Trainer Profile: Brad Cox

  By Joe Nevills       Between the first of April and the first of July, Brad Cox saw the kind of career progression most trainers spend a lifetime trying in vain to achieve.       April started with Cox picking up his first Grade 1 win after Monomoy Girl conquered the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. He finished the prestigious meet tied with Wesley Ward as the leading trainer by wins.       May saw the trainer and Monomoy Girl grab global headlines with a game victory in the Kentucky Oaks. In June, Cox found a new gear, adding another Grade 1 win with Monomoy Girl in the Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park, and another Grade 1 winner when Long On Value took the Highlander Stakes at Woodbine. Cox finished the month as the leading trainer of the Churchill Downs spring meet by earnings.       At age 38, with a stable of about 100 horses spread across four tracks, Cox has laid the groundwork to entrench himself among North America’s leading trainers for a long time to come. What will keep him there is his commitment to training like he’s still got 15 horses in his barn.       “We’re grinding every day,” Cox said. “We have a very good team assembled.”       Louisville upbringing       In the aftermath of Monomoy Girl’s Kentucky Oaks win, much was made of Cox’s local ties to Louisville, Kentucky. The story has become almost boilerplate when writing about the trainer at length: Cox grew up just two blocks from the Churchill Downs property, in a white house at 903 Evelyn Avenue in Louisville’s Wyandotte neighborhood. His father, Jerry Cox, a forklift driver at a local factory, took his son to the track as a child and the younger Cox caught the racing bug so severely, it became a career path.       The trainer admitted he does not often drive by to check on the house, just a stone’s throw off of Longfield Avenue, even though he is at the track nearly every day. His parents moved out a half-decade ago. Jerry died in 2016, and Mary resides in another part of town. However, the trainer’s reasons are less about sentiment and more about logistics.       “It’s kind of by Gate 10 [an entrance to the track’s parking lot] and I go in and out of Gate 5 [the backstretch entrance],” he said.       What makes Cox’s success somewhat unique is that he is not a generational horseman. His father was noted in many stories for his affinity toward betting on Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, but no one in the family had hands-on experience with horses to pass on to Brad. When he made his way on to the Churchill backstretch for the first time as a teenager, Cox started with a built-in handicap.       Cox made up for the lost time in spades by paying attention and being punctual. He hotwalked and worked as a groom for a handful of trainers on the Louisville backside, including Frank Brothers and William “Jinks” Fires. He relished the grunt work, slowly gaining the trust of his bosses and working his way up their ranks.       “It’s a tough business,” Cox said. “As far as coming to work every day, I enjoyed it. I had no problem getting up in the mornings. It wasn’t a job for me, and it’s still not a job for me. It’s something I love to do. I’ve always said getting up seven days a week is half the battle.”       Years later, Cox is now an equal to the trainers that gave him his start. Fires said he speaks with Cox regularly and considers him a friend.       “He’s gone on and become successful,” Fires said. “He pretty much did it himself. He had that work ethic to go on, and that’s what people do. When they want to, they go on, and he did it.”       After building his foundation in the hands-on element of horseracing, Cox went on to extended tenures with Jimmy Baker and Dallas Stewart. Working with the Stewart helped instill a sense of organization in him to balance the responsibilities of a larger stable, Cox said, both on the track and off.        Branching out       Cox ventured out on his own for the first time in November 2004, at age 25, finishing third in a Churchill Downs claiming race with One Lucky Storm. The filly came back to win her next start, and Cox’s second as a trainer, at Turfway Park.       The trainer saw healthy progress in the first decade under his own shedrow, saddling multiple stakes winner Tappin for Gold in his first full year on his own. Cox had proven himself to have an astute eye around the claim box as well, highlighted by the mare Temple Street.        “We claimed her for $15,000 and she was able to go through a couple conditions at Oaklawn Park,” Cox said. “She was second on Derby day in the [Grade 1] Humana Distaff. She was a filly that did a lot for us as a stable, and I think it made some people take notice. She never won a stake, but she was multiple graded stakes placed.”       