Essential Quality makes late charge to win Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland

Jockey Luis Saez rides Essential Quality to victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Keeneland Race Course.
Jockey Luis Saez rides Essential Quality to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., on Friday.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

All eyes were on the latest superstar in the making, four-time winner Jackie’s Warrior, in Friday’s running of the $2-million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky. But as often happens on the six-month road to the Kentucky Derby, things got derailed.

Instead, it was another undefeated colt, Essential Quality, who won the biggest race of his 2-year-old life to become the first of what might be a bunch of Kentucky Derby favorites.

Jackie’s Warrior was one of three horses who had four starts before Friday but the only one who was undefeated. But when he hit the stretch in the 1 1/16-mile race, he didn’t have enough finish and ended up fourth. Essential Quality, making his fourth start, was content to be in the middle of the 14-horse race for the first three-quarters of a mile before making his move going four-wide into the stretch before winning by three-quarters of a length.


“It was a tremendous effort by this horse,” winning trainer Brad Cox said. “[Jockey] Luis [Saez] stayed after him the whole way. He overcame a lot. … He has an amazing amount of stamina. We’re going to enjoy this one, and obviously [the Kentucky Derby] will be our goal moving forward.”

Jackie’s Warrior trainer Steve Asmussen took the loss in stride.

“It’s obviously disappointing, but the fractions were just too fast,” Asmussen said. “He’s accomplished a lot coming into here. We planned on winning but ended up fourth.”

Essential Quality paid $9.40, $6.20 and $4.40. Longshot Hot Rod Charlie was second and paid $51.60 and $24.00 to place and show. Keepmeinmind was third.

The 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race.

Hot Rod Charlie was a shipper from the Southern California barn of Doug O’Neill. He had won only one of his four starts.

“He’s built like a two-turn horse,” O’Neill said. “Last time out we put blinkers on him and went two turns and he answered a lot of questions. To say we thought that would happen would be a lie, so it’s pretty special.”

Winning the Juvenile is not necessarily an indication of great things ahead. Only two of the previous 36 Juvenile winners have won the Kentucky Derby.

In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Princess Noor came into the race undefeated in four starts for trainer Bob Baffert, but she couldn’t get anything going in the stretch and faded to fifth in a race won by Vequist.

Vequist ($15.20 to win) ran a smart race on the rail, and when Dayoutoftheoffice started to slow, he dashed by her to win by two lengths.

“She doesn’t mind the inside, obviously,” winning trainer Butch Reid said. “I don’t know that you ever have that kind of feeling but we knew she was doing very well and we know she’s a very talented filly.”

Trainer Bob Baffert has three of the top horses — Authentic, Maximum Security and Improbable — in the Breeders Cup Classic on Saturday.

Baffert didn’t offer any excuses for Princess Noor.

“She was in a good spot,” Baffert said. “[Jockey Victor Espinoza] had her in a perfect spot, but she just didn’t kick on. I’m pretty disappointed. She just came up empty.”

Baffert is one for 23 in the Breeders’ Cup since Arrogate won the Classic in 2016. His only winner was Game Winner in the Juvenile two years ago. He has three horses going in Saturday’s Classic.

In the other Breeders’ Cup races, all for 2-year-olds, Golden Pal ($3.60) easily won the Juvenile Turf Sprint, Fire At Will ($62.40) rallied in the stretch to win the Juvenile Turf and Aunt Pearl won the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

There are nine more Breeders’ Cup races Saturday.