Brad Cox grew up two blocks from Churchill Downs. He began dreaming of training horses and running them at the iconic track whenever he visited there with his father.
Now, Cox is living proof that dreams can, and do, come true.
Four weeks after Monomoy Girl presented her young and ambitious trainer with his first Grade 1 victory in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, she delivered the greatest prize of all for 3-year-old fillies in outdueling Wonder Gadot to win the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks by a half-length against Wonder Gadot on Friday.
“I was probably 12, 13 years old when I decided I wanted to start training horses,” said Cox, 38. “And I have always been the type of person that, if I’m going to do something, I want to do it to the best of my ability and go to the top. And this is how you get to the top, winning races like this.”
Jockey Florent Geroux, born in Argentan, France, surely knew little of the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs when he was a boy growing up a continent away. But he shares Cox’s passion and drive. And together they represent a formidable team.
Geroux, best known as the regular rider when Gun Runner won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and developed into the Horse of the Year last season, continued to burnish his reputation. His adroit handling of Monomoy Girl helped make the difference in the 1 1/8-mile Oaks in front of a crowd of 113,510, fifth largest in Oaks day history.
Starting farthest outside in post-position 14, he quickly overcame that disadvantage to sit within easy striking distance of pacesetting Take Charge Paula, who took the strung-out field through an opening quarter of a mile in 23.48 seconds and half a mile in :47.70.
Geroux stepped on the accelerator with the daughter of Tapizar and she assumed the lead entering the final turn. Geroux looked to spurt free at the top of the stretch, but Wonder Gadot and John Velazquez were bearing down and hooked him. A ding-dong stretch duel ensued.
Although he was aware that Monomoy Girl typically does not respond well to aggressive handling, he rapped her once left-handed and she came out slightly, making contact for only an instant before Geroux immediately straightened her.
The brush was enough for Velezquez to claim foul.
“I was a head in front of him and, all of a sudden, she was off balance and he was a head in front of me and beat me,” Velazquez said. “I think there’s a legitimate excuse right there.”
The stewards took a hard look but ultimately agreed with NBCSN’s Randy Moss, who described the foul claim as being “as thin as a sheet of paper.”
Even Mark Casse, who trains Wonder Gadot, agreed that the winner was deserving. “The filly that won ran very game. There was contact and it made our filly switch her leads,” he noted. “But I think the stewards made the right call. To take a horse down in this type of race, it would have to be pretty significant. As much as I’d like to say I would like to have won, I understand the ruling.”
Monomoy Girl extended her perfection this season to 3-for-3 and won for the sixth time in seven career starts. The winner’s share of $564,200 hiked her lifetime earnings to $1,120,750 for the ownership group of Michael Dubb, Monomoy Stables, The Elkstone Group, and Bethlehem Stables.
Monomoy Girl, out of the Henny Hughes mare Drumette, returned $7.20, $4.60 and $3.60 in producing a final time of 1:49.13. Wonder Gadot, trained by Mark Casse, finished 3 ¾ lengths ahead of favored Midnight Bisou.
Cox learned a great deal while he served as an assistant to Dallas Stewart for almost five years. He began training on his own in 2005 and worked to make a name for himself by claiming inexpensive horses and striving to improve them.
Cox gave much of the credit for the Oaks triumph to Geroux, 31.
“That was the trip we were hoping for. Florent did a great job getting her out of the gate and getting her into position,” he said, adding, “She did look like she got a little hesitant at the quarter-pole and Florent said he had to stay on to her. She responded and finished strong down the lane.”
Monomoy Girl responded with a victory that will long be celebrated in the modest neighborhood that surrounds Churchill Downs while fans in France raise a glass to toast one of their own.