

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