(Essential Quality winning the G3 Southwest Stakes / Coady Photography)
(Mandaloun / Photo by Holly M. Smith)
By Vance Hanson / Brisnet.com
Essential Quality‘s delayed season debut finally got out of the way on Saturday when the juvenile champion put on a dominating display over a sloppy Oaklawn Park strip in the Southwest (G3), which had been postponed nearly two weeks due to inclement weather.
The Southwest was the belated final Road to the Kentucky Derby prep in which 10 qualifying points was allotted to the winner. Essential Quality has now earned 40 points, and from a historical standpoint it would probably be enough for Godolphin’s gray son of Tapit to qualify for a slot in the Derby starting gate. He will have one more prep, which should be determined with a couple weeks.
While the Southwest was delayed, the Road to the Kentucky Derby series shifted into another gear over the past two weekends as both the Risen Star (G2) and Fountain of Youth (G2) produced horses that virtually guaranteed their Kentucky Derby participation via 50-point victories.
Essential Quality’s trainer Brad Cox has another serious contender in Mandaloun, who rebounded in the Risen Star off a third-place finish in the Lecomte (G3) in January. With 52 current points, the Juddmonte homebred is safely in the Derby and is expected to turn in his final prep in the Louisiana Derby (G2) later this month.
The leader among Florida’s 3-year-olds is Greatest Honour, who added the Fountain of Youth to a prior score over the Gulfstream strip in the Holy Bull (G3). The Shug McGaughey trainee has 60 points and may look for a sweep of Gulfstream’s preps in the Florida Derby (G1).
One horse in the top 20 who was withdrawn from Kentucky Derby consideration after last weekend was Jackie’s Warrior‘s, whose connections reported that he would target the Pat Day Mile (G2) this spring after finishing a tiring third in the Southwest. Moving up the list then would be Hush of a Storm, who earned 10 points capturing last Friday’s John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park.
More virtual qualifiers for the May 1 Kentucky Derby will be decided this coming Saturday when the Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Derby (G2), and San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita will be decided. Points of 50-20-10-5 will be disbursed to the top four finishers in each.