LEXINGTON, Ky. — Godolphin’s undefeated homebred Essential Quality prevailed by a neck after a prolonged stretch duel with Highly Motivated to win the 97th running of the $800,000 Toyota Blue Grass (G2) for 3-year-olds Saturday afternoon at Keeneland.
The Toyota Blue Grass was the final event of the day’s 11-race card, which featured six stakes worth $2.1 million. The Pick 5 handled a record $1,485,090, eclipsing the previous mark of $1,395,051 set on Toyota Blue Grass Day during the 2020 Summer Meet. All-sources wagering on Toyota Blue Grass Day totaled $22,723,197 to be the third-highest single day handle in Keeneland history.
Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Luis Saez, Essential Quality covered the 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track in 1:48.50. The victory was the fourth of the afternoon for jockey Luis Saez and his second in the Toyota Blue Grass. He rode Brody’s Cause to victory in 2016.
With the victory, Essential Quality earned 100 qualifying points toward the 147th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) to be run May 1 at Churchill Downs. Essential Quality has 140 points.
The Derby is limited to the top 20 point earners that pass the entry box when entries are taken April 27.
Highly Motivated picked up 40 points for second to increase his Derby point total to 50. Rombauer added 20 Derby points to boost his total to 34 while Hidden Stash picked up 10 points for fourth and a total of 32 points.
Javier Castellano put Highly Motivated on the lead out of the starting gate with Essential Quality tracking just to his outside through fractions of :23.83, :48.21 and 1:12.08. On the far turn, Essential Quality inched up to near even terms setting the stage for the stretch duel that was decided in the final yards.
Now undefeated in five starts with three of those victories at Keeneland, including the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, Essential Quality is a Kentucky-bred son of Tapit out of the Elusive Quality mare Delightful Quality. The $480,000 winner’s share increased his earnings to $2,265,144.
Essential Quality rewarded his backers payoffs of $3, $2.20 and $2.10. Highly Motivated returned $3.40 and $2.80 and finished 5½ lengths in front of Rombauer, who paid $5.40 to show under Florent Geroux.
It was another 4¼ lengths back to Hidden Stash with Keepmeinmind, Sittin On Go, Hush of a Storm, Untreated and Leblon following in order.
Keeneland will be closed Easter Sunday with racing scheduled to resume Wednesday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. with an eight-race program.