Cox’s reputation was growing, but he still hadn’t surpassed the seven-figure earnings mark by the end of 2013, and he still had a relatively small stable. That changed the following year when he more than doubled his earnings, led by Carve, his first Graded stakes winner. The gelding took the Grade 3 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap and gave Cox his first Breeders’ Cup starter later that year, running sixth in the Dirt Mile at Santa Anita.       The trainer’s steady rise, followed by a breakthrough season, caught the attention of Marshall Gramm and Clay Sanders of Ten Strike Racing, who committed to buying some horses to run under Cox for 2015.        Working with the Ten Strike operation was the trainer’s first connection with racing manager Liz Crow, who has become one of the most crucial figures in Cox’s ascension into the national ranks. Within three years, Crow would sign the ticket for Monomoy Girl and she’d sell Long On Value to Cox, as agent for Ten Strike Racing, as part of her Elite Sales consignment. Today, she is tied to about 25 horses in the Cox barn for various clients.       In 2014, though, the two were making their first introductions at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. March sale of 2-year-olds in training. At the time, Cox had about 15 horses in his barn, but Crow was impressed with the depth of knowledge the trainer displayed, not only of his own runners, but Ten Strike’s.       “I knew he was going to be a very good trainer from the get-go because he was just 100 percent focused on the racing,” Crow said. “Really, what I’ve enjoyed about working with him is he’s so honest and he always tells it how it is. You always have an idea of exactly how your horses are doing. He doesn’t sugar-coat anything, and it helps us, as managers, effectively manage our horses and sell them at the right times.”       The partnership between Cox and Ten Strike Racing began with Allied Air Raid, a gelding who went on to become a Grade 2-placed stakes winner.        The trainer’s barn and earnings grew exponentially from 2014 on, to the point where he had runners stabled this spring at Churchill, Indiana Grand, and Belmont Park, with two-year-olds working at Keeneland. At other points of the year, his outfit can be found at Saratoga Race Course, Oaklawn Park, Fair Grounds, and Ellis Park.       “I remember when Allied Air Raid was one of the best horses in his barn, and now he wouldn’t even make the top 20,” Crow said.       It was there, when his operation expanded so quickly, that the organizational skills acquired from Stewart came to use.       “It was a little scary, I will admit,” Cox said. “Now we have branched into four different operations and it’s very smooth. It just has to do with having reliable help you could trust. I don’t think any of them are scared to tell me anything good or if something’s wrong. That’s what we need to know as trainers.       “They’ve all had experience in other top barns, so I feel like I’ve got an experienced staff,” he continued. “All my assistants at all my locations have worked for other top trainers throughout the country, so they bring a lot of organization and horsemanship to the barn.”       When a trainer has barns in different parts of the country, the challenge can arise of keeping horses “on-brand” to one’s standard regimen for their runners. Cox said he ensures this by visiting each location as frequently as he can and contacting assistants Jorje Abrego, Ricky Giannini, and Tessa Bisha daily to go over each horse’s performance and plans.       “All horses are different, but I think our program is somewhat geared toward having horses close to the lead,” Cox said. “We do train for speed. Not every horse takes to that program, but that’s probably the one thing we try to do is get speed out of them and have them forwardly placed and see how the races unfold. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”       Monomoy Girl       In 2016, Crow signed the ticket on a $100,000 Tapizar filly at the Keeneland September yearling sale that would eventually end up in the hands of owners Sol Kumin’s Monomoy Stables, LLC and Michael Dubb. She would later be named Monomoy Girl.       At the time, Cox’s resume continued on its upward trend, but he found himself hitting his head against another ceiling. His earnings were growing by seven figures each year, and he was starting to saddle Graded stakes winners with more regularity, but they were all in Grade 2 or 3 company. He had gotten close, but a Grade 1 score was still eluding the trainer.       Monomoy Girl did not look like the horse that would break the cycle when she first entered Cox’s barn after beginning her training with Florida-based Paul Sharp.        “She was very green,” Cox said. “She wasn’t forward at all. I remember working her with two other fillies at Keeneland when we first got her, and she was just very immature. She was good-sized, but she was a bit on the awkward side. Nobody sent a report saying, ‘Hey, this is a serious racehorse.’”       Monomoy Girl was dawdling out of the gate, so Cox and Crow agreed to find a two-turn race on the turf for her debut, allowing her time to figure herself out after a slow start. They found one at Indiana Grand in September of the filly’s juvenile season. From near the back of the pack, Monomoy Girl fanned out six-wide and looped the field to win by 3¾ lengths.       