Champions Essential Quality and Monomoy Girl Arrive at Oaklawn

Champions Essential Quality and Monomoy Girl Arrive at Oaklawn

It was championship Thursday at Oaklawn as Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox sent his two Eclipse Award winners, Monomoy Girl and Essential Quality, to the track to train in preparation for weekend stakes engagements.

Cox said Monomoy Girl and unbeaten Essential Quality arrived at Oaklawn around 8 p.m. (Central) Wednesday following a van ride of approximately eight hours from Fair Grounds, where both horses have been based this winter.

Both horses galloped over a fast track Thursday morning under exercise rider Fernando Espinoza. Essential Quality will make his 3-year-old debut in Saturday’s $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3). Monomoy Girl is ticketed for Sunday’s $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) for older fillies and mares.

Essential Quality (3 for 3) will be making his first start since clinching an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 2-year-old male in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Nov. 6 at Keeneland. The gray son of super sire Tapit is the 3-2 program favorite for the Southwest, Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby points races. Essential Quality will break from the rail in the 1 1/16-mile race.

“Just see how it shakes out,” Cox said moments after watching Monomoy Girl gallop. “I’m sure there’s going to be some speed in there. We’ll see.”

The Southwest and Bayakoa were originally scheduled to be run Feb. 15 before being postponed twice because of severe winter weather. Cox said the delay didn’t affect Essential Quality’s preparation for the Southwest because he was able to breeze the colt 5 furlongs twice (Feb. 14 and Feb. 20) at Fair Grounds.

“Monomoy Girl, kind of the same thing, really, as far as preparation,” Cox said. “Just two extra works.”

Monomoy Girl will be making her first start since winning the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland. A winner of 13 of 15 career starts, Monomoy Girl was an Eclipse Award winner in 2018 (3-year-old filly) and 2020 (older dirt female). She drew the extreme outside, post 6, for the 1 1/16-mile Bayakoa, a major local prep for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 17.

“Monomoy Girl draws outside all the time, it seems,” Cox said. “Fourteen of fourteen in the (Kentucky) Oaks, 11 of 11 in the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs.”

Cox said the Apple Blossom is the major spring objective for Monomoy Girl, who has never raced at Oaklawn.

Essential Quality schooled in the paddock Thursday afternoon, according to Jorgito Abrego, who oversees Cox’s Oaklawn division. Abrego said Monomoy Girl is scheduled to school in the paddock Friday.

Photo Credit: Oaklawn/Adam Hatmaker

Cox won his first Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding trainer in 2020. He was Oaklawn’s third-leading trainer last year.

First post Saturday is 12:15 p.m. and the Southwest is scheduled as Race 10 at 4:58 p.m. First post Sunday is 1 p.m. and the Bayakoa is scheduled as Race 9 at 5:11 p.m.

A Spendthrift Double?

Mark Toothaker’s first trip to Oaklawn was almost 35 years ago. But, he can still cite the details as if it happened yesterday and not March 6, 1982.

Toothaker was 15, too young in those days for legal admission, but he slipped through the gates with a group of family and friends and was immediately encouraged to make his first bet, which, in this case, was the daily double. Ditching any formal handicapping techniques like speed figures, class ratings or trip notes, Toothaker said he was advised to simply bet his age, meaning the numbers were 1 and 5.

“The very first race, I can remember it to this day,” Toothaker said. “Larry Snyder was on a huge favorite and wound up pulling up in the race and Don Von Hemel won it with a horse named Rimrod. He was the 1 horse. The very next race, Larry Snyder comes right back after having bad luck in the first race and rides Goldie’s Son, the 5 horse, to win and it (daily double) paid $375. I’ve been ruined ever since.”

Toothaker will be returning to Oaklawn this weekend, not as a green handicapper, but still seeking another double of sorts. Toothaker is the stallion sales manager for Spendthrift Farm, Kentucky’s famed racing and breeding operation that will be represented by Jackie’s Warrior in Saturday’s $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds and Monomoy Girl in Sunday’s $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) for older fillies and mares.

Spendthrift owns the breeding rights to Jackie’s Warrior, a multiple Grade 1 winner for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. The stakes are much higher for Monomoy Girl, a Brad Cox trainee who will be making her first start since Spendthrift purchased the multiple Eclipse Award winner for an eye-popping $9.5 million in November at Fasig-Tipton’s Kentucky Fall Mixed Sale.

“It’ll be fun,” Toothaker said. “First start back. We’ll see. But the way she’s trained and everything Brad has said is she’s sitting on go. It will be exciting to get her back to the races.”

Toothaker, 54, grew up in Van Buren, Ark., about 130 miles northwest of Oaklawn. After entering the game in 1986 walking hots for trainer Joe Cantey, Toothaker gradually climbed the industry ladder. He eventually owned a small breeding farm near Van Buren, migrated to Kentucky in 2004 to work for prominent breeder Allen Poindexter and has worked for Spendthrift since 2011.

Founded by B. Wayne Hughes, Spendthrift has campaigned, among others, four-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder and 2020 Horse of the Year Authentic solely or in partnership. Its breeding side features approximately 20 stallions, including Authentic, and 100 broodmares. One of those broodmares is Beholder, whose gaudy resume includes Eclipse Awards in 2012 (champion 2-year-old filly), 2013 (3-year-old filly), 2015 (older dirt female) and 2016 (older dirt female), 18 victories from 26 lifetime starts and earnings of $6,156,600. She won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) in 2013 and 2016, the latter as a 6-year-old.

Monomoy Girl, who will join Spendthrift’s broodmare band upon retirement, has similar credentials. She was an Eclipse Award winner in 2018 (3-year-old filly) and 2020 (older dirt female), cementing championships in both years with victories in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). Monomoy Girl is 13 of 15 overall and has lifetime earnings of $4,426,818. Spendthrift opted to keep Monomoy Girl in training with Cox after securing her for a price just short of the $10 million brought by Havre de Grace, a reported North American record for a broodmare sold at public auction, during the same sale in 2012.

“Eric did all the bidding,” Toothaker said, referring to Spendthrift owner Eric Gustavson. “We were just right there cheerleading with him as he was bidding. My heart was racing 90 miles an hour, hoping that we could get her because she’s just a treasure. She’s just one of those priceless fillies that you just dream about having a chance to be involved with.”

Monomoy Girl will be making her first start since a 1 ¾-length victory in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland. Spendthrift purchased the now-6-year-old daughter of Tapizar the following day.

“I just think Mr. Hughes, since everything was good with her and that she was sound and everything, he wanted to be able to bring her back to the races,” Toothaker said. “We had so much fun with Beholder, her 6-year-old year, and just felt like we wanted to try to recapture that moment. See if we couldn’t repeat history and do what Beholder did – put her out on top as a Breeders’ Cup champion, back to back. It would be just amazing.”

The 1 1/16-mile Bayakoa is a major local prep for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 17, which is Monomoy Girl’s major spring objective, Cox said.

“When I first saw that, the Bayakoa and the Apple Blossom, I was just thrilled to death,” Toothaker said. “I’m always rooting for everybody to make your path through Oaklawn, for sure.”