Travers Stakes 2021: Essential Quality Is Midsummer Derby’s Morning-Line Favorite

You’ve already caught an early glimpse of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes favorite Essential Quality putting in work at Saratoga Race Course. Does the Thoroughbred have what it takes to win the coveted race for Eclipse Award–winning trainer Brad Cox?

The oddsmakers seem to think so. Having drawn Post 2 and coming in at morning-line odds of 4-5, Essential Quality is the clear favorite in the field of seven. Slated as Race 12 on the packed 13-race card, the Travers will be one of seven graded stakes and among six Grade 1 races.

Cox, who has saddled Essential Quality to seven wins in eight starts, including three Grade 1 wins, bested the competition when his Knicks Go went gate-to-wire in the Grade 1 Whitney on August 7. If Cox takes the Travers, too, it would make him just the third trainer ever and first since John M. Gaver, Sr. in 1942, to win the Travers and Whitney in the same year with different horses.

Jockey Luis Saez will be aboard Essential Quality in the race.

“I feel like he’s as good as he’s ever been,” Cox says. “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.”

The gray Tapit colt was undefeated in three 2020 starts, winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity in October at Keeneland and taking the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. After posting back-to-back wins to start his sophomore campaign on the Kentucky Derby trail—winning the Grade 3 Southwest at Oaklawn Park and the Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland—Essential Quality ran his only non-winning race with a competitive fourth in the “Run for the Roses” on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.

Essential Quality then went on to win the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 5, giving Cox his first Triple Crown leg victory, and followed up that effort with a win over Travers-rival Keepmeinmind in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga, in the local Travers prep.

“He’s sharp, mentally,” says Cox. “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.” Added Cox: “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.”

Keepmeinmind (6-1) will attempt to block Essential Quality’s quest for the Midsummer Derby title. He ran a hard-charging second to the Travers favorite in the Breeders’ Futurity and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The duo met up twice more in the spring, when Keepmeinmind finished fifth in the Blue Grass and seventh in the Kentucky Derby.

Keepmeinmind will have Joel Rosario aboard and break from post 3.

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon, the runner-up to Rombauer in the Preakness, has not raced since clipping heels with Hot Rod Charlie and unseating rider Paco Lopez in the Grade 1 Haskell in July at Monmouth Park. The son of Tiznow, who started his sophomore campaign with a win in the Grade 3 Lecomte at Fair Grounds, will look for a better trip in his first Saratoga appearance. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who set the all-time wins record for a North American Thoroughbred conditioner earlier this month with a big Whitney Day at Saratoga, will look to add another milestone at the famous track in seeking his first Travers score.

Ricardo Santana, Jr. will be in the irons for Midnight Bourbon (9-2) from the inside post.

Also running in the Travers will be Masqueparade (8-1), who bested King Fury by a half length in the Ohio Derby, extending his winning streak to three, before finishing third in the Jim Dandy; King Fury (15-1), who finished 10th in the Grade 1 Saratoga Derby Invitational; Dynamic One (6-1), who finished second in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial and took the Curlin at Saratoga for his first stakes victory; and Miles D (12-1), who will be looking to land Eclipse-winning trainer Chad Brown his first Travers.

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