After another solid victory on the Churchill Downs turf, Monomoy Girl was put on the dirt for the Rags to Riches Stakes at Churchill, and she won by a front-running 6½ lengths. She hasn’t set a foot on the turf in competition since then.       The lone blemish on Monomoy Girl’s record to date came in her next start, the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill, where an erratic stretch drive cost her the win by a neck behind Road to Victory. In hindsight, that race is the only thing standing between Monomoy Girl and an undefeated record through her first eight starts.        As the unquestioned leader of her division, and one of the sport’s fastest-rising stars, an unbeaten streak could have put Monomoy Girl into the stratosphere of hype once occupied by the likes of champions Zenyatta and Songbird. The filly’s connections, which now includes The Elkstone Group and Bethlehem Stables LLC, do not seem to be concerned by missing out on that comparison.       “Brad and I have had this discussion before, and we agree on this,” Crow said “It has taken the pressure off because she lost that race. I think she learned a lot that day and we learned a lot about her. She was pretty green if you watch the stretch run, and she learned some good lessons that day. If anything, I think we feel like the pressure’s off, so we don’t have to worry about the undefeated streak every time she goes in the gate.”       This spring, Monomoy Girl checked two big boxes on Cox’s resume. First, she wired the field in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland to get the trainer over the Grade 1 hump and establish herself as the filly to beat in the Kentucky Oaks.        Monomoy Girl then lived up to that billing, winning the Oaks by a half-length over eventual Queen’s Plate winner Wonder Gadot. Cox also saddled sixth-place finisher Sassy Sienna.       Rarely do story arcs fulfil themselves in such a satisfying, complete fashion as that of Brad Cox – the kid with no background in horses who started on the Churchill Downs backstretch walking hots, then going on to lead a horse into the winner’s circle for one of the track’s, and the sport’s, biggest races. The rest of the world saw it, too. When he stepped down from the podium at the conclusion of the Oaks press conference, Cox had about 210 unanswered texts on his phone.       Cox had just won the biggest race of his life with the best horse he might ever have. Many horsemen, especially ones as relatively young as Cox, would take this as an edict to celebrate without restraint and roll in to the barn late the next day. Instead, the trainer had his mind on the next morning’s set.       “We had a full day,” Cox said. “Honestly, I was ready to go home and go to bed. I think we ran 10 horses that day. A lot of people asked me if I was nervous before the Oaks, and I told them I didn’t have time to be nervous, we were running so many horses.        “We had workers Derby morning, because the track was only open for two hours, so we had to get back there the next morning and bang out a bunch of workers,” he continued. “It was business, but it was an amazing accomplishment.”       Seeking out peace and quiet during his rare times away from the racetrack seems to be a main pastime for Cox. In the evenings, after the day’s races are through, Cox said he considers going home and having dinner with his family – with the phone on the charger in another room – to be his getaway time.        That can get harder to pull off when the eyes of the racing world are focused somewhere other than Churchill Downs.       “It’s tough with family, leaving in the winter,” Cox said. “I like all the tracks I race at, but the traveling probably the toughest part of all of it – getting on airplanes, driving south in the winter and driving to Saratoga in the summer, going to sales.        “I do talk on the phone a lot when I’m driving,” he continued. “That’s a good opportunity to catch up with clients, my wife, kids. I talk to my mother a lot, and my brother.”       In recent years, Cox’s sons Bryson and Blake have traveled with their father to meets away from Louisville, and they have become key cogs in the family’s training operation. Brad Cox did not have a set of generational footsteps to follow into life as a horseman, but he’s forged his own trail for his sons to absorb the from-the-cradle industry education he had to learn on the fly.       Of course, that education, for his sons or any aspiring horseman or horsewoman looking to learn under the trainer, comes with the expectation that the student will work like they have something to prove, the same way Cox did as a young man on the Churchill backside. As it was for him, admission is the only easy part of the process.        “‘See you tomorrow at 5 a.m.,’ that’s it,” he said, cracking a smile. “That’s what I tell them. And you don’t get a day off.”
By Joe Nevills

