Kentucky Derby Pedigree Profile: Essential Quality

November 9th, 2020

Quality is essential for any horse hoping to win the Kentucky Derby (G1), and Essential Quality clearly has it in abundance. The Godolphin homebred has been a standout on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, posting eye-catching victories in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1), Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), Southwest (G3), and Blue Grass (G2) over distances from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles. These three impressive efforts hint classic distances will be well within reach for the classy gray colt.

True, there’s a big difference between racing 1 1/8 miles on the Derby trail and tackling 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May. But from a pedigree perspective, there’s no reason to believe Essential Quality will be troubled by the unfamiliar distance awaiting at Churchill Downs.

The top half of Essential Quality’s pedigree is strongly geared toward success racing 1 1/4 miles or farther. He’s a son of 2004 Wood Memorial (G1) winner and Kentucky Derby starter Tapit, whose top progeny have primarily excelled racing two turns on dirt. Chief among them have been 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes (G1) winners Tonalist, Creator, and Tapwrit.

It’s easy to understand why Tapit is a solid source of stamina. His pedigree is stuffed from top to bottom with classic influences. His sire, Pulpit, was a long-winded type who counted 2010 Florida Derby (G1) winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box among his best foals. Pulpit, in turn, was a son of 1992 Belmont Stakes winner and renowned stamina influence A.P. Indy, himself a son of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. For good measure, Tapit’s pedigree includes 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, immortal 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, and a couple doses of the breed-shaping classics sire Mr. Prospector.

You can almost argue that Tapit’s breeding is too stout for the Kentucky Derby. Prevailing in the Run for the Roses requires a perfect blend of both stamina and speed, plus an early-maturing profile sufficient to deliver a winning effort on the first Saturday in May.

Essential Quality (Coady Photo/Keeneland)

Tapit’s classic types have tended to mature a bit later while leaning heavy on stamina compared to speed, as evidenced by the fact his progeny have won three Belmonts while going 0-for-11 in the Kentucky Derby. This is where the bottom half of Essential Quality’s pedigree might come to the rescue, introducing some high-class miler speed into the equation.

Essential Quality was produced by the Elusive Quality mare Delightful Quality, a half-sister to 2005 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner and champion 2-year-old filly Folklore. Although Delightful Quality wasn’t quite an elite racehorse, she was capable as a sprinter, earning more $250,000 while placing in seven stakes races. Consistency was arguably her greatest asset, as Delightful Quality never missed the board in 13 starts, most notably finishing third in the 2013 Bed o’ Roses H. (G3).

Delightful Quality’s speed is surely inherited from her sire, Elusive Quality, a classy sprinter/miler who won the 1998 Poker (G3) while running a mile in 1:31.63—a world record at the time. Elusive Quality has been an international success at stud, siring a bevy of top-level winners in North America, Europe, and Australia. Speed is a recurring strong suit among his descendants, though the best of them have carried their speed over 1 1/4 miles, including 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones and 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Raven’s Pass.

Elusive Quality arguably passes on even more speed as a broodmare sire, with his daughters producing 2017-18 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) winner Roy H, 2018 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) winner Shamrock Rose, and 2014 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) runner-up No Nay Never.

Normally a speed-centric dam sire would be a red flag in the pedigree of a potential Kentucky Derby contender. But in the case of Essential Quality, Elusive Quality’s speed might be exactly what’s needed to balance the stamina of Tapit and create a perfect classic pedigree.