Essentially Quality bidding to land elusive Kentucky Derby for Godolphin

Brad Cox-trained colt starts as favourite for showpiece race

FILE - Jockey Luis Saez rides Essential Quality to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile horse race at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., in this Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, file photo. Essential Quality is expected to be the first gray horse favored to win the Kentucky Derby in 25 years. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

Essential Quality is bidding to become the first Godolphin horse to win the Kentucky Derby when the 147th edition of the race gets underway at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

The Godolphin-bred Tapit colt is undefeated in five races, including two Grade 1 prizes, and starts as the international favourite.

Trained by Brad Cox in the United States and ridden by the 2021 Dubai World Cup winning jockey Luis Saez, Essential Quality will start from gate 14 in the 20-runner field.

Cox had to sweat on Essential Quality landing the dreaded gate 1 with only a few left in the draw.

“It got a little nerve-racking,” he said. “I think (14) will be a good spot. He’s got good tactical speed that he’ll be able to get into a good position from there.”

Rock Your World drew post 15 and remains one of the main challengers for the Godolphin runner. He was victorious on his dirt debut earlier in the month in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

“Any kind of outside post is in the happy meter,” his trainer John Sadler said of the Candy Ride colt.

“It’s a good post. We got a top rider (Joel Rosario), and he’ll be aware of where everybody is, not just Essential Quality.

“Our horse has a high cruising speed, and he can sustain it. Realistically, he could lay a little off the pace.”

Essential Quality booked his place in the Kentucky Derby following his victory over Highly Motivated in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 3.

The Godolphin colt displayed his true character in his last start and the Godolphin USA President Jimmy Bell is confident the momentum is on Essential Quality’s side.

“Essential Quality grew up a lot that day,” he said. “When you go to these big races, especially where we think we are headed, you better have been tested and he got battle-tested in this race.

“It’s a great credit to Luis for his perseverance and to the runner-up – they had a heck of a horserace down the lane. You need one of those very tight races and Essential Quality got that win.

“He showed what champions are made of – he had to dig down and find a little something that we hadn’t seen before – and it was great to see that dimension. He got hooked but kept coming, so that was a very, very positive sign.”