Brad Cox Reflects on Banner 2020 Season, Targets Triple Crown Races

The Life
Brad Cox in the winner’s circle after Essential Quality won the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance in November 2020 at Keeneland Race Course. (Eclipse Sportswire)

One Lucky Storm precipitated a new era. On Dec. 4, 2004, the 8-1 longshot became trainer Brad Cox’s first winner after going out on his own.

Since then, the storm that is Cox has grown and swept through the highest levels of the industry, winning seven Breeders’ Cup races and the 2018 and 2020 Longines Kentucky Oaks. In 2020, he ranked second in earnings among all north American trainers with $18.9 million.

On Jan. 28, Cox, 40, won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding trainer, beating Hall of Famers Bob Baffert and Steve Asmussen.

Cox was down to two horses in 2011, but he rebuilt with the goal of adding one horse per week. Cox’s career gained serious momentum in 2018, when Monomoy Girl gave him his first Grade 1 win. Four weeks later, she took him to the Kentucky Oaks winner’s circle (he won this race again with 15-1 longshot Shedaresthedevil in 2020). Today, the two-time champion has 13 wins and two seconds from her 15 starts, including the 2018 and 2020 editions of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Her 2021 debut is scheduled to come in the Bayakoa Stakes later this month.

The same day Monomoy Girl took her second Distaff, Knicks Go won the 2020 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Their victories were two of Cox’s four during World Championships weekend, which tied Hall of Famer Richard Mandella’s 2003 record. Knicks Go followed with a decisive win in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes on Jan. 23. The gray or roan 5-year-old is in Saudi Arabia preparing for Saturday’s $20 million Saudi Cup, the richest race in the world. He is Cox’s first starter to run overseas.  

Cox is poised to add another accomplishment to his resume: he probably will compete in his first Kentucky Derby in May. He has three strong candidates: Essential Quality, Mandaloun, and Caddo River.

“Our number one goal as a team is to win the Kentucky Derby. Ever since I decided to become a trainer that’s what we wanted to do. It’s the one race that we’re after,” Cox said. “I feel like we’ve got a strong hand this year, but things have to go the right way over the next few months. We’re very fortunate to be in the position we’re in with three very nice colts.”

Essential Quality is undefeated: He won his three starts as a 2-year-old, including a pair of Grade 1s, the most recent being the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. He is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in the Southwest Stakes, which has been postponed twice due to inclement weather.

On Feb. 13, Mandaloun captured the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, the first of 16 Kentucky Derby Championship Series races. Caddo River won the Smarty Jones by 10 ¼ lengths Jan. 22 at Oaklawn Park and is pointed toward the Rebel Stakes in March.

“We’re optimistic and feel very strong about all three horses not just being participants but factors in the race,” Cox said. “That’s our goal: to go into the race with a chance to win it and not just fill the starting gate. We’ll see how it plays out over the next few months.”

Cox grew up two blocks from Churchill Downs on Evelyn Avenue, and Louisville is still home. His father enjoyed the track.

“That was my introduction. He would go over, watch races, bet a little bit, and I’d tag along,” Cox said.

He told his father he wanted to be the next D. Wayne Lukas, a Hall of Fame trainer and four-time Eclipse Award winner.

When he was 11, he started going to the backside with friends whose parents were involved in racing. Cox was mesmerized by the sport and the horses themselves.

“I knew I wanted to try to make a living doing something in this business. Way before I was actually able to get a license, I was working on the back side after school,” Cox said. “I was getting paid to do it, but I would have paid somebody to do it. That’s how much I loved it.”

After he graduated from high school, he went to work full time for trainer Jimmy Baker. Cox spent the winter with him at Gulfstream as a groom.

Cox after first Grade 1 win with Monomoy Girl. (Eclipse Sportswire)

“It was really good for me because Jimmy had enough horses, and I was able to do other things besides just groom. He gave me some responsibility. He let me saddle some horses. It was a great education for me.”

He later earned a job as an assistant to Dallas Stewart, who had been an assistant to Lukas.

Cox credits his father, mother, and older brother for launching his own stable. He met his wife, racetrack veterinarian Livia Frazar, at Oaklawn. They are the parents of 5-year-old Brodie. Cox’s older sons — Bryson, 22, and Blake, 20 — are part of his operation.

