Already a clear leader in the trainer standings at Fair Grounds going into Saturday’s card, Brad Cox cemented his fourth consecutive title with a graded-stakes treble only hours after horsemen were told the meet was closing a week early.
Cox won four races Saturday, starting with Dreamalildreamofu in an early maiden race and Factor This in the Grade 2 Muniz Memorial Classic on the grass. Cox’s double in the day’s signature events are the wins that caught everyone’s attention.
Making her stakes level debut, Bonny South flew to a 2 1/4-length win in the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Fair Grounds Oaks to earn a spot in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. One race later, Wells Bayou earned 100 Kentucky Derby points with a win in the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby.
Cox savored the day but admitted the halt to racing at Fair Grounds caused complications for other horses in his barn. He had eight more runners entered to this week and now faces the tough task figure out what to do next.
“There’s really nothing we can do about it,” Cox said Sunday. “That’s the call they made, and we’ll have to live with that decision. We’ll just adjust. I have clients asking me ‘what now?’ and I have no clue. We’re just going to continue to take care of our horses. It’ll be business as usual but just not as much going on with the racing end of it. We’ll just see how things hopefully unfold over the coming weeks.”
While the cancelation of racing at the Fair Grounds just adds to the uncertainty surrounding racing right now, it’s likely nothing compared to how Cox was feeling just a few weeks ago.
Looking to have a superstar in the making in Juddmonte’s promising filly Taraz, those hopes were dashed at the end of a workout one morning when she broke down. Less than two weeks later, the barn suffered another blow when an injury knocked Grade 2 Risen Star winner Mr. Monomoy off the Kentucky Derby trail.
Saturday eased the sting a bit, however, with both 3-year-old winners shooting to the top of their respective Derby and Oaks leaderboards.
Juddmonte homebred Bonnie Smith won her race the hard way, having to pass every horse in the field to win. The Fair Grounds Oaks was her first graded stakes attempt, but her victory was no surprise to Cox.
“I thought she’d run extremely well, her last race was huge at Oaklawn,” he said. “She beat another filly of ours, Shedaresthedevil, that we think a lot of and was able to come back and win the Grade 3 Honeybee. So we thought she would give a good account of herself and she did. To say we thought she would win like that, no. But to think that she was going to run a big race, yes. She was giving us a lot of signs she was doing well, and I thought she ran a big figure last time and I felt like it was the perfect time between starts, it worked out really well.”
Stablemate Wells Bayou looked to be a prime candidate to stay on Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby trail after finishing second in last month’s Grade 3 Southwest Stakes but a combination of time and distance made Cox change plans. Learning a lot from the colt in the Southwest, he thought a favorable pace combined with a step up in race distance and extra week of rest would work in Wells Bayou’s favor.
That plan worked out exceedingly well when Wells Bayou broke sharp and took control of the pace. Never in any serious danger throughout, Wells Bayou cruised to a 1 1/2-length victory to earn 100 Kentucky Derby points.
While usually the goal now would just be to keep the horses happy for the next six weeks until the first weekend in May, Cox has a new challenge on his hands. With over five months until the rescheduled Kentucky Oaks and Derby, his plan is to wait a few weeks to see how nationwide schedules shake out leading to September.
“This is uncharted territory,” Cox said. “We’re trying to get to the first Friday in September, and I don’t know how we get there right now with a lot of uncertainty with races and schedules. There’s going to be a lot of changing going on with some races being moved around. It’s another one where we’ll just keep (Bonnie Smith) in training over the next few weeks and just kind of see how things play out. Hopefully we have some answers, who knows.”
There will admittedly be a lot of changes to the barn’s plans in coming months. But with a string still based at Oaklawn Park and barns full of stakes horses, there’s no doubt Cox will stay busy no matter what racing does in the near future.
Sire Of The Week: Lane’s End bringing The Factor back to the U.S. at the end of his one-year lease to Japan at the end of 2018 looks like it is about to pay off even more for the farm after the War Front stallion sired a pair of graded stakes winners Saturday.
The Factor’s big day started with Factor This adding a front-running Grade 2 win in the Muniz Memorial late on the Fair Grounds card. The biggest return for the sire however was still to come when his last start Grade 1 winner Cistron, who had been off since late July returned to the turf.
Making his 6-year-old debut in the Grade 3 San Simeon – a race he finished second in last year – Cistron was forced to shake off the rust quickly in the race. Trying to catch fellow The Factor son Bound For Nowhere down the stretch in the 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint, he got his head in front in the last strides to he lead home an exacta for The Factor.
The first son to make a splash for War Front on the racetrack and now adding to his legacy as a sire-of-sires, The Factor stands for $17,500 at Lane’s End.
Horse to Watch: Fifth on debut last year as a 2-year-old, Golden Tapit was put on the shelf until February when he returned a winner going 1 1/8 miles on the turf. The well-bred son of Tapit proved that 2-length victory wasn’t a fluke when staying undefeated on the year in his race Saturday.
Cutting back to a mile, Golden Tapit was slow to get in to stride and was 7 1/4 lengths behind leading Everyonelovesjames at one point. Racing mostly in midpack, the Brendan Walsh-trainee started moving up in the far turn and made easy work of the final furlong to win by 2 1/2 lengths under a hand ride.
A $275,000 purchase at the 2018 Keeneland September yearling sale, Golden Tapit is a full brother to champion Untapable. However, his turf ability is more in the likeness of half-brother Paddy O’Prado, who was a Grade 1 winner on the surface after finishing third in the 2010 Kentucky Derby.
Quote of The Week: “We want to keep horses here so that inevitably, when we re-open, we have a product with horses that are fit and healthy and ready to race safely.” – Rick Schosberg
Schosberg on working with NYRA to make sure horses are still able to train while New York racing is closed. Starting March 29, training will be open Monday through Saturday at Belmont Park to keep horses fit and happy. While businesses with in-office employees have been closed, jobs such as caring for the horses at the track is exempt from the executive order signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Bits and Pieces: Less than a week before the biggest meet of its year, Dubai’s Media Office announced that the Dubai World Cup has been canceled. … Sam Houston Race Park announced Sunday that it will cancel the final four days of its Thoroughbred meeting amid Covid-19 concerns.