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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – Godolphin homebred Essential Quality once again put his mental and physical prowess on display, racing as game as a horse can be to outduel the stubborn Midnight Bourbon and take home Saturday’s $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga.
The Travers was the seventh and final graded stakes (sixth Grade 1) on the day’s 13-card that netted an all-sources handle of $51,381,515.
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Essential Quality was bet down to 2/5 odds-on favoritism in the field of seven 3-year-olds as he exited post 2 under regular rider and meet-leading rider Luis Saez.
Midnight Bourbon and Ricardo Santana Jr. took command as the field passed under the wire for the first time and set a measured tempo with Essential Quality not far behind in second.
The field bunched up heading into the far turn and longshot Miles D momentarily posed a threat, but the front-running pair quickly kicked clear at the top of the stretch and separated themselves from the field.
Essential Quality took command once straightened, but Midnight Bourbon refused to yield and fought back along the inside while drifting out slightly near the 3/16 pole.
In the end, the Brad Cox-trained Essential Quality hit the wire first by a neck, completing the 1 1/4-mile fast dirt route in 2:01.96 and becoming the second horse in history to win the Belmont Stakes (G1), the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), and the Travers (Arts and Letters did it in 1969).
“It’s amazing, that’s my second Travers and I’m so thankful to be here and be a part of it in this amazing race,” said Saez, who also won the Travers in 2013 with Will Take Charge. “To me, he’s the best horse, the horse of the year, and he deserves all the credit.”
Though Miles D’s bid faltered, he saved third by a neck over Keepmeinmind, though they were 5 lengths behind the top duo.
King Fury, Masqueparade, and Dynamic One completed the order of finish.
Essential Quality’s win increased his lifetime earnings to $4,215,144 after winning his eighth race in 9 career starts, with his lone defeat coming as a close fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1). The Tapit colt made Cox just the third trainer ever (and first in 79 years) to win the Whitney Stakes (G1) and the Travers in the same year with different horses; Cox saddled Knicks Go to win the Whitney here on August 7.
“He’s danced a lot of dances and shown up,” Cox said. “His lone defeat was the Kentucky Derby, where we felt he was right there in the mix. He’s done nothing wrong. We’re proud of what he’s accomplished this year and he’s a very good horse with a fantastic resume.”
Essential Quality returned $2.90 to win, $2.30 to place, and $2.10 to show. Midnight Bourbon brought back $4 to place and $3.30 to show. Miles D paid $4.90 to show.
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