Cox Sticking to the Plan with Rebel Runners

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt,

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Thursday, February 23, 2023


Photo Credit: Coady Photography

Cox Sticking to the Plan with Rebel Runners

After calling an audible to win a Kentucky Derby points race earlier this month in New York, trainer Brad Cox is sticking with the same play for two of his most promising Triple Crown prospects in Arkansas when he sends out Verifying and Giant Mischief in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Saturday at Oaklawn.

Verifying, the 2-1 program favorite, returns to Oaklawn after a smashing entry-level allowance victory at 1 mile Jan. 14 in his 3-year-old debut. From the first crop of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, Verifying has been targeting the Rebel for weeks. As for Giant Mischief, he’s been pointing to the Rebel for months. The early 5-2 second choice, Giant Mischief hasn’t started since finishing a troubled second in the $400,000 Remington Park Springboard Mile Stakes Dec. 17 at Remington Park. Giant Mischief suffered his first career loss in the Springboard Mile, beaten 1 ¼ lengths by Wildatlanticstorm, after missing the break and spotting the field several lengths. Giant Mischief, last early in his two-turn debut, made a dazzling move on the outside to reach contention turning for home and was slowly getting to a ground-saving Wildatlanticstorm approaching the wire.

“I expected him to run big that night and he did,” Cox said. “I never expected him to break like that. Just rocked back a step right before they popped him. Just caught himself giving them too much early. The winner, obviously, got a great trip. He’s a good horse as well. We’re looking forward to giving him another run around two turns.”

Giant Mischief shipped to Oaklawn immediately after the Springboard Mile and spent a short time in Hot Springs before joining Cox’s long list of Kentucky Derby prospects, including Verifying, in the warmer climate at Fair Grounds.

“That’s totally why he’s there” said Cox, who has worked Giant Mischief five times this year at Fair Grounds in advance of the Rebel. “Just to kind of keep him on a little bit more of a consistent (training) schedule.”

Giant Mischief would have earned four Kentucky Derby qualifying points for his runner-up finish in the Springboard Mile, but he ran on Lasix. Horses are ineligible to collect points in Kentucky Derby points races if they race on the anti-bleeder medication.

Still, Cox has six of the top 18 horses (Angel of Empire, Instant Coffee, Hit Show, Jace’s Road, Victory Formation and Tapit’s Conquest) on the latest Kentucky Derby Leaderboard after winning six points races in 2022-2023.

Victory Formation and Angel of Empire ran first and second, respectively, in Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race, the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile Jan. 1. Angel of Empire returned to win the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at 1 1/8 miles last Saturday at Fair Grounds.

Cox entered three horses in Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Derby points race, the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 28. He decided to scratch Hit Show and re-routed the son of Candy Ride to the $250,000 Withers Stakes (G3) Feb. 4 at Aqueduct. Hit Show won the 1 1/8-mile Withers, delayed until Feb. 11 because of harsh winter weather.

Giant Mischief figures to be the last of Cox’s Kentucky Derby prospects to debut in 2023.

“I think it (Rebel) gives him the best shot of giving him another run around two turns,” Cox said. “Gives him a solid two months between the Remington race and the Rebel. It’s probably a better introduction, a better first race for him in this region, going a mile and a sixteenth as opposed to going a mile and an eighth in the Risen Star. For him and bringing him along the right way, I think the Rebel probably makes the most sense.”

A son of champion sire Into Mischief and Oaklawn-raced Vertical Oak, Giant Mischief has won 2 of 3 career starts and $193,400 for a conglomerate of powerhouse owners, including his breeder, Stonestreet Stables (Barbara Banke), and Spendthrift Farm (Eric Gustavson). Prominent Arkansas automobile dealer Steve Landers and 2022-2023 Oaklawn leading owner Ten Strike Racing (Marshall Gramm) also have interests in Giant Mischief, who debuted at 5 ½ furlongs Sept. 22 at Horseshoe Indianapolis and cleared his first allowance condition at 7 furlongs on the Breeders’ Cup undercard Nov. 4 at Keeneland.

“He’s a nice colt,” Cox said.

Giant Mischief and Verifying both arrived Wednesday night at Oaklawn. Four-time Eclipse Award winner Irad Ortiz Jr. will ride Giant Mischief for the first time in the Rebel. Florent Geroux is named on Verifying after riding Giant Mischief in his last two starts.

Cox, with a victory Saturday, would join Hall of Famers Bob Baffert, Steve Asmussen and D. Wayne Lukas as the only trainers to sweep Oaklawn’s four-race series of Kentucky Derby points races. Cox has won four of Oaklawn’s last 10 Kentucky Derby points races, including the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) last year with Cyberknife.

The Rebel will offer 100 points (50-20-15-10-5, respectively) to the top five finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. All 11 entrants are eligible to collect qualifying points because they won’t be running on Lasix.

The $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 1 is Oaklawn’s fourth and final 2023 Kentucky Derby points race.

Finish Lines

Trainer Lindsay Schultz is scheduled to start her first runners for the Shortleaf Stable of Arkansas lumberman John Ed Anthony Friday at Oaklawn. Westover is the 5-2 program favorite in the second race for $20,000 Arkansas-bred maiden claimers. Coromandel is entered in the sixth race for lower-level maiden claimers. Westover, Coromandel and The Heights, a 3-year-old half-brother to 2021 Arkansas Derby runner-up Caddo River, were moved to Schultz earlier this year. Westover and The Heights were previously with two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox. Coromandel was previously with trainer John Ortiz. Anthony was Oaklawn’s leading owner in 2021-2022. … Eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. ($2,021,640) became the third jockey to reach $2 million in purse earnings at the 2022-2023 meeting Monday. … First post Saturday is noon (Central). The infield, weather permitting, will be open for the first time Saturday.