Early Oaklawn Success Helps Cox Reach the Top
In the early spring of 2016, Livia Frazar was asked where she saw her husband’s training career in five years. That trainer, then an up and comer obsessed with horses, was Brad Cox.
“I see him at the top,” she said. “He’ll be at the top.”
Frazar was right, but it only took her husband four years to complete a meteoric rise and capture his first Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding trainer of 2020.
“I hope she’s still seeing that five years from now or 10,” Cox said during a Feb. 1 interview at Oaklawn, where he has more than 40 horses stabled. “We’ll see how it goes.”
It couldn’t get much better than 2020, when Cox’s powerful and far-reaching operation amassed 216 victories and a career-high $18,991,582 in purse earnings, figures nationally that ranked sixth and second, respectively, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. He also ranked second in graded stakes victories with 30.
Highlights, stretching from January to December, included a record-tying four Breeders’ Cup victories, two Eclipse Award winners (Monomoy Girl and Essential Quality) and capturing the Kentucky Oaks, the nation’s biggest prize for 3-year-old fillies, for the second time in three years.
Twice Cox has had to resurrect his career after splitting with powerful Midwest Thoroughbreds in 2010 and again in 2012. Twice left with only a handful of horses, Cox recovered. The second reboot, clearly, came with measured vengeance since Cox now has divisions in Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, New York and Florida and trains for A-list clients such as Juddmonte Farms, Godolphin LLC, LNJ Foxwoods and Madaket Stables.
“It’s kind of been a blur,” said Cox, 40, who grew up in the shadow of Churchill Downs. “You think back like, yeah, I was maybe coming here with 10 horses, 12 horses, and maybe five or six down at the Fair Grounds. It seems like it was not that long ago, really.”
The problem, Cox said, is there hasn’t been a chance to really reflect on what he accomplished in recent years because he’s managing a stable of more than 100 horses, in multiple jurisdictions, with an emphasis on what he likes to call “Saturday afternoon horses.” He was named an Eclipse Award winner Jan. 28. But, he noted, there are no timeouts in racing.
In addition to Monomoy Girl, Cox’s breakout horse nationally, and Essential Quality, the trainer’s rapidly growing resume includes Eclipse Award winners Covfefe (champion 3-year-old and champion female sprinter in 2019) and British Idiom (champion 2-year-old filly in 2019) and Knicks Go, who captured the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) Jan. 23 at Gulfstream Park.
Monomoy Girl, in 2018, gave Cox his first career Grade 1 victory in the $500,000 Ashland at Keeneland, first Kentucky Oaks victory and first career Breeders’ Cup victory in the $2 million Distaff at Churchill Downs en route to an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly. After injury and illness sidelined Monomoy Girl in 2019, she returned to win all four starts last year, including a second Distaff, and was named champion older dirt female. It marked Cox’s seventh career Breeders’ Cup victory. Essential Quality (Juvenile), Knicks Go (Dirt Mile) and Aunt Pearl (Juvenile Fillies Turf) were Cox’s other Breeders’ Cup winners Nov. 6-7 at Keeneland.
This weekend at Oaklawn will have a Breeders’ Cup feel since Cox is scheduled to saddle six horses in five stakes races, notably Essential Quality in Saturday’s $750,000 Southwest (G3) for 3-year-olds and Monomoy Girl in Sunday’s $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) for older fillies and mares.
“It’s almost like you have to keep your foot on the gas pedal,” Cox said. “We, obviously, try to be competitive, year-round, at every place we race. And that’s demanding. It’s not as if we run through the November meet at Churchill and say, ‘OK, we’re going to take two months and just shut things down.’ That’s not the case. We try to come out swinging at the Fair Grounds and then we’re obviously preparing for Oaklawn.”
Cox said Oaklawn represents an important career building block since striking out on his own in the fall of 2004 after coming up under trainers Burk Kessinger, James Baker and Dallas Stewart.
Cox’s early success – high win percentages and shrewd claims – helped him cultivate Arkansas clients like Mike Langford of Jonesboro, Steve Landers of Little Rock, Frank Fletcher of North Little Rock, Starsky Weast of Star City, John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs and Staton Flurry of Hot Springs.
Carve, who was owned by Langford, gave Cox his first career graded stakes victory in the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (G3) in 2014 at Prairie Meadows and his first career Breeders’ Cup starter later that year in the $1 million Dirt Mile (G1) at Santa Anita. Carve became Cox’s first Oaklawn stakes winner in the $100,000 Fifth Season in 2015. He won three Arkansas-bred stakes in 2015 and 2016 with the nice sprinter Weast Hill. Cox and Landers teamed to capture the $500,000 Clark Handicap (G1) in 2018 at Churchill Downs with Leofric, a multiple Oaklawn allowance winner.
Cox entered Friday with 1,503 career victories, including 213 at Oaklawn, according to Equibase. He has 18 career Oaklawn stakes victories, one of the most recent coming with the promising Caddo River, an Anthony homebred, in the $150,000 Smarty Jones for 3-year-olds Jan. 22. Cox started his first horse in Hot Springs in 2006, won his first race in 2009 and was third-leading trainer last year with 26 victories.
“I’ll never forget the day being stabled at Turfway and thinking I’m going to take horses to Oaklawn for the winter,” Cox said. “I left Kentucky and it helped me start picking up better horses and running for better purses and it just propelled things and we’ve tried to keep it going ever since.”
Flurry has had horses with Cox since 2013 after a friend touted the trainer as an “up and comer,” who actively played the claiming game.
Their first starter, Full Steam Ahead, won about three weeks after being claimed for $12,500 at the 2013 Oaklawn meeting. Their first stakes victory together came in the fall of 2015 at Louisiana Downs with Uncle Brennie in the $75,000 Sunday Silence. Cox and Flurry have since campaigned the top grass horse Mr. Misunderstood, a multiple graded stakes winner and near millionaire, and reached new heights when Shedaresthedevil won the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) Sept. 4 at Churchill Downs. Shedaresthedevil won Oaklawn’s $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) earlier in the year and was a finalist for champion 3-year-old filly of 2020.
Flurry, who races Shedaresthedevil in partnership, said Cox’s career trajectory isn’t a surprise.
“I know how dedicated he is,” Flurry said. “I guess the best word to use is ‘obsessed.’ He lives, sleeps, everything horses. He may take a break to go fishing or go to the gym now and then, but usually, almost every waking hour of the day that he’s not spending with his wife and kids, is all about horses. I can’t remember who said it, but if you want to be successful at something, you have to be obsessed with it. That’s what Brad is. He’s obsessed. He spots them right. He does everything with these horses, 100 percent.”