In a career that has skyrocketed in recent years, Brad Cox last year won his first Breeders' Cup race in the Longines Distaff with Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl, who that spring gave the trainer his first Grade 1 victory in Keeneland's Ashland Stakes.
Cox had four Breeders' Cup horses last year, his other three finishing fourth or fifth in the world's championship races. Though Monomoy Girl has not raced this year after a sequence of setbacks, Cox returns to the Breeders' Cup with five anticipated starters, including Grade 1 winners Covfefe (likely favorite in the $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint), Arklow ($4 million Longines Turf) and British Idiom ($2 million Juvenile Fillies). He also is sending out triple Grade 3 winner Owendale in the $6 million Classic and Andesite in the $1 million Juvenile Turf.
“Last year we had four horses in the Breeders' Cup and I had to pinch myself Breeders' Cup Week, thinking, 'This is amazing to have four horses,' and all of them were live,” Cox said. “All the horses ran extremely well last year. I thought to have four in there, when will this happen again? Then to come back with five, it's very exciting. I'm very proud of what this team has accomplished. Once again, I think we're running five horses who really all have shots to be big factors in the races.”
Here's a look at the Cox quintet:
Covfefe has been brilliant this year, winning four of five starts, including defeating Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress in Saratoga's Grade 1 Test in valiant efforts by both 3-year-old fillies. She got an ideal tune-up for the Filly & Mare Sprint in cruising to victory in Churchill Downs' seven-furlong Dogwood by eight lengths over Belle's the One, winner of Saturday's Grade 2 Raven Run at Keeneland, while just missing the track record under a hand ride.
“She's shown an ability to rate over the last two or three races, which I think will help her to get the seven-eighths,” Cox said. “I think the post will play a little role in where we lay in the race.”
British Idiom shipped from Churchill Downs to win a Saratoga maiden race, then in her second start won Keeneland's Grade 1 Darley Alcibiades by 6 1/2 lengths over Perfect Alibi, who was coming in off victories in Saratoga's Grade 1 Spinaway and Grade 2 Adirondack.
Arklow, who has run well against top competition for three seasons, earned a breakthrough victory in taking Belmont Park's Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic the day after the Alcibiades. In his half-length victory over Channel Maker, Arklow turned the tables after narrow losses this year not only on to the Joe Hirsch runner-up but also Channel Cat and Zulu Alpha. The latter horse upended Arklow in Kentucky Downs' $1 million Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup, a race Arklow won in 2018.
Donegal Racing's Arklow was fourth in last year's Breeders' Cup Turf but won't have to contend with European sensation and 2018 Turf winner Enable this year. While the 1 1/2-mile grass horses in America have taken turns beating each other this year, the one to beat will be Bricks and Mortar, who is 5 for 5 this year to stamp himself as a leading Horse of the Year contender but who has never raced farther than 1 1/4 miles.
Cox was thrilled with Arklow's workout early Saturday morning, when he worked in 47 4/5 seconds.
“He breezed amazing,” the trainer said. “He's kind of an in and out horse breezing on the dirt. His work before the Joe Hirsch was just an average breeze, but he worked extremely well (Saturday) morning, galloped out huge. Huge move from him and doing it the right way. He's really thriving right now. I think this horse will be a big player in the Turf.
“I don't feel like there is an Enable in the Turf this year. She was a standout last year. I'm very optimistic this horse will run a big race. If Bricks and Mortar can get a mile and a half, he's definitely the horse to beat and the favorite. He's accomplished so much and in the running for Horse of the Year, and should be. I hope he goes in the Mile. One less to challenge us.”
Rupp Racing's Owendale jumps back into competition against not only the top 3-year-olds but older horses in the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic. Owendale is unbeaten in Grade 3 races, sweeping Keeneland's Stonestreet Lexington, Thistledown's Ohio Derby and Remington Park's Oklahoma Derby. In his prior Grade1 starts, he was a good third in the Preakness Stakes and fifth of 12 in the Travers Stakes after looking like he had a shot to win in midstretch under Florent Geroux.
“Down on the inside didn't seem like the place to be many days this summer at Saratoga,” Cox said. “I mean, he wasn't glued to the fence, but it did seem like the farther out the better, and the winner (Classic contender Code of Honor) came down the middle of the track that day. Florent kind of had to get after him at the three-eighths pole, the five-sixteenths pole and I thought, 'He's backing out of it.' Then he kind of stayed on. I think with a good trip, this horse can get a mile and a quarter.”
The $1 million Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile will be held around two turns at Santa Anita, which could have been an option for Owendale. But if you're going bear hunting, might as well go for the biggest bear.
“Yeah, and, well, the difference between the Dirt Mile and the Classic is $5 million,” Cox said, adding of a big effort, “It would do a lot for him as far as becoming a stallion, going a mile and a quarter and being by (hot stallion) Into Mischief.
“The Preakness, I think if he gets an inside trip or could have saved a little more ground, the way the race unfolded, I think he could have been right there with War of Will. This horse kind of reminds me of Monomoy Girl last year. These horses have been in training all year, and you keep thinking, 'When are they going to take that step back and ask for that break?' He's not done that. He just keeps moving forward and getting better, just like she did last year. He's a very tough horse, solid and sound, gives it to you every week when you ask him to breeze and shows up on race day.”
Owendale figures to be something of a price, odds-wise, in the Classic, but Cox says he's not just taking a flier and believes the colt has the ability to win the race.
“Absolutely,” he said. “There's no doubt. This horse gets good (handicapping) numbers. If he gets the trip, he'll be there, there's no doubt in my mind. If he's doing as well two weeks from now as he is today, he'll be a factor in the race.”
Cox is holding the mount on Owendale for Florent Geroux, who fractured his sternum in a training mishap at Keeneland. Geroux is hoping to be back in time to ride the race.
“We've got some replacements in mind if we need to cross that bridge,” Cox said.
Owendale started his career out last year at Ellis Park, with a third and a fourth. The current 3-year-olds already include five Grade 1 winners who ran at Ellis Park at age 2.
Andesite, an Indiana Grand maiden winner, was third in Saratoga's Grade 3 With Anticipation and second by a head in Belmont's Grade 3 Pilgrim as he heads into the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
“He's a little bit immature,” Cox said. “He kind of looks around at things. But he ran well in the Pilgrim. If he straightened up, he could have maybe got there. But he's going to need to step up.”
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