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Essential Quality may yet race this winter

By Ron Flatter  (VSiN.com) 

Essential_Quality_Jessie_Oswald
Eclipse Award winner Essential Quality, shown in a November workout before the Breeders’ Cup, is still being aimed for this month’s twice-postponed Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. (Jessie Oswald/NTWAB video screen shot)

Las Vegas

This is a ’tweener week. There are no Kentucky Derby preps. The Grade 1 season for older horses does not start until the Big ’Cap at Santa Anita next month. And the only supposedly big race this weekend has a purse that may be the biggest mirage in the 541 million years since the formation of the Arabian Desert.

With nothing on the boil, then I will channel my inner Larry King – sans suspenders. What follows is a series of random thoughts that I shall brand with the name of my yet-to-be-launched second podcast series. It is the one featuring C-list celebrities, gourmet recipes and car repair tips. I call them “Ron Sequiturs.”

Delayed takeoff. Last year’s juvenile champion and would-be Kentucky Derby favorite Essential Quality already should have run his first race as a 3-year-old. It was supposed to be the Southwest Stakes on President’s Day. Then came snow. Then it was supposed to be the Southwest Stakes this weekend. Then came the forecast of more snow. Now it is supposed to be the Southwest Stakes next Saturday. Please, no more snow. Essential Quality is already ahead of the game when it comes to qualifying points for the Derby. Now it is a question of how trainer Brad Cox will remap the accelerated trip between Hot Springs and Louisville.

Don’t forget Monomoy Girl. I didn’t. I just needed a break between paragraphs. Cox trains her, too. The champion older female that Spendthrift Farm bought for $9.5 million last fall also had her season debut derailed by the Arkansas winter. She is still headed for the Bayakoa Stakes, which was pushed back to next Sunday. Three-time graded-stakes winner Finite could conceivably push her. Otherwise the race has paid workout written all over it.

Remind me to ask. If anyone told me, I forgot. If it is online, I cannot find it. How did Monomoy Girl get her name? Years ago I knew an actress who performed summer stock at the Monomoy Theatre on Cape Cod. She wouldn’t be … , would she?

Trainer futures. How about if one of the Nevada books hung this prop? Who will train the winner of the Kentucky Derby? Bob Baffert might open at even money, right? “We have thought about it,” William Hill’s Joe Asher said. “But it’s really just a derivative of the individual horses.” Paul Zilm at Circa Sports said the thought also crossed his mind, but there is a risk. “It’s a very correlated prop,” he said, adding that he would have to stay right on top of it if one trainer’s horse suddenly had his odds shortened. “My guess is maybe closer to mid-March we might throw some props up,” Zilm said. “Assuming I get approval.”

Fonner fever. Was it nearly a year ago when we had nowhere else to turn for sports of any kind but that little track in Grand Island, Neb.? Fonner Park is scheduled to open Friday. Yes, Friday. It has reverted to a weekend schedule after filling our betting void last year on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Fonner is back to being a little, local track, and that is just fine with the folks in Hall County. It is also precisely why it is on my racing bucket list – just behind Royal Ascot and any big race in Japan.

What about that other track? That would be Will Rogers Downs in Oklahoma, where the racing season opens March 22. And it will hold onto the Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday schedule that attracted so much attention last spring when we dived into the deep end of the pandemic.

Meaningful conversation. In observation of Black History Month, I am proud of the panel that came together on the Ron Flatter Racing Pod this week to discuss the desire to expand diversity in racing. The lineup of three racing executives, two historians and a trainer is at the foot of this column in what newspaper editors used to call the shirttail. In addition to their interaction of thoughts, criticisms and ideas, they shared enlightening experiences of last year’s Kentucky Derby juxtaposed with the Breonna Taylor protests. Here is hoping that there is some walk to go with our talk.

Black Jockey Lounge. The podcast panel heard about an enticing new restaurant and jazz club in downtown Louisville. The theme is the history of 19th century racing, especially the Black jockeys who dominated the sport. The vibe is high-end jazz. Located at 630 South Fourth Street just off West Chestnut, it is the first restaurant/bar that I plan to hit the next time I get to Kentucky. Message to owner Tawana Bain: I hope to be there early and stay late during Derby week.

Been through the desert. Knicks Go drew post 5 and Charlatan post 9 in the 14-horse field for Saturday’s Saudi Cup, allegedly worth $20 million if racing authorities there actually pay the $10 million winner’s share for the first time. My feelings about this dog of a pony show have been well chronicled. That is why, at least in this column, the race will not be.

Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. There is a growing awareness of the desire to bring more racial diversity to racing. How is the sport doing? In a special Black History Month panel on the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, the topic is discussed by Tonya Abeln of Churchill Downs Inc., Leon Nichols and Calvin Davis of the Project to Preserve African-American Turf History, trainer Graham Motion, Najja Thompson of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders and Aidan Butler of The Stronach Group. The RFRP is available for download and free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.

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