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2021 Saratoga Race Course: Favorite Essential Quality Wins the Travers Stakes

Brad Cox becomes only the third trainer to win the Travers and Whitney in a single season with two different horses.

Essential Quality edged out Midnight Bourbon for the win in the 152nd Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. (Chris Rahayel)

With a paid crowd of 44,507 in attendance—including New York Governor Kathy Hochul—favorite Essential Quality bested Midnight Bourbon by a neck in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

The win marked Essential Quality’s eighth out of nine career starts, his seventh graded stakes victory and fourth Grade 1 feat. This year, the Thoroughbred had already taken the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in June and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 31 at Saratoga Race Course, a local prep for the Travers.

“He broke well,” said winning trainer Brad Cox, who along with Essential Quality’s connections, was presented the coveted Man o’ War cup by Governor Hochul. “We were hoping that he wouldn’t lose as much ground and have more of a ground-saving trip as opposed to the Jim Dandy. [Jockey] Luis [Saez] did a good job of recognizing that there wouldn’t be a whole lot of pace. He asked him to run out of there and established good position and didn’t let Midnight Bourbon get too far away up the backside. I was a little worried up the backside once he cleared up with softer fractions. He’s a tremendous horse. He’s a champion and he ran like one today.”

The victory writes the Eclipse Award–winning Cox into the racing record books, with the trainer becoming the third all time, and the first in 79 years, to sweep both the Whitney and Travers in the same year with two different horses. Cox joined the elite company of James G. Rowe, Jr. (St. Brideaux in the Whitney and Twenty Grand in the Travers), who did it in 1931; and John M. Gaver, Sr. (Swing and Sway in the Whitney and Shut Out in the Travers), who last pulled off the rare feat in 1942.

“He’s danced a lot of dances and shown up,” Cox said of Essential Quality. “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 paid $2.90 on a $2 win wager and improved his career earnings to more than $4.2 million.

The 13-race Travers Day card generated all-sources handle totaling $51,381,515, with an on-track handle for the Travers Stakes of $9,406,526.

Will Levith

Will Levith is Editorial Director at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living magazine. He's a native Saratogian and graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. His work has been published by Esquire, Playboy, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Health, RealClearLife and many others. He lives in Troy with his wife, Laura, and dog, Esopus.

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