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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, February 19, 202 – We don’t know exactly where Risen Star winner Angel of Empire ranks on Brad Cox’s 10-deep Kentucky Derby depth chart, but as of Saturday night he ranked number one on Churchill’s Downs’ with 54 qualifying points.

Angel of Empire won the 9-furlong Grade 2 event and, if past is prologue, he’s in the Derby starting gate assuming no hiccups. His manner of victory indicated that another furlong will pose no problem–deeper competition might, but it won’t be a waterless mile and a quarter that does him in.

The more fancied of Cox’s Risen Star horses were disappointing. Tapit’s Conquest had the benefit of a race over the track but did not benefit from a pedigree that’s a might short on the bottom side. He rallied past rivals deep in the turn, entered the stretch with wide momentum but emptied out late.

Favorite Victory Formation overcame the #13 post, took an attending position rather easily considering his draw and dynamics, but Flavien Prat was out of horse with three furlongs remaining, appearing woefully short of condition and without apparent excuse.

Two Phil’s did well to attain good position at mid-pack from his #10-draw, made what appeared a winning rally between horses at the turn, took command soon after straightening away but didn’t stay the tip, losing the place in the final strides from a rival that saved stretch ground.

While he wouldn’t commit to the Louisiana Derby, Cox likely will opt to return to NOLA for the 1-3/16 miles event while Instant Coffee is safely ensconced at Oaklawn Park. What is certain is that Cox has options, especially in a year when 19 horses have won the 21 preps contested to date.

Speaking of disappointments, consider the abject failure of the two favorites in the G2 Rachel Alexandra. That’s not to sell Pretty Mischievous short. It’s impossible to knock a filly that has compiled a career slate of (5) 4-0-1 competing in top company. And she should only improve.

But Chop Chop, and formerly undefeated Hoosier Philly, were not good at all. At least Hoosier Philly had an excuse, taking three successive bobble steps and was bumped out of the gate. That, and overly conservative handling combined with a glacial pace were too much to overcome on the day.

Other than breaking flat-footed and circling up wide thereafter, Chop Chop had no visible excuse. Like stablemate Victory Formation a race later, she was outrun at the turn and had no response when asked. Wonder Wheel, however tenuously, maintains her leading divisional lead at this juncture.


The day was far from a bust for Cox. He won two races back with no-longer maidens filly Berlazza and no longer maiden colt, Bishops Bay. Each proved much the best, especially the latter who was ridden with contemptuous ease by main stable rider Florent Geroux ,who also accompanied the filly, that he nearly lost the contest.

Bishops Bay, 1-2 on debut, stalked until ready and took command entering the stretch under a motionless Geroux. The tack appeared to be backfiring until the rider finally got busy leaving the furlong grounds, holding stablemate First Mission safe.

Only a good horse can go from a pull to a drive in the late stages, especially one lacking experience, and win. His potential appears boundless. Bishop Bay’s victory was a milestone for Cox, giving him career win 2,000 on the same day that the horse that made him famous, champion female Monomoy Girl, dropped her fist foal.

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