Barn Notes 4/18/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

He’s No. 11 with a bullet.

Based on statistics compiled by Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, trainer Brad Cox needs just $22,536 in purse earnings to surpass Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey for No. 10 in North American history.

Equibase’s all-time rankings are based only on flat races in the United States and Canada.

Cox ($173,170,580) figures to crack the top 10 this week, with two horses entered Friday at Keeneland and six Saturday at Oaklawn, notably blueblood Highland Falls in the $1.25 million G2-Oaklawn Handicap and program favorite Militant in the $200,000 Bath House Row Stakes.

“I hope so,” Cox, 44, said Wednesday morning.

Cox’s torrid stretch the last month at Oaklawn has helped accelerate his march toward the career milestone. In the last 17 race days (March 15-April 14), Cox has won 57 percent of his starts (13 of 23), including three stakes, and his horses have generated $1,216,283 in purse earnings.

During that span, Cox became just the 16th trainer in Oaklawn history to reach 300 career victories when Castlewarden broke his maiden March 15 for breeder/owner Juddmonte. Cox added four more victories March 23, teaming with breeder/owner Godolphin to capture the $600,000 G3-Essex Handicap with First Mission and $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes with Nash. Cox also won the $150,000 Rainbow Stakes April 6 with Patton’s Tizzy for owner Steve Landers, a prominent Arkansas automobile dealer and member of the state’s racing commission.

“It (meet) kind of got turned around,” Cox said. “It was a little slow to get going.”

Cox looks to continue the momentum in the Oaklawn Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile event for older horses that drew a field of 11. Probable post time for the Oaklawn Handicap, the 11th of 12 races, is 5:52 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at 12:10 p.m. The card also features the $200,000 Bath House Row for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles and the $200,000 Valley of the Vapors Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at one1 mile.

The Oaklawn Handicap field from the rail out: Highland Falls, Florent Geroux to ride, 118 pounds, 9-2 on the morning line; Double Crown, Colby Hernandez, 115, 30-1; Magic Tap, Keith Asmussen, 118, 10-1; Octane, Julien Leparoux, 120, 5-1; Red Route One, Joel Rosario, 120, 7-2; Reincarnate, Juan Hernandez, 119, 4-1; Guntown, Ramon Vazquez, 115, 20-1; Last Samurai, Richard Eramia, 118, 20-1; County Final, Edwin Gonzalez, 116, 15-1; Skippylongstocking, Jose Ortiz, 122, 3-1; and Instant Coffee, Cristian Torres, 119, 15-1.

As part of the Maryland Jockey Club’s “Win Today, See You in May Series,” the Oaklawn Handicap winner receives automatic entry into the $250,000 G3-Pimlico Special at 1 3/16 miles May 17 at Pimlico.

Highland Falls, another Godolphin homebred, exits a fourth-place finish in his stakes debut, the $400,000 G1-Santa Anita Handicap for older horses at 1 ¼ miles March 3 at Santa Anita. Although Highland Falls has never raced at Oaklawn, his sire (two-time Horse of the Year Curlin) and dam (Breeders’ Cup Distaff Champion Round Pond) are multiple stakes winners in Hot Springs.

“Well-bred horse that we took a shot in a Grade 1 last time,” said Cox, who has 43 career Oaklawn stakes victories. “Ran OK. Probably wasn’t enough pace for him to really close into, but he bounced out of it well. We shipped him to Churchill. He’s been working steadily here. Really happy with his last few moves and he shipped down there in good order. We’ll see. Hopefully, he gets a good trip.”

Cox saddled his first of 312 career Oaklawn winners to date Feb. 5, 2009, and has annually ranked near the top of the standings the last decade. Cox is Oaklawn’s fifth-leading trainer this season with 23 victories from just 84 starts. He ranks third in purse earnings ($3,063,346).

Cox’s first career victory was Dec. 4, 2004, at Turfway Park. Cox collected an Eclipse Award in 2020 and 2021 as the country’s outstanding trainer and set a single-season North American record for purse earnings ($33,125,312) in 2021. He has 2,300 career North American victories.

McGaughey, still active, has $173,193,115 in career North American purse earnings, according to Equibase. Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, also still active, entered Thursday with a North American-best $482,988,074 in career purse earnings.

The Leaders

Cristian Torres (jockey) and Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen (trainer) have locked up Oaklawn titles with nine days remaining in the 2023-2024 meeting.

Torres has 72 victories, 21 more than runner-up Keith Asmussen. Torres captured his first Oaklawn riding title in 2022-2023. Steve Asmussen (63 victories) will collect his record-extending 13th Oaklawn training title

Staton Flurry of Hot Springs leads Asmussen 20-18 in the race for leading owner. Each is seeking his first Oaklawn owner’s title. Joseph Bealmear leads Carlos Barbosa 18-14 for top apprentice jockey.

Oaklawn’s 64-day meeting ends May 5.