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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Unbeaten Essential Quality continued his mastery of Keeneland and established himself as a Kentucky Derby favorite, outdueling Highly Motivated in the stretch to win the $800,000 Blue Grass by a neck on Saturday at Keeneland.

The gray 2-year-old colt arrived with 40 Derby points at the historic track where he won graded stakes last fall, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Starting from the No. 4 post as the Grade 2 feature’s 1-2 favorite, Essential Quality stalked Highly Motivated on the outside ahead of the nine-horse field and ran side by side through the stretch before inching past just ahead of the wire to earn 100 points toward the 147th Derby on May 1 at Churchill Downs.

“He was going to get a good test today,” trainer and Louisville native Brad Cox said after his colt improved to 5-0 lifetime and 2-0 this year. “I was proud of what he was able to overcome.”

Ridden by Luis Saez, Essential Quality covered 1 1/8 mile in 1:48.50 and paid $3, $2.20 and $2.10.

Highly Motivated paid $3.40 and $2.80 for second and earned 40 points, while Rombauer paid $5.40 and got 20 points.

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