“My family as a whole has played a huge role in allowing me to accomplish what we’ve been able to. My wife obviously played a major role in getting this thing rolling,” Cox said. “Now, it’s cool just watching the boys. I’ve never pushed it on them. They really do enjoy it. They’re very good horsemen, very good around the barn. I send them off on trips all the time with horses traveling for stakes. Blake is in Saudi Arabia now with Knicks Go. They do a fantastic job. They play a big role and are a big part of the team for sure.”

His driven nature is accompanied by an easy laugh, and he is quick to recognize his team, using the pronouns like “we” and “our” instead of “I.”

On Cox’s first day back at Oaklawn after winning the Eclipse, Lukas congratulated him. The moment meant a lot to Cox and marked the progress he’s made toward accomplishing his childhood dreams. He hopes to realize another one on the first Saturday in May.

Get to know Brad Cox

Favorite all-time racehorse: Ghostzapper was the best horse I’ve ever watched race. As a kid, I was a big fan of Lure. He was a very good miler on the turf. I liked Sunday Silence, too. The Sunday Silence-Easy Goer battles were amazing.

Favorite horse currently competing: Monomoy Girl. She means a lot to me. She’s been so consistent for such a long time. She’s an amazing athlete.

Other favorite horses I’ve trained: Essential Quality because we identified him early on and for what he was able to accomplish as a 2-year-old. It’s the stuff you dream about. He’s a very good horse. Covfefe was probably the fastest horse with just raw speed. She was so rapid. Over the last five or six years, there’s been so many horses that have meant a lot to us. It is a long list. But those are some that come to mind.

Accomplishment I am most proud of: Monomoy Girl being able to win the [2020] La Troienne after being off [due to a case of colic and a pulled muscle]. For her to come back and be able to win a Grade 1 is one of the things I’m most proud of that we’ve accomplished in training for 15 years.

Other favorite moments as a trainer: Monomoy Girl winning the Kentucky Oaks, Shedaresthedevil winning the Kentucky Oaks. That was very exciting because we had a lot of confidence in her, but she wasn’t one of the favorites. So that was an amazing race and moment. All of the Breeders’ Cup wins we’ve had.

My typical day: I try to get to the barn around 5 a.m. Until 8:30 or so, I’m at the track watching horses train. It gives me an opportunity to really go through my charts in between sets and focus on each individual need for each horse. Once training is over, I’m doing charts with my assistants. Then phone calls and entries make for a full day. I’m on the phone a lot. It’s no secret. I do spend a lot of time on the phone.

Hobbies away from racing: When the days are long in the summertime, I’ll play golf. I do like to play, but I don’t play much. I don’t really have a lot of time to wind down. This is more than a full-time job — and I enjoy it, don’t get me wrong. Everyone likes to take a couple hours to hit the reset button, but overall, I don’t really look to get away from it. I pretty much have my hand on the pulse all the time trying to keep things rolling at several different tracks.

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My first date with Livia: We went to eat Mexican food at La Hacienda in Hot Springs.

Favorite vacation spots: We try to take a couple trips a year. We mix it up. We got to the beach in Florida. This winter, we took a trip to Colorado. We take short weekend trips to Texas to visit Livia’s family who live northwest of San Antonio. Vacations were a little limited last year with the COVID.

Family pet: We have a dog named Allie. She’s an Australian Shepherd-Border Collie mix, and she’s got some age on her. We’ve got a cat, too.

My top three favorite racetracks in order: Churchill Downs, Keeneland Race Course, and Santa Anita Park

Best racetrack food: Arlington Park

Best item there: All of them. Arlington Park’s Million Room Restaurant is the best.

If I wasn’t in my current job, I would be a: Can it be horse related? I always said if I didn’t train, I would like to be in bloodstock trying to buy horses and working the sales.

Other sports/teams I follow: Kentucky basketball and Kentucky football. I don’t really have an NFL team, but I do watch the NFL. I like college football. I like several teams in the SEC. I root for the teams in the conference when they are playing teams outside of the conference.

Favorite TV shows: TVG. I watch a lot of TVG. I love horse racing. And then college football and basketball.

How I celebrated my 40th birthday: I didn’t really because COVID hit. There was nothing open or anything to do. I think my wife secretly had a trip planned but it was canceled because of COVID.

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