It was a big Saturday for trainer Brad Cox who won the GI Arkansas Derby with Angel of Empire (Classic Empire), and the story may not change this week. Cox has serious threats in a number of big races, among them the GI Ashland S., the GI Blue Grass S. and the GII Wood Memorial. All of which means it was a perfect time to have Cox join the team on the TDN Writers' Room podcast presented by Keeneland. For the second time this year, Cox was the Green Group Guest of the Week.
Understandably, the trainer is a big fan of Angel of Empire.
“I think he's capable of winning (the Derby),” he said. “He showed that on Saturday in the Arkansas Derby. Based on figures, he was a little bit of a question mark, but I think he answered a lot of questions and he stepped up big time on Saturday. We've still got a lot of work to do. We've got three works coming up. But I'm very excited about what he was able to accomplish on Saturday. I do think he does need to take another step forward based on figures, and think he's capable of doing it.”
But he's not counting on anything, especially in a year where Forte (Violence) looks like the clear leader of the division.
“We have to get better and we may have to have Forte stub his toe in order to beat him,” Cox said. “But 20 horse field, it's a demanding, challenging race bottom line. If you make the field that's why you go, so many things can happen. You saw that last year. You saw it with Mine That Bird. Longshots win the race that may not necessarily be the best horse, but they have the trip or they have the so called racing luck on that day.”
Cox also figures to be a major factor in the GI Kentucky Oaks and could have the favorite in Wet Paint (Blame), who was a dominant winner in last Saturday's GIII Fantasy S. at Oaklawn. He also has a Punchbowl, a starter in Friday's Ashland at Keeneland, and Botanical (Medaglia d'Oro), a winner of four straight, all of them on the Tapeta surface at Turfway Park.
“Punchbowl is a very talented filly,” he said. “We are throwing a lot at her in a short period of time. I ran her back quick off breaking her maiden. She did come from off the pace to break her maiden, so that gave me a little bit more confidence and made me think it didn't take as much out of her once we stretched her. She kind of got pressed the whole way, but she responded well, galloped out well and I thought she went up against a solid group of fillies. We just shipped her to Keeneland. She settled in fine. So I'm optimistic that, with a good trip, she'll be, hopefully, a grade one winner after Friday.”
Cox will send out Verifying (Justify) in the Blue Grass. He didn't run his best race when fourth last out in the GII Rebel S., but Cox is hopeful he can deliver Saturday.
“He's a good colt,” he said of Verifying. “He really is. He ran big in his 3-year-old debut at Oaklawn. In the Rebel, he just kind of lost a little position from the three-eighths to the quarter pole. He just didn't really go forward there in a key part of the race and he went from laying third or fourth and ended up like eighth at the eighth pole. He was retreating and then he kind of re-rallied and got going again. So it was a little bit of an odd trip. I don't really know what to make of it. I'm hoping that he's he's better than that and he'll get a little better trip and maybe stay a little more focused or involved. He worked with Hit Show on Friday morning at Keeneland. They worked very, very well together. So I expect him to run big.”
Elsewhere on the podcast, which is also sponsored by Coolmore,https://lanesend.com/ the Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association, Woodford Thoroughbreds, Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, Lane's End, XBTV, 1/st Racing, WinStar Farm and https://www.threechimneys.com/ West Point Thoroughbreds, the team of Zoe Cadman, Randy Moss and Bill Finley went over last week's action, which was topped by the GI Florida Derby. Not everyone was wowed by Forte's race. The matter of the Florida Derby originally being mistimed also led to some debate. They also looked ahead to what's coming up this weekend, another round of major preps for the Derby.