Cox Hopes to Continue Remarkable Run in Pegasus
Jan 18, 2021
Trainer to Saddle Favored Knicks Go in $3 Million World Cup
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL
- Livia Frazar met Brad Cox in 2011 at Oaklawn Park when her future husband’s stable was down to two claiming horses. Today, Cox trains around 150 horses, including the winners of a record-tying four Breeders’ Cup races on the 2020 championship cards.
The 40-year-old Louisville, Ky., native is a leading contender to win the Eclipse Award as 2020’s outstanding trainer and has Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Knicks Go as the likely favorite in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 23.
Reflecting back a decade, Frazar says she wouldn’t have been surprised to know then where Cox is now.
“Because I knew he would keep going, no matter what,” said Frazar, a racetrack veterinarian based in Kentucky. “That even with the frustrations and the letdowns and stuff, we wouldn’t let anything stop us.”
Rob Radcliffe met Cox 30 years ago, the young boys both living a couple of blocks from Churchill Downs. Both families had connections to the world-famous track and racing: Rob’s dad, Bobby, was an exercise rider and Brad’s dad, Jerry, a $2 bettor. The kids would tag along with Bobby to the backstretch and then sneak over to the races.
“Even at a young age, that’s all he wanted to do was horses,” Radcliffe said. “He’d come over to my house and look at the win pictures for hours on end. That’s all he wanted to do - horses, horses, horses. When we were kids, we weren’t old enough to gamble. When they finally put those (self-bet) machines in where you could get a voucher, we thought that was heaven.
“But I always remember Brad more so handicapping after the fact. After the races had run, he’d take the Racing Form home - we’d pick them up out of the garbage - and go study it. It’s not a shock to me that he’s where he’s at. I know how hard it is as a trainer to make it; the odds of that happening are crazy. But he was determined, even when we were little kids. You knew he was going to train horses.”
The 1 1/8-mile Pegasus, whose purse would be the largest Cox has won to date, could kick off a potentially huge week for the trainer. The Eclipse Awards for North American racing’s champions will be announced in a virtual ceremony Jan. 28. No matter what happens for Eclipse trainer — Bob Baffert is the primary competition — Cox is virtually assured of doubling to his arsenal of equine champions with Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winner Monomoy Girl adding the older filly and mare title to her 3-year-old filly crown in 2018 and unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) victor Essential Quality as male 2-year-old champ. Cox’s other champions are 2019 Breeders’ Cup winners Covfefe (3-year-old filly, female sprinter) and British Idiom (2-year-old filly).
“He works as hard as any trainer I've been around,” Sol Kumin, a co-owner of Monomoy Girl, said at the Breeders’ Cup. “It's a family affair with him, with his two sons in the barn all the time. They're not doing much else, they're watching races, when they don't have horses running. They're thinking about it all the time. He's got a great team and a great staff in really every location. And he's not afraid to give you bad news. If you buy a horse that's not good, he'll tell you. Doesn't matter what you paid. He gives it to you straight and he tries to put them in good places.”
Cox had been training for a decade when he won his first graded stakes on June 28, 2014 with Carve in Prairie Meadows’ Cornhusker (G3). The ascent since then has been breathtaking, the past three years particularly stunning:
After winning 151 races in 2016, Cox’s horses have won more than 200 races every year. Through Sunday, the stable had won 1,481 races and more than $78 million in purses with a career win percentage of 25.
Since earning his first Grade 1 in Keeneland’s 2018 Ashland Stakes (G1) with Monomoy Girl, he now has won a total of 19. Monomoy Girl also provided Cox with his first victory in a $1 million race in the Kentucky Oaks (G1), his first of what now are seven Breeders’ Cup wins in the 2018 Distaff and his first champion. Knicks Go and Monomoy Girl on Nov. 7, along with Godolphin’s Essential Quality in the Juvenile and Aunt Pearl in the Juvenile Fillies (G1) Turf on Nov. 6, enabled Cox to match Richard Mandella’s record Breeders’ Cup quartet in 2003. The trainer in just three years is tied with Steve Asmussen for 10th all-time for Breeders’ Cup victories, ahead of Hall of Fame trainers such as Neil Drysdale and the late Bobby Frankel.
Cox’s horses earned a personal-best $18.98 million in purses for 2020, second only to Asmussen. His horses won a career-best 30 graded stakes, his seven Grade 1 races including his second Kentucky Oaks with Shedaresthedevil.
Things have been going so well that Monomoy Girl sold the day after the Breeders’ Cup at Fasig-Tipton for $9.5 million to Spendthrift Farm, which promptly sent her back to Cox to race at age 6.
“It’s been a good run,” Cox said in his understated way, adding with a laugh, “Honestly, when you look at it like Carve was 5 1/2 years ago, well, wow, it seems like many moons ago. Great horses, great staff, great clientele — that’s basically what it all comes down to. Just very fortunate and blessed to have good horses.”
