Trainer Brad Cox April 4 reported that Godolphin’s undefeated champion Essential Quality was in good shape the morning after a gutsy victory in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. The Tapit colt extended his win streak to five with a neck victory over pacesetter Highly Motivated .
“He looks good this morning and I am happy with the way he came out of the race,” Cox said. “I liked that he got a test yesterday. It was not like he just galloped up to the leader and went on by.”
Essential Quality after his win in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland
Cox said Essential Quality would go to Churchill Downs the morning of April 5 after training hours to join his string there and continue preparations for the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).
Essential Quality might be joined soon at Churchill by Klaravich Stables’ Highly Motivated, according to Whit Beckman, assistant to trainer Chad Brown.
“He is good this morning,” Beckman said of the runner-up. “He put in a valiant effort yesterday going two turns for the first time. He took all the heat and kept battling.
“I am not sure (how long he will stay here), but knowing Chad I would not be surprised to see him go to Churchill for a couple of works.”
John and Diane Fradkin’s Rombauer , third in the Blue Grass, might wait for the May 15 Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course, trainer Michael McCarthy told Keeneland media via text. Rombauer earned an expense-paid, guaranteed berth to the middle jewel of the Triple Crown by winning the Feb. 13 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.
BBN Racing’s Blue Grass fourth-place finisher Hidden Stash was also doing well Sunday morning according to trainer Vicki Oliver.
“He is good this morning,” Oliver said. “We will see what the owners want to do—either the Derby or, if he looks tired, wait for the Preakness or Belmont (G1).”
The Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters and eligibility is determined by qualifying points earned throughout Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races. The Blue Grass awarded points on a 100-40-20-10 scale, pushing Essential Quality to the top of the leaderboard with a total of 140 points. Highly Motivated is 14th with 50 points, Rombauer 21st with 34 points, and Hidden Stash 23rd with 32 points.
The final two points races are scheduled for April 10—the Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park (100-40-20-10) and the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (G3) at Keeneland (20-8-4-2).
The Kentucky Derby dream likely ended for Cypress Creek, Arnold Bennewith, and Spendthrift Farm’s Keepmeinmind with his fifth-place finish in the Blue Grass. Keepmeinmind, runner-up to Essential Quality in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and third to him in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G1), both races last fall at Keeneland, has 18 points and stands 28th on the leaderboard.
“I don’t know what to tell you (about the Blue Grass performance),” trainer Robertino Diodoro said before heading back to his main string at Oaklawn. “Obviously we don’t have enough points and what’s next, that’s the million-dollar question.”
The day was not a total loss for Diodoro as Cypress Creek’s Ava’s Grace finished second in the Fantasy Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn and picked up 40 points toward the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) and a likely spot in the 14-horse starting gate. She is 12th on the Oaks leaderboard.
“We are pretty excited about her,” Diodoro said. “I don’t know if she will come here first and then go to Louisville but either way we have to get her up here ASAP from Oaklawn.”
Working Sunday on the main track was Godolphin’s Proxy , who covered a half-mile in :46 4/5, the fastest of 64 at the distance for the morning. The Mike Stidham trainee was fourth last out in the March 20 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) and 22nd on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. He is nominated to the Lexington.
Malathaat, Jouster Eye Oaks Day
Trainer Todd Pletcher extended his all-time record number of Keeneland stakes victories to 59 Saturday with triumphs by Shadwell Stable’s Malathaat in the Central Bank Ashland (G1) and Starlight Racing’s Jouster in the Appalachian Presented by Japan Racing Association (G2T).
“They are all good this morning,” reported Amelia Green, who is overseeing Pletcher’s string at Keeneland.
Malathaat earned a berth in the Kentucky Oaks with her Ashland victory. The Oaks will be run April 30, the same day as the Edgewood Stakes (G2T), a possible spot for Jouster.
Pletcher told Keeneland media via text that Malathaat and Jouster would remain at Keeneland for the time being.
Malathaat (outside) gets up over Pass the Champagne to win the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland
A half-hour after Malathaat won the Ashland, Pletcher saddled Calumet Farm’s Bourbonic and Repole Stable, Phipps Stable, and St. Elias Stable’s Dynamic One to a 1-2 finish in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino (G2) at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Pletcher has four horses in the top 20 on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, including WinStar Farm and China Horse Club’s Sainthood , who is stabled at Keeneland following his runner-up effort in the March 27 Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park, and St. Elias Stable’s March 27 Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa (G1) winner Known Agenda .
In winning her first grade 1, Malathaat ran down Pass the Champagne in the final yards to prevail by a head.
“I thought we had it won, but I know Todd has been very high on Malathaat,” said George Weaver, trainer of Pass the Champagne, who is owned by the partnership of R. A. Hill Stable, Black Type Thoroughbreds, Rock Ridge Racing, BlackRidge Stables, and James Brown. “She is doing fine this morning and will ship back (to Palm Beach Downs in Florida) tomorrow morning.”
Weaver followed a similar pattern two years ago with Vekoma after the colt won the Blue Grass, returning to his Florida base before going to Churchill Downs Derby week.
Trainer Wesley Ward reported that Ten Broeck Farm’s Madison Stakes (G1) winner Kimari and his own Shakertown Stakes (G2T) Bound for Nowhere were fine on Sunday morning. He said neither would run in a stakes at Churchill Downs during Kentucky Derby week as the four-week turnaround was too quick.
Lothenbach Stables’ Bell’s the One , who finished second in the Madison in a dead heat, could run next in the May 1 Derby City Distaff Stakes (G1) at Churchill, a race she won in September when the major Derby week stakes were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic
“She’s got a few nicks, but nothing we can’t manage,” trainer Neil Pessin said. “I still wouldn’t trade horses with anyone.”