Each year the world’s most prestigious horse race is run beneath the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs. In the race’s 146 year history, the wining trainer has never called the Horse Capital of the World, more specifically Louisville, his hometown. That could change this year when Brad Cox saddles two Graded Stakes winners in the Kentucky Derby.
“It would be neat to be the first person to be a Louisville born winner of the Kentucky Derby, for sure,” Cox told KSR. “It would be a trivia question on Jeopardy that no one would know the answer to if it was ever asked, but it would be cool for sure.”
A rising star, last year Cox won the Eclipse Award as the best trainer in horse racing after four big wins in the Breeders’ Cup and his second Kentucky Oaks victory (shout out to Kentucky’s Joe’s SheDarestheDevil). This year he’ll have two more in the Oaks, Travel Column and Coach, and the first time he’ll have riders in the Kentucky Derby, Mandaloun and Essential Quality, the undefeated two-year-old champion that won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland.
“You know I feel like we’re in a great position with both horses, honestly. We’ve got the likely favorite with Essential Quality. He did nothing wrong as a two-year-old and he’s continued to move forward as a three-year-old,” said the trainer.
“Honestly, when you’re here, you’re looking at these horses and watching them and training them, you don’t get caught up in the ‘Oh, I’m excited about being here.’ You want to execute. You don’t want to just be in it. You want to win it. I’ve always said I want to win the Derby, I don’t want to just be in the Derby. Every year there’s a Derby winner and there’s 19 Derby horses. I want the Derby winner. I know it’s easier said than done but I think with both of these horses, one of them could very easily be the Derby winner.”
While Essential Quality steals headlines, Mandaloun has been the talk of the backside over the last two weeks. Out of Into Mischief, Mandaloun has become this year’s “buzz horse” after an eye-opening workout at Churchill Down. Bettors are throwing out his poor sixth-place performance in the Louisiana Derby, optimistic the horse can return to the form he showed in the Risen Star, posting a 98 Beyer speed rating in G2 win, the seventh-fastest among three-year-olds this year.
“There’s been no physical excuse with him at all. We just have to cross it (the Louisiana Derby) off.” said Cox. “He’s caught the eye of a lot of people. He’s a fantastic work horse. He’s a buzz horse. I sound like a know it all, but honestly I knew that would happen because that’s how much confidence he gives me. He let us down last time, but if he runs the race he ran in the Risen Star he’ll be effective in the Derby. If he runs the Louisiana Derby race, we’re in trouble, bottom line.”
Mandaloun has become the buzz horse in the Derby’s lead up, yet his stablemate has somehow become overlooked. In most years an undefeated two-year-old champ would be the prohibitive favorite. Instead, analysts are describing this race as “wide open,” criticizing Essential Quality’s close win over Highly Motivated in the Blue Grass Stakes. Cox says the gray out of Tapit still has plenty left in the tank.
“Luis (Saez) came back and said, ‘I didn’t really get to the bottom of him at all to win that race.’ He wanted to save some for the Kentucky Derby. The one thing about this horse, he’s had the numbers it takes to win the Kentucky Derby at two and at three. The figures I use, he’s the fastest horse. If he gets the trip, he’s going to be tough. I always thought he would be the horse to excel at a mile and a quarter, maybe even beyond. I thought he might be like a mile and a half horse. We’re excited about giving him a good opportunity and we’re in a good spot with him.”
For even the greatest race horses, it takes some luck out of the gate to win the Kentucky Derby. Like most horsemen from Louisville, he’s superstitious, with one unwavering tradition: he has never watched his horses race on the track. If one of Cox’s horses crosses the finish line first on Saturday May 1, he’ll watch history unfold from behind a television screen.
Cox also talked about his Oaks horses and shared Kentucky Derby memories in a 10-minute conversation that you can listen to on the KSR Podcast feed.