Between the first of April and the first of July, Brad Cox saw the kind of career progression most trainers spend a lifetime trying in vain to achieve.

April started with Cox picking up his first Grade 1 win after Monomoy Girl conquered the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. He finished the prestigious meet tied with Wesley Ward as the leading trainer by wins.

May saw the trainer and Monomoy Girl grab global headlines with a game victory in the Kentucky Oaks. In June, Cox found a new gear, adding another Grade 1 win with Monomoy Girl in the Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park, and another Grade 1 winner when Long On Value took the Highlander Stakes at Woodbine. Cox finished the month as the leading trainer of the Churchill Downs spring meet by earnings.

18_0630_BradCox_ww-3045.jpg

At age 38, with a stable of about 100 horses spread across four tracks, Cox has laid the groundwork to entrench himself among North America’s leading trainers for a long time to come. What will keep him there is his commitment to training like he’s still got 15 horses in his barn.

 

“We’re grinding every day,” Cox said. “We have a very good team assembled.”

Louisville upbringing

In the aftermath of Monomoy Girl’s Kentucky Oaks win, much was made of Cox’s local ties to Louisville, Kentucky. The story has become almost boilerplate when writing about the trainer at length: Cox grew up just two blocks from the Churchill Downs property, in a white house at 903 Evelyn Avenue in Louisville’s Wyandotte neighborhood. His father, Jerry Cox, a forklift driver at a local factory, took his son to the track as a child and the younger Cox caught the racing bug so severely, it became a career path.

The trainer admitted he does not often drive by to check on the house, just a stone’s throw off of Longfield Avenue, even though he is at the track nearly every day. His parents moved out a half-decade ago. Jerry died in 2016, and Mary resides in another part of town. However, the trainer’s reasons are less about sentiment and more about logistics.

“It’s kind of by Gate 10 (an entrance to the track’s parking lot]) and I go in and out of Gate 5 (the backstretch entrance),” he said.

What makes Cox’s success somewhat unique is that he is not a generational horseman. His father was noted in many stories for his affinity toward betting on Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, but no one in the family had hands-on experience with horses to pass on to Brad. When he made his way on to the Churchill backstretch for the first time as a teenager, Cox started with a built-in handicap.

Cox made up for the lost time in spades by paying attention and being punctual. He hotwalked and worked as a groom for a handful of trainers on the Louisville backside, including Frank Brothers and William “Jinks” Fires. He relished the grunt work, slowly gaining the trust of his bosses and working his way up their ranks.

“It’s a tough business,” Cox said. “As far as coming to work every day, I enjoyed it. I had no problem getting up in the mornings. It wasn’t a job for me, and it’s still not a job for me. It’s something I love to do. I’ve always said getting up seven days a week is half the battle.”

Years later, Cox is now an equal to the trainers that gave him his start. Fires said he speaks with Cox regularly and considers him a friend.

“He’s gone on and become successful,” Fires said. “He pretty much did it himself. He had that work ethic to go on, and that’s what people do. When they want to, they go on, and he did it.”

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