By Bill Finley
For the Brad Cox stable, the road to the GI Kentucky Derby will make a stop Saturday at Oaklawn where Verifying (Justify) will run in an allowance race. It will be his first start since finishing sixth in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Cox will also send out Judo (Street Sense), who will not be among the favorites in the race. But even if the Cox pair falters, he'll still be loaded. The trainer, whose Mandaloun (Into Mischief) was placed first in the 2021 Derby with the disqualification of Medina Spirit (Protonico), has at least eight legitimate candidates for the Derby. Here's a look at his lineup:
Verifying: A $775,000 Keeneland September purchase, he was second in the GI Champagne S. before finishing mid-pack in the Juvenile.
“Hopefully, the race Saturday will be the start of a big year for him and everything will go well for him on Saturday,” Cox said. “After this race and if everything goes well Saturday we'll look for a Triple Crown prep.”
Loggins (Ghostzapper): Though he finished second behind eventual Juvenile winner Forte (Violence) in the GI Breeders' Futurity, Loggins served notice that day that he is a horse to be reckoned with. Of the two, Forte clearly had the better trip and Loggins was fighting back at the end. Afterward, Cox decided to pass on the Juvenile and freshen the horse up for the Derby. Loggins remains at WinStar Farm, where he went after the Breeders' Futurity for some R & R, but the trainer said he should arrive back at his Fair Grounds barn shortly. Cox remains undecided when it comes to Loggins's next race.
Victory Formation (Tapwrit): In his first try around two turns, Victory Formation won the Jan. 1 one-mile Smarty Jones S. at Oaklawn by three lengths. Having passed the all-important distance test, he should be ready for a tougher assignment. Cox said the colt will go next in either the GII Rebel S. or the GII Risen Star S.
Angel of Empire (Classic Empire): Finished second behind stablemate Victory Formation in the Smarty Jones. His next start will be in either the Rebel or Risen Star.
Instant Coffee (Bolt d'Oro): Was last seen winning the GII Kentucky Jockey Club S. on Nov. 26 at Churchill. That he's already won around two turns and at Churchill Downs are pluses. He will run next in the GIII Lecomte S. on Jan. 21 at Fair Grounds.
“He's doing well,” Cox said. “Since his last run we've been pointing to the Lecomte and have freshened him up a bit. He's been training very well here at the Fair Grounds.”
Jace's Road (Quality Road): Is coming off a huge run in the Dec. 26 Gun Runner S. at Fair Grounds, which he won by 5 1/2 lengths and under wraps. He's been working regularly since and Cox said the GIII Southwest S. will be next for him.
Giant Mischief (Into Mischief): Suffered somewhat of a setback when he couldn't win the Springboard Mile S. at Remington as the 4-5 favorite. Nonetheless, he was second and ran well enough to suggest he still belongs in the Derby picture. Cox said the Rebel will be next.
“He had three runs as a 2-year-old and ran in mid-December,” Cox said. “I feel like he'll only need two starts before the Derby. We'll find out if we can earn enough points and if he's worthy of making it into the Derby.”'
Corona Bolt (Bolt d'Oro): Is 2-for-2 and was an impressive winner of the six-furlong Sugar Bowl S., where he earned a 97 Beyer figure. Can he stretch out?
“He's a good colt,” Cox said. “We will try him in the Southwest and will prepare him at the Fair Grounds for his first run around two turns. There's always a little bit of a question whether they want to go two turns. He's a horse with a lot of speed but he's also intelligent and seems to relax and respond to what the rider wants.”
Though Cox has officially won a Derby, he admits he'd like to get another one and do so with a horse who crosses the wire first. He's optimistic that within this deep group there may be that special horse.
“It is a very good group that we have,” he said. “I felt last summer that we had a very good group of colts. I feel fortunate and am very happy with where we are. But I'm the first to admit there's a long way to go before we get to the first Saturday in May and that things have to go right.
“The Derby is why I get up and do this every day. It means a tremendous amount to me and to everyone in our stable. It means a lot to the owners and the race really helps drive this game. It's the biggest race we have in America. For me, it would be great to win it the right way and cross the wire first.”
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