LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Initially out of the picture, Essential Quality regrouped for a signature win that might set him up for a big 2021.
Essential Quality took charge in the stretch to overtake 94-1 long shot Hot Rod Charlie and win Friday's $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile by three-quarters of a length on the first day of the season-ending world championships at Keeneland.
Hot Rod Charlie and 4-5 favorite Jackie's Warrior dueled through the final turn before Essential Quality, initially off the pace after an early bump, recovered and emerged from a four-wide pack. The colt held on at the wire as Keepmeinmind, a 30-1 long shot, made a late charge. Essential Quality improved to 3-0 and established himself as a possible contender in next year's Kentucky Derby.
Jockey Luis Saez earned his first Breeders' Cup win and was grateful for his mount.
"To be here and to have it with this horse, it's very special,'' he said. "First time that I ride him, I knew he was going to be a super horse.''
Essential Quality, who won the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last month, could be in the discussion as top 2-year-old colt. Trainer Brad Cox, a Louisville native, wasn't ready to look ahead to next May but didn't dismiss the thought, either.
"Well, sure. It's the obviously thought or dream, I guess you would say," said Cox, who also won the preceding Juvenile Fillies Turf with Aunt Pearl.
"Let the dust settle, see how he comes out of the race. We'll map out a plan this winter. But, very excited about this horse next year, his 3-year-old campaign.''
Essential Quality covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.09 and paid $9.40, $6.20 and $4.40.
Hot Rod Charlie returned $51.60 and $24 while Keepmeinmind paid $11.20 to show. Jackie's Warrior faded to fourth.
Two races earlier, Vequist made her case as a Kentucky Oaks contender with a two-length victory in the $2 million Juvenile Fillies.
With Joel Rosario aboard, the daughter of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner and 2015 Breeders' Cup Juvenile champ Nyquist surged past pacesetting Dayoutoftheoffice in the stretch and rode the rail to her second win. It marked the third consecutive year a horse from the Parx racetrack/casino outside Philadelphia won a Breeders' Cup race.
"To be able to compete against those kind of horses is really a good thing and felt really good," trainer Butch Reid said.
The races highlighted the first of two days of the $31 million event at Keeneland, which is hosting for the second time and first since 2015. It's being held without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Saturday's stakes card features nine races including the marquee Classic.
Other Cup stakes results and news:
Aunt Pearl went wire-to-wire from the No. 5 post to win the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf by 2½ lengths over Mother Earth and improve to 3-0. She won last month's Grade 2 Jessamine at Keeneland by a similar margin.
Fire At Will, a 30-1 long shot, surged past pacesetter Outadore in the stretch to win the 1-mile Juvenile Turf by three lengths over Battleground. It was his third consecutive stakes win.
Favorite Golden Pal led off the day with a three-quarters-of-a-length win in the $1 million Juvenile Turf Sprint over 5½ furlongs. He quickly broke from the far post in the 14-horse field and led by two lengths in the stretch before holding off Cowan at the wire.
French jockey Christophe Soumillon left Keeneland after testing positive for COVID-19. He was scheduled to ride Order of Australia in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Mile and Tarnawa in the Turf. His positive test was the only one of 55 given to all Breeders' Cup jockeys.