The stable has gained horses for some of the world’s biggest owners, such as Godolphin and Juddmonte Farms, and prominent operations such as LNJ Foxwoods. The Korea Racing Authority sent him Knicks Go, a Grade 1 winner as a 2-year-old, after the colt’s 3-year-old season. But it certainly didn’t start out that way.
“I’ve never been one to go out and recruit or be a big ‘Let’s go to dinner’ and try to get in other people’s barns,” Cox said of attracting owners. “That’s not me. I just try to focus on the horses we have and try to develop them. I think the first seven individual graded-stakes winners we had were either horses who had run for a ‘tag’ or had been claimed. We had to develop them or improve them, whether it was surface change or something along the way that got them in good form. That’s how it really got kicked off, our ability to show we could win at the graded-stakes level. I think that’s when the larger outfits, people with homebreds with nice pedigrees, start calling you and you get horses out of the sale as well.”
Bloodstock agent Liz Crow, who works closely with Cox as the racing manager for many of her clients, met the trainer in 2014 when the Ten Strike Racing partnership wanted her to help select horses at the OBS March sale.
“They were going to send them to Brad Cox,” Crow recalled, “and I said, ‘Who’s Brad Cox?’ They said, ‘It’s a guy we met and we think he’s an up-and-coming trainer and he only has 15 horses right now. But when we talked to him, he was really smart.’ So I met him at the OBS sale and was immediately impressed with him. He just has this amazing memory and obvious passion for the game that was apparent the second I met him.”
Crow in turn brought clients such as Kumin and Stuart Grant into the Cox stable, leading to horses such as Monomoy Girl and Aunt Pearl.
“I think of Brad as a fast rise to fame, because I didn’t know him the first 10 years he trained,” Crow said. “I think his rise from 2014 to now is really impressive, how he’s become one of the best trainers in the country. To win four Breeders’ Cup races and to think only six years ago he had only 20 horses and hadn’t won a graded race and that Monomoy Girl was his first Grade 1 winner, it’s one of those amazing stories.
“What we were sending him at first were problem horses, who had issues here and there or needed extra attention. He was getting them to win races.”
Monomoy Girl was in the first crop of yearlings Crow purchased for Kumin “and Sol said, ‘Let’s send a couple of these to Brad,’” she said. “We wanted to send him something nice, almost reward Brad for doing all this work with horses who had issues.”
To Crow, one of Cox’s great attributes is his ability to train any kind of horse: turf, dirt, sprint, route, young, older.
“He’s obsessed with it, there’s no way around it,” she said. “This is all he thinks about, all he does. When we won the Oaks with Monomoy, he didn’t go out to dinner with us that night. He said he had horses to breeze in the morning, so he went home.”
Cox concedes he should make an effort to get away from business from time to time.
“It does cross my mind sometimes to ‘Hey, just shut it off and relax a little bit,’” Cox said. “The next thing you know, I’m on my iPad looking up a chart or a horse.”
Even when he’s in bed and has finally shut his eyes, the wheels apparently keep turning. “He talks about entering races and stuff in his sleep,” Frazar said. “It’s so hilarious. He’ll be like, ‘Oh, we entered that one in a Grade 3.’”
She says Cox is able to enjoy his successes, “but he doesn’t feel like ‘oh, I’m done.’ He always feels like, ‘OK, what are we going to do next?’”
Cox worked for trainers Burk Kessinger and Jimmy Baker before spending five years as an assistant to Dallas Stewart. He didn’t have a big owner jump-starting his career when opening his own stable 16 years ago. Twice Cox had to rebuild after parting ways with Midwest Thoroughbreds, the second time particularly proving a blessing in disguise.
He resolved to add a horse a week, with much of the expansion through the claim box. Less than two years later, in 2014, Cox’s public stable had ballooned to more than 40 horses. He now has one of the largest stables in the country, spread among five tracks.
Cox no longer claims horses; he doesn’t have the time or really the space. His stalls are well-populated at Gulfstream Park’s Palm Meadows training center, where he has 22 horses for the first time, along with horses at Fair Grounds, Oaklawn Park, Turfway and a winterized barn at Keeneland. Assistant trainers Jorje Abrego, Cathy Riccio, Ricky Gianni, Tessa Bisha and Dustin Dugas have been with him for at least several years each, and he developed two more assistants/barn foremen in his sons from his first marriage, Blake and Bryce. (Frazar and Cox also have a young son, Brodie.)
Cox is open about his major goals of winning the Kentucky Derby and trainer Eclipse Award and being voted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Two of those ambitions could happen this year; he’d be eligible for the Hall of Fame starting in 2029 after training for 25 years.
Jockey Florent Geroux, who rides Monomoy Girl and Aunt Pearl, is betting on Cox.
“I know what he’s capable of doing,” he said after the Breeders’ Cup. “I know his dedication and his staff. It’s a team effort. And when you have that team effort and some luck, you do very big things. You just have to be lucky and have the right horses. But now, after this Breeders’ Cup, who knows what kind of horses he’s going to have in his stable next year?”
Story: Jennie Rees