Essential Quality and Jackie’s Warrior stood above the crowd in 2020, the only juvenile males to win multiple grade 1s in North America. They were among three finalists for the Eclipse Award, a championship that went to Essential Quality.
Now they get their first chance to show where they stand in the 3-year-old division in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park. The 1 1/16-mile race drew just five other entrants, only one of which—California invader Spielberg—has existing black-type.
The Southwest, twice postponed due to extreme winter weather in Arkansas, had originally been targeted by Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) winner Keepmeinmind. But with the loss of 11 training days at Oaklawn due to the harsh weather, the colt’s return will be delayed until the March 13 Rebel Stakes (G2), trainer Robertino Diodoro said.
The conditions in the region had far less of an impact on Essential Quality and Jackie’s Warrior, both of whom were able to maintain training in warmer weather in New Orleans at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Both horses were able to work an additional two times there while awaiting the new race date on Saturday.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, who trains Jackie’s Warrior, called the changes a minimal setback saying, “if anybody can handle it, ‘Jackie’ can.”
Godolphin’s Essential Quality and Kirk and Judy Robison’s Jackie’s Warrior have met once before, separated by 3 1/4 lengths when first and fourth, respectively, in a fast-paced TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G1) Nov. 6 at Keeneland.
Moderate fractions appear likely in the Southwest, a Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier that awards points on a 10-4-2-1 basis to its top four finishers—the same scale as the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes Feb. 26 at Turfway Park. With far less speed in the Southwest compared to the Juvenile, Jackie’s Warrior and jockey Joel Rosario should be able to go to the front—a style that led to three graded victories last year including in the Runhappy Hopeful Stakes (G1) and Champagne Stakes (G1).
“He has worked impressively and obviously we feel very fortunate to have him to run in the Southwest,” Asmussen said of the Maclean’s Music colt.
Drawn inside under Luis Saez, Essential Quality will likely sit closer than he did in the Juvenile when he closed from eighth, nine lengths off the early leader. A month earlier, he had won the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland after pressing slow fractions. Both wins came at 1 1/16 miles, a trip over which Jackie’s Warrior only raced in the Juvenile.
Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox conditions Essential Quality, a homebred son of Tapit who is unbeaten in three starts.
Spielberg, winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) and fourth most recently in the Jan. 30 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park, is the first West Coast invader of the Oaklawn season for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, a four-time Southwest winner.
Saffa’s Day, Last Samurai, Santa Cruiser, and Woodhouse complete the lineup for the Southwest, one of three stakes at Oaklawn on Saturday along with the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) and $200,000 Spring Fever Stakes.
Oaklawn Park, Saturday, February 27, 2021, Race 10
- Grade III
- 1 1/16m
- 3 yo
- 4:58 PM (local)