Trainer Brad Cox could have Midsummer Derby winner in Essential Quality

Trainer Brad Cox could have Midsummer Derby winner in Essential Quality

Saratoga Springs

Brad Cox already has one major player lining up for the Travers Stakes next month.

If he chooses to, he’ll have two.

Cox, who last year won his first Eclipse Award as the nation’s best trainer, has the horse many believe is the one to beat in the Midsummer Derby in Essential Quality. He has settled in nicely at Cox’s Saratoga barn on the Oklahoma Training Track.

Essential Quality is being prepared to run in the traditional Travers prep, the Jim Dandy, on July 31 here. If all goes well, see you in the Travers.

Sunday morning, Cox welcomed another of his 3-year-old heavyweights to town when Mandaloun shipped into the Spa the day after winning the Haskell at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

The victory came via a disqualification after Hot Rod Charlie, who crossed the Haskell finish line a nose in front of Mandaloun, was placed last after stewards ruled Hot Rod Charlie had caused another horse, Midnight Bourbon to fall.

Mandaloun finished second in the Kentucky Derby in May but could be awarded the victory if the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission decides to disqualify Medina Spirit, the winner of the Run for the Roses. Medina Spirit failed a post-race drug test and an investigation is still ongoing.

Cox is not going to worry about that. And, he is in no hurry to point Mandaloun in the direction of the Travers. He said a decision on Mandaloun and the Travers won’t be made for a few weeks.

“We just wanted to ship him up here, let him catch his breath, let us catch our breaths,” Cox said outside his barn after Mandaloun was unloaded from the horse van. “We will watch him over the next few weeks and come up with a plan. Moving forward, the two logical spots would be the Travers and the Pennsylvania Derby.”

The Pennsylvania Derby will be run at Parx on Sept. 25. Like the Travers, it is a Grade I race. The Travers has a value of $1.25 million; the Pennsylvania Derby carries a purse of $1 million.

There could be incentive for Mandaloun to enter the Travers starting gate. If a horse wins the Haskell, Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic, he would be in line to win a $1 million bonus from BetMasters.

That will be a decision that will come from Juddmonte, USA, which owns Mandaloun.

“Garrett (Juddmonte general manager O’Rourke) will talk it over with the Juddmonte team and see if that plays a role,” said Cox, who said it would not influence his thinking of whether or not to run in the Travers. “As a trainer, it’s hard to make decisions based off bonuses.”

Cox was not going to apologize for winning the Haskell by disqualification. Mandaloun has won three of six starts this year and is five for eight for his career. The Haskell was his first Grade I  victory and also gave him free passage to the Breeders’ Cup Classic as the race is part of the Cup’s “Win and You’re In” program.

“It’s an odd way to win a race, but he ran a winning race,” Cox said. “It wasn’t as if he was fading. It wasn’t as if he was well beaten. He ran a big race and I am proud of his effort.”

Cox said that Mandaloun will get a few days before heading to the track. Once he gets back to a work schedule, a determination will be made on whether or not to run for the Travers trophy. Mandaloun and Essential Quality ran against each other in the Kentucky Derby; Essential Quality was fourth.

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“They are very different horses,” Cox said. “Mandaloun is a little handier, a fatter work horse and a little more aggressive in his training. Essential is more laid back, easy on himself.”

There are no horses from the Haskell that have concrete plans to run in the Travers. Hot Rod Charlie may be pointed to the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 21.

“I’d say the Travers is a real longshot for Charlie,” trainer Doug O’Neill said via email Sunday.

 Midnight Bourbon is scheduled to van back to trainer Steve Asmussen’s Saratoga barn on Monday and there is no race that has been announced for him.

Following Sea, who ended up in second place in the Haskell, will return to trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn at Saratoga on Monday. He could be on track to run in the seven-furlong Allen Jerkens on Travers Day.