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The following article appeared earlier this week in Paulick Report.

The long and winding road leads to “quality” for Ned Evans of Spring Hill Farm in Virginia.

One of the premier owner-breeders in America, Evans bred and races Woodward Stakes and Metropolitan Handicap winner Quality Road, who will be one of the favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Unbeaten this year, except for a narrow defeat to Blame in the Whitney Stakes last month, Quality Road is a big, grand-looking colt. He has always been a nice animal, and Chris Baker, who manages Spring Hill Farm for Evans, said that “Quality Road was remarkable in that everything he did was unremarkable. That’s a good thing. He never had illness or issues or any trouble to make you take note.”

A big colt with a very good family (five-cross pedigree), Quality Road would seem a natural prospect for the top end of the commercial market, but Baker said that didn’t work out. At the time of the Keeneland September sale, the colt was growing, rather than maturing, and he went unsold at $110,000.

Baker said, “As a yearling going into the sale, he wasn’t at his best, being a sort of old-fashioned type of horse, long and leggy, and we didn’t send him to Aiken [to be put into training] till December because he was a leggy, immature colt. Inasmuch as he was an impressive colt, he wasn’t one who had the most commercial appeal as a yearling.”

Neither Evans nor Baker thought any less of Quality Road for not being spot on when the sale came round. They knew the back story.

The colt had always been big. As a foal, Baker said, “Quality Road was born March 23, 2006, weighed 143 pounds, and stood 42.6 inches tall at the withers. When we weighed him the last time at the farm on November 29, 2007, before shipping him to Aiken, he was 1,240 pounds and stood 66.9 inches at the withers.”

That is a thumping big colt.

And he takes no prisoners. Quality Road is uncommonly big and strong, with a competitive spirit to match. Those excellent qualities led him into a much-publicized scrap with the gate crew at Santa Anita before last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic that resulted in Quality Road being scratched.

That televised image is the most common memory of the colt for many people. Yet Baker said that Quality Road “was never tough, just a playful colt. He was never difficult because everything was so easy for him.”

In the aftermath of that showdown at Santa Anita, trainer Todd Pletcher and the team around Quality Road went into action to restore the colt’s peace of mind and composure at the gate. It has worked brilliantly. Baker said the remarkable thing is “how traumatic that was and how much Quality Road has done to come back and load efficiently and quietly and stand well, even when Haynesfield was having a panic attack in the gate before the Whitney. I don’t think many horses would have overcome that event as well as this horse has, and I believe it speaks volumes for the horse’s mind and natural athleticism.”

Quality Road has not put a foot wrong this year and, with every start, has elevated both his standing as a premier member of the colts in the 4-year-old and up division and as a stallion prospect of a very high order.

His size, good conformation, and speed are major recommendations to breeders. And Quality Road is one of the very best racers by his sire Elusive Quality, a freakishly fast son of Gone West. This is the excellent male line of Native Dancer through Raise a Native and Mr. Prospector, and if anything, Quality Road’s female family is even better.

His dam is the Strawberry Road mare Kobla. She is a full sister to Ajina, champion 3-year-old filly of 1997 and winner of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, CCA Oaks, and Mother Goose.

Their dam is graded stakes winner Winglet (by Alydar). She is a Grade 2 stakes winner bred and raced by Allen Paulson, who also bred and raced both Ajina and Kobla.

Kobla was among the fine stock that the Paulson estate sold at the 1999 Keeneland November sale, where Evans purchased the mare, in foal to Mt. Livermore, for $1,050,000.

Although Kobla has been a “hard-luck mare,” among the Spring Hill broodmares, she caught the brass ring by producing Quality Road. The mare also has a 2-year-old half-sister to Quality Road by Tale of the Cat named Kobla Cat and has a weanling full brother “who is a striking physical,” Baker said.

Kobla was bred to Elusive Quality this year but is not in foal. Despite that disappointment, I believe that Spring Hill will send the mare to Elusive Quality again because it is a road worth taking.

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