Strong Quality relishes wet track in Knicks Go Stakes win

LOUISVILLE, Ky – Not everybody was singing the blues after heavy rains left the racetrack a sea of slop at Churchill Downs for Oaks Day and still on the wet side during the early stages of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby program – certainly not the connections of Strong Quality, who took advantage of the off going to register a half-length decision over Kupuna in the $200,000 Knicks Go Stakes.

Strong Quality, whose previous three starts came on turf, was returning to the main track for the first time since finishing a strong third over a muddy surface in the Tinsel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in his 2023 finale. It also was his first local appearance since dominating a field of high-priced optional-claiming and allowance runners by 9 1/4 lengths during the fall.

With regular rider Florent Geroux back in the saddle, Strong Quality ran up inside Five Star General to take command after a swift 22.36-second opening quarter-mile split and then continued to set a rapid pace, completing a half-mile in 44.64. Strong Quality settled into the stretch with a clear lead and then dug in gamely in the face of a stern challenge from Kupuna to hold sway under vigorous handling by Geroux through the late stages.

Kupuna raced between horses in midpack in the run down the backstretch, angled about five wide commencing his bid exiting the turn, loomed boldly through the final furlong, but was not quite good enough while easily best of the others. Five Star General gradually weakened to finish third, another 4 3/4 lengths further back, with Best Actor checking home a non-threatening fifth as the 8-5 favorite.