For today's Derby Profile, we focus our attention to the Brad Cox trainee ESSENTIAL QUALITY. He's our Breeder's Cup Juvenile hero who sits sixth in the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with 40 points. He trails only to GREATEST HONOUR, LIFE IS GOOD, MANDALOUN, HELIUM, and WEYBURN.
ESSENTIAL QUALITY is undefeated in four starts and earned over $1.7 million. He's done nothing wrong on the track. His competitive metrics improve with every start. He flashed a tremendous late kick in the Southwest Stakes (G3) last time out, winning by more than four lengths. He even earned his highest late speed figure to shoe. Just how good is this big gray Tapit-colt?
He is pointed at Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes (G2) for his next start. Though he hasn't posted a workout since his last win, we need not be alarmed because there's still three weeks of training available. He's been working out at Fair Grounds since the beginning of the year. Normally he is breezed once per week.
If he makes it to the Blue Grass Stakes, he's likely to face two new opponents: DREAM SHAKE and HIDDEN STASH, who are listed as probables.
DREAM SHAKE is from the Peter Eurton barn and comes off a great effort against the freakishly-talented LIFE IS GOOD. Although DREAM SHAKE ran third, he was far from embarrassed. If we watch the replay of the San Felipe Stakes (G2), we'll see DREAM SHAKE dueling in the stretch with graded stakes winner MEDINA SPIRIT for the second spot. DREAM SHAKE settles for a respectable third. It's enough that he showed early speed and remained in contention with his more accomplished rivals. The experience he trots away will pay dividends later. It's interesting his connections didn't declare his next start to
be the Santa Anita Derby (G1). He'd probably be the favorite if LIFE IS GOOD foregoes it to train up to the Kentucky Derby.
What's impressive about DREAM SHAKE is how he's responded to the tasks put before him. In two starts he'd already broken his maiden, routed, stepped up to the Kentucky Derby favorite. The foundation is solid, plus he is piloted by a terrific rider who he can finish strong with: Joel Rosario.
The results from a DREAM SHAKE versues ESSENTIAL QUALITY matchup could give us a good barometer of how LIFE IS GOOD would fare against our BC Juvenile champ.
The other horse to challenge ESSENTIAL QUALITY is HIDDEN STASH from Victoria OIiver's stable. We last saw HIDDEN STASH in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) where he struck the front at the top of the stretch but failed to overtake the eventual winner. He settled for second, but gave a smart effort nevertheless; the son of CONSTITUTION corrected his habit of finishing on the wrong lead. He earned his highest speed figure to date, despite his 5-wide move.
However, the competitiveness of that Tampa Bay Derby (G2) field is still a bit questionable. It was won by a lightly raced up-and-comer who was shipping in from Woodbine. And he never routed before, never won a graded race. His name is HELIUM from the Mark Casse barn. And the heavy favorite of the race, CANDY MAN ROCKET, finished off the board. So who exactly did HIDDEN STASH outfinish? Well, if HELIUM wins the Kentucky Derby, it'll obviously flatter the Tampa Bay Derby field, and we'd probably reanalyze the horses he beat in Woodbine.
Consider this: if HELIUM wins the Run for the Roses, he'd break tradition, setting the precedent of winning the Kentucky Derby off of just one prep race at age three, off just one U.S. start, and pay a generous price into the deal. If he is training up to the Derby he'll probably be seen as the "wise guy" long shot. Wise guy in the sense that he's sitting on a peak performance, at a generous price — but to cash out on him we'd need to buck tradition. Should we do it? Let's not be hasty, there's more candidates to analyze first.
We'll revisit the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) when the field probables take greater shape.
Well, how about the debate of who should be the Kentucky Derby favorite: ESSENTIAL QUALITY or LIFE IS GOOD?
On paper, ESSENTIAL QUALITY has no superior save for LIFE IS GOOD — who measures slightly above him in terms of power and class.
ESSENTIAL QUALITY is rated higher than the horses ranked above him: GREATEST HONOUR, MANDALOUN, and HELIUM, probably because ESSENTIAL QUALITY has faced tougher competition over more consecutive races, and fared better.
But if we narrow our focus to the top two KY Derby betting favorites — ESSENTIAL QUALITY and LIFE IS GOOD — we can make interesting comparisons.
We saw ESSENTIAL QUALITY capture the Southwest Stakes (G3) albeit a slow final time of 1:45.40. But remember, this race was over the slop, he hadn't raced in almost four months. And yet he actually achieved his strongest late speed figure off this effort! We can anticipate an even stronger kick in his next start, hopefully over a fast dirt track to see him really kick into gear.
On the other hand, LIFE IS GOOD ran that same distance but three seconds faster. And it was against a Grade 2 field, not Grade 3. This is what probably ranks him higher than ESSENTIAL QUALITY on certain paper.
LIFE IS GOOD has lethal mid-race speed which gives him a tremendous advantage over other speedsters. Horses tasked to rate behind LIFE IS GOOD are pressured to get moving early and go with him, or allow him to slip away from the field. And if the come-from-behinders fall too far back, they've had it.
Fortunately, ESSENTIAL QUALITY doesn't have to be too far back. Watching the replay of his Breeder's Cup win, he showed some early speed even though they went a hot pace up front. And he had enough in the tank to make a bold middle move, sustain for the last two furlongs, and hold off two talented closers in deep stretch: KEEPMEINMIND and HOT ROD CHARLIE. It'll be exciting to see ESSENTIAL QUALITY's second start of the year, and against some new shooters!