Essential Quality lived up to all the promise surrounding him at the start of 2021 by becoming just the 14th colt since 1936 to earn championship honors at 2 and 3.
The colts to achieve this feat most recently were Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2014-15 and Lookin At Lucky in 2009-10. Both horses now stand at Ashford Stud in Central Kentucky.
Godolphin’s homebred son of Tapit out of the graded-placed Elusive Quality winner Delightful Quality had a pedigree that promised more fireworks as he matured through his 3-year-old season. Under Essential Quality’s second dam Contrive is her great-grandson Contrail, who became Japan’s champion 2-year-old male in 2019 and won the Japan Triple Crown the following year.
Essential Quality launched his sophomore campaign with all the zeal anticipated, winning his season debut in the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park by 4 1/4 lengths. He next won the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland, but this time by a neck. The smaller winning margin raised questions heading into the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) but he still left the gate at Churchill Downs as the favorite. Rough early going and a wide trip delivered Essential Quality his first loss, but not by much as he was a length behind in fourth when Medina Spirit hit the wire in front.
Trainer Brad Cox skipped the Preakness Stakes (G1) and took dead aim on the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), where Essential Quality found redemption by 1 1/4 lengths over Hot Rod Charlie . He followed his classic win with victories in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) and the Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1). Essential Quality started in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) as the favorite but had to settle for third behind winner Knicks Go and Medina Spirit.
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With two losses to Medina Spirit, Essential Quality’s championship was no sure thing, but Medina Spirit’s Derby victory was tainted after he tested positive for the corticosteroid betamethasone. No action has been taken yet by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission regarding the positive, but if Medina Spirit is disqualified—as is anticipated—that leaves him with three stakes wins for 2021, including one grade 1, compared with Essential Quality’s five graded stakes wins that include two grade 1s—one of them a classic.
Essential Quality has since been retired to stud duty at Darley Stallions at Jonabell Farm where he will stand the 2022 season for an advertised fee of $75,000.