Brad Cox Has Risen to the Top, And He Wants More

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Brad Cox | Coady photo

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He's developing a likely champion in Monomoy Girl (Tapizar), is third in the nation in wins and sixth in earnings and won this year's training title at the Fair Grounds and finished second at Churchill. But Brad Cox isn't satisfied. There's driven and then there's Cox. He's obsessive, obsessive to the point where satisfaction is a foreign concept.

“I'm not content,” the trainer said. “I'm not content at all. I am happy with what we have accomplished as a team, but by no means am I content.”

If he would take a deep breath, step back and relax for moment–he won't–Cox might just realize how that statement is almost laughable. Just 38 and not far removed from being a claiming trainer who was down to three horses in 2012, his accomplishments over the last few years are remarkable. More than 650 winners since 2016, training titles at Ellis, Churchill and the Fair Grounds and, this year, four Grade I wins with Monomoy Girl. He now has over 100 horses and has recently attracted owners like Juddmonte Farm, Calumet, Don Alberto and, of course, Sol Kumin, the principal owner of Monomoy Girl.

But he is not the No. 1 trainer in the sport. Nor No. 2 or 3, and that eats at him. He says he will do whatever it takes to get there and says it with such conviction that it is hard to imagine him not reaching his goals.

“The goal is to have graded stakes horses,” he said. “We want to win the [GI] Kentucky Derby. I'm sure if we win it once we'll want to win it again. I idolize guys like Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas and what they've accomplished in their careers and are still accomplishing. These are the guys I look up to. I go on Equibase and look up how many Grade I's they've won and how many Triple Crown races. Those are the goals I am after and chasing. Hopefully, someday we can get there.”

Cox is clearly among the fastest rising stars in the sport, but that was not always the case.

Cox grew up in Louisville and as soon as he was old enough, went to work on the Churchill backstretch. He won his first race in 2004 when he was just 24. But for several years, he wasn't making any headway toward achieving his lofty goals. In 2009, training mainly claimers, he won just 18 races.

A year later, he got what he considered at the time to be the biggest break of his career. Rich and Karen Papiese, who operate Midwest Thoroughbreds, hired him. With the powerful Midwest outfit behind him, he won 54 races in 2012 and had a 30% win rate.

Apparently, that wasn't good enough for the Papieses, who fired him, leaving Cox with three horses. They did him a favor. Midwest is a claiming outfit and Cox had been typecast as a claiming trainer. With his dismissal, he was able to reinvent himself.

“When I lost the Midwest horses, I made a goal that I wanted to pick up one additional horse a week,” he said. “About nine weeks later, I had 12 horses and I could see that this was going to work. I was recruiting horses and owners and there was a snowball effect. It just kept rolling and it's still rolling.”

He won his first graded stakes race in 2014 when Carve (First Samurai) won the GIII Prairie Meadows Cornhusker H. He believes a horse named Chocolate Ride (Candy Ride {Arg}) was the first horse he trained who caused people to take notice of what he could do. He broke through with a win in the 2015 GIII Fair Grounds H.

“I claimed that horse for $40,000 and he wound up winning four graded stakes races over the next year, year and a half,” Cox said. “I think people really took notice of that. They started thinking this guy can win graded races. After that we started getting a little better quality of horse.”

He won seven graded stakes in 2016 and seven more in 2017. This year, he has taken everything to another level. Through Aug. 7, he had won 13 graded stakes and 28 overall.

Yet, entering this year, he had never won a Grade I stakes. Monomoy Girl took care of that, beginning her streak of Grade I wins in the Apr. 7 Ashland at Keeneland. She, more than any horse he has ever trained, has put Cox into the spotlight.

“She's the best thing we've ever had so far as a quality Grade I filly,” he said. “Day in, day out, she's been very good to us. She's done a lot for our business. People take notice when you're able to win Grade Is with quality horses. Hopefully, it's something that will last and continue a while.”

With Cox having had little success with stakes horses at the time, he was far from an obvious choice when it came to choosing a trainer for Monomoy Girl after she was purchased at the Keeneland September yearling sale. But he had trained a few horses for the Kumin team before that and they believed he deserved the chance.

“I was introduced to Brad a few years before through my association with Ten Strike Racing, who he was training some horses for,” said Liz Crow, who picked Monomoy Girl out at the sales. “I had never heard of him before that. I was really impressed with the job he did and his knowledge. So, for Sol, we sent him a few horses and he again did a great job. When we bought some yearlings [in 2016], he was someone we wanted to give a chance. She was also a $100,000 purchase and wasn't by Tapit or someone like that, so there was less pressure to give her to someone like a Todd Pletcher.”

Monomoy Girl has won four Grade Is, but Cox won't be happy until she wins five. If she wins five, the first thing he'll start thinking about is a sixth. It's never good enough, but he believes that's the sort of philosophy you have to have if you want to be the next Baffert, Lukas, Chad Brown or Todd Pletcher.

“I want to try to be competitive every time I run a horse,” he said. “In order to do that, you have to try to stay on top of everything going on. You have to talk to every assistant every day, collect information and process it. If you take any days off, you definitely fall behind. You have to stay at it and stay on top of everything.”

You can't be a good trainer unless you do all that and more. But Cox wants to be great, even the best in the sport. Then will he be satisfied? Maybe.

 

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