Trainer Brad Cox last year finished second in the Ellis Park training standings but won a meet-high three stakes. This year Cox has a clear lead in trainer victories while also trying to win three stakes in one day.
Cox, whose first training title came at Ellis Park in 2015, has the solid favorite in three of the four $100,000 turf stakes comprising the track's inaugural Kentucky Downs Preview Day: Churchill Downs' Grade 2 Wise Dan winner Mr. Misunderstood being even-money in the Preview Tourist Mile, Grade 3 Churchill Downs Turf Sprint victor Will Call 8-5 in the Preview Turf Sprint and Arklow 9-5 in the Preview Calumet Farm Turf Cup. He does not have a runner in the Preview Ladies Turf.
The Ellis stakes are funded by purse and Kentucky-bred supplement funds transferred from Kentucky Downs in an arrangement with the Kentucky division of the Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association, which represents owners and trainers at the commonwealth's five racetracks. They are positioned as steppingstones to lucrative stakes at Kentucky Downs, the five-date all-grass meet in early September that offers the highest average daily purses in North America.
With Mr. Misunderstood, the Ellis race is indeed a means to the Kentucky Downs destination.
“Brad and I talked and decided our best goal for the year should be the Tourist Mile instead of the Breeders' Cup,” said owner Staton Flurry, referring to a $750,000 stakes on Kentucky Downs' Sept. 1 opening card. “There are some really stout horses right now going a mile. We feel like they'll be going to the Fourstardave at Saratoga and the Woodbine Mile. We said, 'Let's see how many we can avoid and go to the Tourist Mile.' This being so close to Churchill, we said, 'Let's just give this one a shot and use this as a prep race.'
“Brad and I set our goals realistically, and it seems to be working out so far.”
Mr. Misunderstood's 10-for-17 record reflects a well-managed horse. The big transformation with horse came after he was gelded during his 2-year-old season and put on turf. He won eight straight turf races, headlined by Churchill's Grade 3 Commonwealth last fall. The gelding hit a three-race sequence when he was second in the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap, fourth in the Grade 2 Muniz Memorial and sixth in Keeneland's Grade 1 Maker's 46 Mile.
“Honestly, those three races I think were the best three races he's ever run,” Flurry said. “The first race this year, when he ran second to Synchrony, we were head and head turning for home and we just got beat by a better horse that day. And it was our first time facing older horses. He learned a lot that race. The following race, bad luck. We got set behind a wall of horses, or we would have been first or second that day. At Keeneland in the Grade 1, he misses the break, so we're already spotting the field three or four lengths and we pretty much get beat that.” Actually only 2 1/2 lengths.
“Everybody asked me going into the Wise Dan, 'Do you think you have any chance against (champion) World Approval?'” Flurry said. “I said, 'Man, if we get any little bit of luck …' He proved to us what we thought he was.”
Cox also entered the multiple stakes-winner Cowboy Culture in the Preview Tourist Mile.
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