Essential Quality, Uni Headline Keeneland's Fall Stars Saturday Results

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Essential Quality, with Luis Saez in the irons, won the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity by 3 ¼ lengths on Oct. 3 at Keeneland to earn an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. (Eclipse Sportswire)

For the second year in a row, a Godolphin homebred has posted an impressive victory in the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland Race Course – and this year's winner, Essential Quality, will have the luxury of contesting the Nov. 6 TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare on the same Lexington track.

Starting at the top level in just the second start of his career proved no problem for Essential Quality, who delivered a dominant performance in the $400,000, Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity Oct. 3. The son of Tapit tracked Upstriker early, put that one away coming out of the far turn, and drew off in the stretch to win in dominant fashion.

The Breeders' Futurity is a Breeders' Cup Challenge race, earning Essential Quality a "Win and You're In" spot in the Juvenile.

A year ago, Godolphin's Maxfield won the Breeders' Futurity, but an issue with his right front leg kept him from competing in the 2019 Juvenile at Santa Anita Park. The powerful international operation of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum appears poised for another try at the Juvenile, a race it won in 2009 with Vale of York.

Winning trainer Brad Cox, who sent out last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and champion 2-year-old filly British Idiom, now welcomes a top male youngster.

"We've had some very nice 2-year-old fillies, but this is probably the best (2-year-old colt) I've had as far as talent goes. He's our first Grade 1 winner as a 2-year-old colt," Cox said. "He means a lot to us. He showed us from Day One that he's special; very talented."

Essential Quality made his career debut less than a month ago, rolling to a four-length score in a six-furlong maiden special weight race Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs – the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve undercard. Stretching out to 1 1/16 miles Saturday would only prove to be to the colt's liking.

With Luis Saez up, Essential Quality tracked a half-length behind Upstriker early in the backstretch and then gain a slight advantage through a half-mile in :48.86. Those two would continue to battle within a half-length of one another through the far turn, opening a two-length lead on the other seven runners.

Turning for home, Essential Quality kicked away and he cruised home 3 ¼ lengths ahead of the late-rallying longshot Keepmeinmind. Super Stock would finish third, passing the tiring Upstriker, who held fourth. The final time for 1 1/16 miles was 1:44.37. Essential Quality also earned 10 qualifying points to the 2021 Kentucky Derby via Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby series.

"I was watching the replay when he ran last time, and he looked like 'Wow, what a horse.' And today he proved that he's a very good horse," Saez said. "He did it pretty easy. He was a little green when he came to the track. He was looking around a little bit, but he took off; he was running. What a horse. I'm so glad I'm on this horse."

Cox noted that Saez found Essential Quality's comfort zone.

"Luis did a good job of getting him to relax. He's a very green horse. That was my concern today – Could he put it all together? And he did," Cox said. "He pulled up a bit on the backside. He's got some learning to do. If he can figure it out, he's a serious animal."

Kentucky-bred Essential Quality is the first winner, from two starters, out of the stakes-placed Elusive Quality mare Delightful Quality. Delightful Quality is a half sister to champion 2-year-old filly Folklore.–Frank Angst


Uni Scores Repeat Win in First Lady

Back in the same race and at the site of her course record-setting performance a year ago at Keeneland, Uni found herself back in the winner's circle for the first time this year. She captured the $343,000, Grade 1 First Lady Stakes Presented by UK Healthcare by a length over Beau Recall on Fall Stars Saturday.

The victory was the first in three 2020 starts for the 6-year-old More Than Ready mare, who was honored with a championship last year after taking the First Lady and then the TVG Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita Park. In two earlier races this year, she ran third in the Just a Game Stakes and seventh in the Fourstardave Handicap – defeats that had left some wondering if she had lost her enthusiasm for racing.

But she was always eager to compete in Saturday's race. She was surprisingly close to the pace, racing in third, about five to six lengths off longshot leader Crystal Lake, as that one covered a half-mile in :47.92.

The leader began to tire and favored Newspaperofrecord made her move to test Crystal Lake through the far turn. Uni went after the leaders under Joel Rosario, and caught her barnmate Newspaperofrecord passing the eighth pole. She continued gamely through the stretch and held off late-rallying Beau Recall, who nipped Newspaperofrecord by a nose for second.

Uni raced a mile on firm ground in 1:34.90, more than two seconds off her time last year when she smoked the distance in 1:32.87 from behind faster splits.

"She's nice to ride; she's easy," said Rosario, Uni's principal rider since fall 2018.

Uni races for Michael Dubb, Head of Plains Partners, Robert LaPenta, and Bethlehem Stables, and is trained by Chad Brown, who notched his third straight First Lady and fourth overall, all since 2014.

"I was so stressed out," said co-owner Sol Kumin of the Head of Plains partnership. "You know, if she doesn't run well here, you couldn't run her back in the Breeders' Cup after the year she had. Now you run her back, same track, (five) weeks (off) and you feel like she might be back.

"Chad said her last two breezes, he felt like she was circling back to the form she had last year so we were hopeful. But until you see it, you just don't know. Just an incredible filly."

The First Lady was a Breeders' Cup automatic qualifier for the Maker's Mark Filly and Mare Turf Nov. 7 at Keeneland, though that 1 3/16-mile race is beyond Uni's best distance. She is a miler, as is runner-up Beau Recall, who also remains under Breeders' Cup consideration, according to her trainer, Brad Cox.–Byron King


Ivar Posts Upset in Shadwell Turf Mile

Ivar, a dual Group 1 winner in Argentina last year, now has a top-tier victory in the United States to join his list of accomplishments.

