Jockey Luis Saez reacts aboard Essential Quality as they win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile

Jockey Luis Saez reacts aboard Essential Quality as they win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile horse race at Keeneland Race Course, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Lexington, Ky. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Essential Quality, the unbeaten 2-year-old champion for Godolphin Racing and trainer Brad Cox, is the 3-5 morning line favorite for Saturday's 97th running of the $800,000 Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

A field of 9 will go to post in the 1 1/8 mile tests, one of the remaining major prep races before the May 1 Kentucky Derby. The winner will collect 100 points toward the Road for the Derby standings, with second through fourth being awarded 40, 20 and 10.

Essential Quality, who will be ridden by Luis Saez, drew the No. 4 post, which was fine with Cox.

“Post position, it’s important. But I feel comfortable in the 4 hole," Cox said. "Obviously Luis is on him, and he knows what to do away from there. We’re in a good spot with him. Very happy with where he is mentally, physically. And the post is fine.”

Essential Quality debuted Sept. 5 at Churchill on Kentucky Derby Day and followed that 6-furlong triumph with victories in Keeneland’s Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) to sew up the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old.

In his lone start of 2021, Essential Quality won the Southwest (G3) at Oaklawn Park by 4¼ lengths on Feb. 27.

On Tuesday morning, Essential Quality made his first appearance on the Keeneland main track since his Breeders’ Cup victory. He galloped about 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Elver Vargas.

“It’s very rare for a horse to be able to be 4 for 4 and have different tactics," Cox said. "He’s won from three-quarters all the way to 1 1/16 miles at the Grade 1 level. I just think it speaks volumes to actually how good he is and how much talent he has. We’re in a good spot with him. He’s just a very good horse.”

The second choice at 7-2 on Mike Battaglia’s morning line is Klaravich Stables’ Highly Motivated.

Trained by Chad Brown and to be ridden by Javier Castellano, Highly Motivated returns to Keeneland, where he won the Nyquist on the Breeders’ Cup’s Future Stars Friday undercard. Third in the Gotham (G3) in his 2021 debut, Highly Motivated will break from post position three.

Brown and Castellano will be seeking their second Toyota Blue Grass victories. Brown saddled Good Magic for the 2018 triumph and a year later, Castellano rode Vekoma to victory.

A co-third choice at 8-1 on the morning line is Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennewith and Spendthrift Farm’s Keepmeinmind.

Trained by Robertino Diodoro, Keepmeinmind returns to Keeneland, where he ran second to Essential Quality in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He closed 2020 by scoring his first win in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs.

Sixth in the Rebel (G2) in his 2021 debut, Keepmeinmind will be ridden Saturday by David Cohen and break from post nine. Keepmeinmind is scheduled to arrive at Keeneland Wednesday night from Oaklawn Park.

Also at 8-1 is Team Valor International’s Untreated, a recent maiden winner at Tampa Bay Downs who will break from post two under Joel Rosario. Rosario won the 2011 Toyota Blue Grass on Brilliant Speed.

Three-time winner Todd Pletcher trains Untreated. Pletcher’s Toyota Blue Grass winners are Bandini (2005), Monba (2008) and Carpe Diem (2015).

In addition to Saez, Rosario and Castellano, Rafael Bejarano will be seeking another Toyota Blue Grass victory.

Bejarano will be aboard BBN Racing’s Hidden Stash (20-1) and break from post one. Trained by Vicki Oliver, Hidden Stash finished third in the Sam F. Davis (G3) and second in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) in his two starts of 2021.

In addition to Brown and Pletcher, one other trainer will attempt to add to his Toyota Blue Grass victory totals.

Dale Romans, who will sent out Sittin On Go (30-1) for Albaugh Family Stables, has won the race twice with Dullahan and Brody’s Cause. Corey Lanerie has the mount on the winner of the Iroquois (G3) last September and will break from post position eight.

The Toyota Blue Grass will go as the final race on Saturday’s 11-race program with a 6:35 p.m. (ET) post time. First post time for the card that features six graded stakes is 1:05 p.m.

The field for the Toyota Blue Grass, with riders and morning line odds from the rail out, is: Hidden Stash (Bejarano, 20-1), Untreated (Rosario, 8-1), Highly Motivated (Castellano, 7-2), Essential Quality (Saez, 3-5), Rombauer (Florent Geroux, 15-1), Leblon (Albin Jimenez, 30-1), Hush of a Storm (Santiago Gonzalez, 15-1), Sittin On Go (Lanerie, 30-1) and Keepmeinmind (Cohen, 8-1). All starters will carry 123 pounds.

ASHLAND POST POSITIONS: Shadwell Stable’s undefeated Malathaat and Harold Lerner, Magdalena Racing and Nehoc Stables’ Simply Ravishing headline a field of six 3-year-old fillies for Saturday’s running of the $400,000 Central Bank Ashland (G1).

The field, with riders from the rail out, is: Curlin’s Catch (Chris Landeros, 8-1), Pass the Champagne (Javier Castellano, 4-1), Simply Ravishing (Saez, 5-2), Moon Swag (Adam Beschizza, 10-1), Malathaat (Rosario, 9-5), Will’s Secret (Court, 7-2). All starters will carry 121 pounds.

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