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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By JENNIE REES — A year ago, Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Brad Cox’s hometown track of Churchill Downs to secure the 3-year-old filly title for the trainer’s first champion.

In a 22-hour span at Santa Anita Park, Cox locked up his second and third equine championships with 3-for-3 British Idiom wearing down tepid favorite Donna Veloce by a neck in Friday’s $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the 3-year-old Covfefe beating the 4-year-old Bellafina by three-quarters of a length in Saturday’s $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint.

“She deserves it,” Cox, 39, said Saturday morning at Santa Anita. He was speaking of British Idiom. The comments also would apply four hours later after Covfefe’s victory not only sewed up champion female sprinter but put Covfefe in the hunt for the 3-year-old filly championship in a season in which the fillies racing longer distances pretty much took turns beating each other.

“When they turned for home it crossed my mind, ‘OK, here we go, championship honors on the line,’” Cox said of the Juvenile Fillies. “And she was able to get there. I’m very proud of her. Big effort, and she tried the whole way, fighting down the lane.”

Cox’s first full year of training was 2005, but his career has skyrocketed the past five years. Instead of achieving his then-goal of a $1 million season in 2014, his horses blew past that to almost $2.4 million. Also in 2014, Carve gave the trainer his first graded stakes in Prairie Meadows’ Grade 3 Cornhusker. From that lone graded stakes, the barn increased its haul to five in 2015, seven apiece in 2016 and 2017, then jumping to 20 last year. The Filly & Mare Sprint was Cox’s 14th graded triumph this year.

The Breeders’ Cup victories briefly put Cox into third place on the North American earning’s list at $15.4 million, though Todd Pletcher subsequently leapfrogged over him with Vino Rosso’s victory in the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. Cox’s 202 wins out of 789 starts through Saturday also rank fourth.

It was only 19 months ago when the 3-year-old filly Monomoy Girl gave Cox his first Grade 1 victory, that coming in Keeneland’s Ashland Stakes and followed by the Kentucky Oaks, Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks. Monomoy Girl won six of seven starts — being disqualified from first for interference in Parx Racing’s Grade 1 Cotillion in her lone defeat of 2018 — before capping her season in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

There are a lot of similarities between British Idiom and Monomoy Girl, starting with the fact that both fillies were picked out for purchase by blood-stock agent Liz Crow, a product of the Equine Industry Program in the University of Louisville’s College of Business. 

British Idiom was a $40,000 yearling purchase at Fasig-Tipton’s 2018 October sale for the partnership of Michael Dubb, Stuart Grant, Sol Kumin’s Madaket Stables and Bethlehem Stables. Monomoy Girl, who through a series of setbacks did not race this year, cost $100,000 at Keeneland’s 2016 September.

“It’s pretty much the same group, although Monomoy runs under Monomoy Stable as opposed to (Kumin’s) Madaket with British Idiom,” Cox said. “It’s a little different, but not much. Super similar as far as purchased by Liz Crow, though different sales. Both yearling purchases, both broken and pre-trained by Paul Sharp (in Ocala, Fla.). Came to Keeneland early in the spring and then advanced over to Ellis Park. Pretty much both of them got ready to run at Ellis Park. Obviously won broke her maiden at Indiana Grand (Monomoy Girl), one at Saratoga. 

“But two amazing fillies. Liz said I made a comment back in March when we were raising the group of yearlings at Paul Sharp’s, ‘That filly reminds me of Monomoy Girl.’ She told me that a couple weeks ago. I feel cool that I said that; I don’t really remember what made me make that comment. I think it was just she had a nice shoulder, had some length on her and she’s a chestnut, so same color.”

British Idiom, winner of Keeneland’s Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades, actually has done more at age 2 than Monomoy Girl, who also won her first three starts but including an allowance race and non-graded stakes before she finished second in Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Golden Rod.

“Monomoy had some trouble with the gate,” Cox said. “That’s one reason why we started her long on grass. She wasn’t that fast away from there. This filly has been a little more precocious than Monomoy in the mornings and stuff. We worked her with an older horse before we sent her to Saratoga, and she held her own. We felt pretty confident when we shipped British Idiom up there for that race, and it worked out really well. And she didn’t let us down.”

Monomoy Girl was followed by Grade 1 winners in Long On Value and Leofric last year, and Covfefe, British Idiom and Arklow this year.

Covfefe has been brilliant this year, winning five of six starts with a third in Churchill Downs’ Roxelana Stakes that came in her next start after obliterating Pimlico’s track record for six furlongs in taking the Grade 3 Miss Preakness Stakes by eight lengths in 1:07 3/5. Her next start after that defeat was victory over Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Test Stakes.

Cox grew up two blocks from Churchill Downs, the son of forklift operator and $2 bettor Jerry Cox, who in a 2014 interview recalled his son at age 10 or 12 telling him one day, “Old man, you’re looking at the next D. Wayne Lukas.” If Brad Cox recalls a slightly different version, where he simply said that he “wanted to be the next D. Wayne Lukas,” there is agreement that the younger Cox began sneaking into the grandstand at age 10 and fibbed about his age to get his first job walking horses at age 13.

The Iroquois High School graduate admits he doesn’t spend much time reflecting on how far he’s come and accomplished, which includes training titles at Churchill Downs (three), Ellis Park (two) and Keeneland (one) along with being the three-time defending meet leader at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

“I don’t, I really don’t,” Cox said Saturday morning. “It’s what’s the next hurdle in front of us. Horses to enter, looking for the next champion. We’re a very driven stable, and we’re looking to have quality horses. And doing that, you can’t rest. We were up at 1 o’clock this morning, loading horses to ship them home, British Idiom. You’ve got to continue to work. We’ve got a great crew in place. These are rewarding days, like yesterday. But back at it today.”

After Covfefe’s win, Cox said, “Someone told me a couple of weeks ago, ‘You’re not in the horse business. The horse business is in you.’ That’s very true.”

Said Jaime Roth, who with parents Larry and Nanci Roth campaigns Covfefe: “Brad, he’s humble. He’s not going to say anything, but he’s a star. I want to say he’s a star in the making, but he’s already made it.”

If the stable seems to have an abundance of top-class fillies, Cox said of looking to the future, “I felt like we had our best year buying colts out of September and October, the Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton sales. We’re looking forward to next year. We definitely purchased a lot of fillies again this year and a lot of colts. And a lot of expensive, nice well-bodied physical colts. Hopefully we have one for the Juvenile — colts and fillies, maybe turf and dirt next year. Hopefully we’ll have four; that’s the goal.”

A key cog in Cox’s crew is his son Blake, a recent Desales High School graduate. “He’s amazing,” said the proud dad. “He was here with me at 1:30 in the morning. People see him walking horses to paddock, schooling them and stuff. He spends a lot of time here (at the barn), puts in a lot of hours. He’s putting in a ton of time and is a hard worker. He’s got a big future in front of him.

“I want to turn the reins over to him one day,” he continued, adding with a laugh, “I hope he doesn’t take them from me. So we’ll see how things play out over the next four or five years.”

Videos with Kentucky-based Breeders’ Cup winners
British Idiom post-race winners’ interview
Filly & Mare Sprint winner Covfefe post-race interviews
Brad Cox Saturday morning
Mitole lays claim to title as fastest horse in the world
Blue Prize upsets Midnight Bisou in Breeders’ Cup Distaff
ICYMI: Reaction after Juvenile favorite Dennis’ Moment stumbles at start

Jennie Rees, for Kentucky HBPA, Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs, is an HRI contributor
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