The 4-year-old Brazilian-bred Agnes Gold colt captured the $750,000, Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes over Grade/Group 1 winners Raging Bull and Without Parole in the final Fall Stars Saturday race at Keeneland on Oct. 3. His victory in the "Win and You're In" qualifier secured him an automatic, paid berth into the FanDuel Breeders' Cup Mile Presented by PDJF at the Lexington track Nov. 7.

Though Ivar surprised bettors at 14.40-1 odds Saturday, that was a reflection on the quality of the field more so than a thin résumé on his part. After rebounding from a fifth-place finish in his U.S. debut May 21, he won an allowance by two lengths at Churchill Downs June 18 before pushing a fast pace and settling for third in the $750,000 Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs Sept. 7.

In the latter race, he was overly aggressive early, pushing a demanding pace that compromised his finish. So trainer Paulo Lobo removed blinkers for the Shadwell Turf Mile, an equipment adjustment that proved a game-changer.

He was far more relaxed Saturday, running in seventh for the first three-quarters of the grass race, as longshot Casa Creed set the pace. Jockey Joe Talamo turned Ivar loose in the far turn and the colt responded.

"I was all smiles turning for home," Talamo said.

Just as his rider expected, the horse was full of run. He engulfed the leaders and surged to a length victory of a hard-charging Raging Bull. The latter closed to finish three-quarters of a length ahead of show finisher Without Parole.

Ivar raced a mile on firm turf in 1:33.99, almost a second faster than champion Uni's time of 1:34.90 in winning the First Lady Stakes Presented by UK Healthcare at the same distance two races earlier on Saturday.

His upset set off a celebration from the Lexington-based Lobo, who notched his first top-level victory since Pico Central won the Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont Park in 2004, one of three Grade 1s the horse took that year. The trainer first burst into U.S. prominence when Farda Amiga won the 2002 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.

"You know how hard it is to win a Grade 1, especially here at Keeneland," he said.–Byron King


Longshot Inthemidstofbiz Impressive in Thoroughbred Club of America Score

A patient approach paid off for the connections of Inthemidstofbiz when the 4-year-old filly scored a 13.10-1 upset victory in the $200,000, Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes on Keeneland's Saturday card.

Making her graded stakes debut in her 13th start, Inthemidstofbiz smoothly advanced two wide in the turn to seize the lead turning for home. The daughter of Fed Biz put away a challenge from her inside from Palace Avenger in early stretch, then opened a clear advantage and wasn't seriously challenged late in posting a three-length victory in the six-furlong test for fillies and mares.

Sneaking Out, who entered off back-to-back graded stakes wins in Southern California and went off as the 7-5 favorite, finished second, followed by Saratoga shipper Palace Avenger.

"We got lucky today. She's getting better and better," winning trainer and co-owner Cipriano Contreras said. "We claimed this filly (for $20,000 at Keeneland during the 2019 fall meet) and ran her for (a $16,000 claiming price) at Oaklawn Park. She started running better, and we took a shot. It worked out."

Contreras Stable and Andrew Knapczyk's Inthemidstofbiz entered off victories in three of her past four starts, including her most recent start and stakes debut, a front-end victory in the Satin and Lace Stakes Aug. 31 on the synthetic track at Presque Isle Downs.

Inthemidstofbiz completed the six furlongs Saturday in 1:09.84 on a fast track. The TCA is a Breeders' Cup Challenge race, and Inthemidstofbiz earned a fees-paid "Win and You're In" bid to the Filly and Mare Sprint Nov. 7 at Keeneland.

"She's a great filly. I had a really good position," said winning rider Martin Garcia, who was aboard for the first time. "When I asked her to go, she made it really easy."–Frank Angst


Leinster Wins Woodford Stakes, Eyes Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint

Unlike four other stakes at Keeneland Oct. 3, the $150,000, Grade 2 Woodford Stakes Presented by TVG was not a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" prep, but Leinster is pointed to the Breeders' Cup regardless.

By winning the 5 ½-furlong turf dash over the same course and distance as the Nov. 7 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, Leinster left his connections little doubt that he belongs in the race. After pressing the pace, he inched away for a half-length score over Extravagant Kid, the only horse to beat Leinster in three starts this year.

Extravagant Kid rallied from sixth, finishing three-quarters of a length in front of Just Might in third.

The winner, a 5-year-old Majestic Warrior horse, completed the distance on a firm course in 1:01.59 under Luis Saez, paying $7.80 as the narrow 2.90-1 favorite in the field of nine.

"We had a perfect position, and I had a lot of horse. He just took off,” Saez said.

The Rusty Arnold trainee was the public choice with reason. In his previous start, Leinster set a Keeneland course record by racing 5 ½ furlongs in 1:00.86 in the Grade 2 Shakertown Stakes during the track's short July meet. That day, he just lasted over stablemate Totally Boss, who will have to miss the Turf Sprint due to a physical setback, trainer Rusty Arnold said.

Leinster seems to be thriving, perhaps with more in the tank this year than in 2019, when he settled for seventh in the Turf Sprint at Santa Anita Park. That race marked his eighth race of 2019; he has made just three starts in 2020.

"He was probably over-raced a little bit last year," Arnold said. "At the end of the year, I think that the last two weren't as good. He's a fresh horse now."–Byron King

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