Belmont Tune Ups Include Final Works from Cox Barn Trio

Angel of Empire put in the fastest five-furlong time of Brad Cox's three Belmont contenders Saturday at Churchill Downs Coady


With one week out until the GI Belmont S., a trio of Brad Cox trainees put in their final works ahead of the last leg of the Triple Crown on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

Angel of Empire (Classic Empire), Hit Show (Candy Ride {Arg}) and Tapit Shoes (Tapit) each put in five-furlong works while a handful of additional Cox stable stars completed their final tune-ups in preparation for bids in a jam-packed Belmont undercard. The Churchill Downs-based Cox contingent is set to head to Belmont Park on Monday.

Angel of Empire, who finished third in the GI Kentucky Derby, completed the fastest work of Cox's Belmont contenders, stopping the clock in 59.80 seconds.

The winner of the GII Risen Star S. and GI Arkansas Derby for Albaugh Family Stables, Angel of Empire put in a closing bid in the Kentucky Derby to angle wide from the back of the pack and get up for third.

“I think he has more to show,” Cox said. “We always thought he would get better with the more he does based off pedigree and his physical, and he has. His numbers in the Kentucky Derby went forward and he's had five weeks to recover from that number. From a physical standpoint, he seems to be continuing to develop and I love what we've seen from him in his works.”

The Pennsylvania-bred colt's three post-Derby works have led Cox to believe that Angel of Empire will relish the Belmont distance.

“He always gallops out well,” Cox explained. “Probably the best part of his works is that around the second turn, he just continues to want to gallop out up the backside. We're excited about giving him the opportunity to go that far.”

Based on how the Belmont field is shaping up, Cox said he is hopeful that Angel of Empire can sit a bit more forwardly placed this time around.

“I think everyone is going to be a little bit closer to the pace. We're probably not going to see 45 and change in the Belmont. If we do, I don't know who's going to do that. I think naturally, he will probably be a little bit more forwardly placed than he was in the Kentucky Derby.”

Not far behind Angel of Empire in the Kentucky Derby was fellow Cox trainee Hit Show. After breaking from the one post, the gray sat a few horses off the pace along the rail and then looked poised for success when he circled wide around the far turn, but the May 9 foal was unable to fend off the likes of Mage (Gun Runner) and was urged on by Manny France to stay up for fifth.

A homebred for Gary and Mary West, Hit Show earned his Derby points at Aqueduct, winning the GIII Withers S. by five and a half lengths and then finishing second in the GII Wood Memorial S.

Cox said that the colt's affinity for New York could serve him well on Belmont day.

“He's had some success at Aqueduct, and with NYRA tracks, they seem to be just a little bit deeper and sandier. He was capable of getting through at Aqueduct, so we're hopeful that he can get through the Belmont track. We thought he ran a really good race in the Kentucky Derby and we're excited about him going a mile and a half. Manny Franco came back and mentioned the Belmont right away, so he could be a horse that can move forward in the Belmont.”

On Saturday morning, Hit Show covered five furlongs in 1:01.60.

The last of Cox's Belmont-bound colts, Tapit Shoes, has put in four works at Churchill Downs since running second to GI Preakness fourth-place finisher Red Route One (Gun Runner) in the Bath House Row S. at Oaklawn Park on April 22. In his work on Saturday, he stopped the clock at 1:00.60.

Owned in partnership by Spendthrift Farm, Steve Landers Racing, Martin Schwartz, Michael Dubb, Ten Strike Racing, Jim Bakke, Titletown Racing, Kueber Racing, Big Easy Racing, Winners Win and Michael Caruso, Tapit Shoes broke his maiden by seven and a half lengths at Fair Grounds last December. This year, he ran fourth and then third against allowance company before his second-place finish in the stakes at Oaklawn.

Cox said that colt's pedigree was a major consideration in sending the son of Tapit-who is the sire of four Belmont S. winners–to his graded stakes debut in the final leg of the Triple Crown.

“He's by Tapit, which obviously everyone knows that those horses perform well at a mile and a half on dirt…and he's a half to GISW Cyberknife (Gun Runner),” Cox said. “He seems to be getting better the more he does. He took a move forward  in the Bath House Row S. and he's had plenty of time to recover from that. I think he obviously has to take another move forward and I'm hoping that he will. He's a pretty consistent workhorse, steady, and always gallops out well. He gives us some confidence that he could like the mile and a half.”

In addition to Cox's Belmont contenders, champion Caravel (Mizzen Mast) will also make a Grade I bid in the Jaipur S. next weekend. Campaigned by Quatar Racing, Marc Detampel and Madaket Stables, the winner of last year's GI Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint was originally slated for  the G1 King's Stand at Royal Ascot, but her connections opted for the much shorter journey to Belmont for the six-furlong Jaipur, which is a Breeders' Cup challenge race and offers an automatic berth to the Turf Sprint.

“She had a big run at Belmont last year in the GIII Intercontinental S., so we're going to see if we can do it again this year only against the boys in a Grade I,” said Cox. “She's obviously capable of that, having won the Breeders' Cup, and she's really doing well right now. She physically looks amazing.”

Caravel breezed four furlongs on the Churchill Downs turf on May 24 and then went the same distance over the main track in :49.40 on Thursday.

“We opted to breeze on the dirt just with scheduling and shipping and everything,” Cox explained. “She's a good workhouse and had a good gallop out. We're happy with the way she looks and how she's moving.

Belmont Workers at Belmont, Gulfstream

Also on Saturday morning, Todd Pletcher's Belmont-bound pair of juvenile champion Forte (Violence) and GI Blue Grass S. victor Tapit Trice (Tapit) took to the main track at Belmont.


Repole Stable and St. Elis Stable's Forte put in a five furlong breeze under Irad Ortiz Jr. in :59.67, working in company with maiden winner Varatti (Into Mischief).

“I thought it was a super good breeze,” Pletcher said afterward. “He went 59 and 3 and it looked like he was doing it well within himself, good gallop out. He came back and cooled out quickly. It was exactly what we were hoping he would go out there and do and I think based off the strength of his breezes, he's coming into it as well as we hope.”

After he was scratched from the GI Kentucky Derby due to a bruised right front foot, Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list. According to HISA Rule 2241(a), in order to be removed from the list Forte had to work in front of a regulatory veterinarian–which he completed last week–and then produce a blood sample following that work. Pletcher said that Forte's blood sample came back negative.

Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the GI Kentucky Derby for Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable, worked a half-mile in :49.89 on Saturday, going in company with winner Classic Catch (Classic Empire).

“I thought he looked great,” Pletcher reported. “He's getting over the ground really well. He's a good-moving horse. We were looking to do a little less with him than we were with Forte, since he ran in the Derby and has had two breezes since then. It was more of a maintenance work for him and it seems like he continues to take to the main track here really well.”

Meanwhile at Gulfstream, Il Miracolo (Gun Runner) worked five furlongs in 1:00.88. Joining the Belmont field coming off an allowance optional claiming win on May 11, the colt is trained by Antonio Sano and campaigned by Alexandres, Inc.


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