Quality Road, expected to be among the favorites for the $1 million Shadwell Travers (gr. I), turned in his first work since his record-setting victory in the Amsterdam (gr. II) Aug. 16 at Saratoga, covering six furlongs in 1:13.19.
Under jockey John Velazquez, the Elusive Quality colt went to the main track shortly after the morning break and breezed in tandem with stablemate Unbridled Belle, a 6-year-old mare also trained by Todd Pletcher.
“I thought it was super,” said Pletcher of the move, Quality Road’s first since setting a Saratoga track record of 1:13.74 for 6 1/2 furlongs in the Amsterdam. “He came out of the race well, and had a good work this morning, a nice, stamina-building breeze. He was into the bridle the whole way and he finished up with something left. Johnny asked him to gallop out, and he responded well. When he came back he was not blowing that hard.”
Quality Road, who was among the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) before being sidelined with foot problems, also set a track record at Gulfstream Park when he won the Florida Derby (gr. I) in 1:47.72 in March while under the care of trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Later in the spring, owner Edward P. Evans moved Quality Road, along with several other horses, from Jerkens’ barn to Pletcher’s, with the 1 1/4-mile Travers on Aug. 29 a primary objective.
“Any time you have a high profile horse like this pointing toward a race like the Travers, you want everything to go exactly right,’ said Pletcher. “I don’t know if there’s more pressure but obviously the stakes are higher.”
Pletcher elected to bring Quality Road back in the shorter Amsterdam rather than in a more traditional prep for the “Mid-Summer Derby” such as the Jim Dandy (gr. II) at nine furlongs. In the Amsterdam, Quality Road broke the 30-year-old mark for the distance by nearly a second in his first start since March.
“After the Amsterdam, the surprising thing to me was not only that he ran so fast, but he came back and wasn’t even blowing that hard,” said Pletcher. “His energy level was good, his appetite was good. He took the race really well. He’s a very special horse that can do brilliant things and sometimes do it easily.”
Asked about the challenges of getting a horse from a 6 1/2-furlong sprint to a 10-furlong grade I race in the space of 26 days, Pletcher said: “He’s got a good foundation from earlier in the year when he ran those races at Gulfstream. In a perfect world, this race would maybe be a mile and an eighth, but it’s not and we’re going to have to call on his class a little bit.
“We’re asking what I think is a special horse to do something you normally wouldn’t ask a lot of them to do. But we’re doing it because of who he is.”
Quality Road, bred in Virginia by Evans, has won four of his five starts, with his only loss a second to Theregoesjojo in a seven-furlong allowance at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 10. He will have his final tune-up for the Travers Aug. 23, said Pletcher.
In other news, trainer Steve Asmussen confirmed that both Rachel Alexandra and Kensei would work Aug. 17 in preparation for their next starts, which are still undetermined.
Stonestreet Stables and Gulf Coast Farms’ Kensei will be sent out to the Oklahoma training track at 5:30 a.m., while Stonestreet Stables and Harold McCormick’s Rachel Alexandra will follow her stablemate at 5:50 a.m.
“We definitely won’t make a decision until we see how they’re doing on Tuesday,” Asmussen said. “It will be at least until Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday.”
Rachel Alexandra is unbeaten in seven starts this year and Asmussen has nominated her to four upcoming grade I contests at Saratoga, including the Travers. Kensei, winner of the Jim Dandy on Aug. 1, is also possible for the Travers.