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HOT SPRINGS, AR – Making his first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) last November, Godolphin homebred Essential Quality returned looking stronger than ever while winning Saturday’s $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park.
Essential Quality was the 4/5 favorite as he broke from the rail under Luis Saez, who immediately took the colt back and put him wide heading into the clubhouse turn. Jackie’s Warrior set the pace as expected, posting opening fractions of :23.52, :48.11, and 1:13.59 while Woodhouse gave closest chase.
Jackie’s Warrior and Woodhouse hit the same wall in the far turn as Essential Quality – still running wide – swept past them and opened up at the top of the stretch. The Brad Cox trainee kicked clear to win the 1 1/16-mile sloppy (sealed) dirt route by 4 1/4 lengths in 1:45.48.
“I’m so excited,” Saez said. “I’m very happy to be riding this horse. We were waiting a long time. What a talented horse. We knew the speed was to our outside. The plan was to try to follow (Jackie’s Warrior) the whole way. Everything came together. He broke pretty well, and at the 5/8 pole, he took the bridle and was really pulling me, but I was waiting, just trying to wait with him. We came to the stretch just so easy. He switched leads and just took off. What a nice horse. He finished very strong and I still had a lot of horse.”
Spielberg veered out badly as he broke from the far outside post 7, but he rallied hard in the stretch to take second, 4 1/4 lengths clear of Jackie’s Warrior.
Woodhouse, Last Samurai, Santa Cruiser, and Saffa’s Day completed the order of finish.
The Southwest is part of the Road to the 2021 Kentucky Derby prep race season. Essential Quality earned 50 points for the win, with Spielberg receiving 20 for second, Jackie’s Warrior 10 for third, and Woodhouse 5 for fourth.
Essential Quality’s win extended his unbeaten streak to 4 that dates back to a maiden-breaking debut at Churchill Downs last September before he won the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland. The Tapit colt has now earned $1,785,144.
“Luis put him in a good position,” Cox said. “I was little nervous when I saw the (opening times), but our horse ranged up at the 1/2-mile pole in a nice, comfortable way. He showed up and ran his race. … We just want to wrap him in bubble wrap and get to the next race.”
Essential Quality returned $3.80 to win, $2.60 to place, and $2.10 to show. Spielberg brought back $5 to place and $2.80 to show, while Jackie’s Warrior paid $2.20 to show.
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