Photo: ABR Films
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.
CHICK HERE to learn more about Brad Cox through an excellent Q and A with Americas Best Racing!