The Man in the Hat

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“You know this guy with the cowboy hat? The guy who won the handicapping contest?” Pete Fornatale asked me the other day.

“Of course, I know him. That’s Kevin Cox. I think I wrote a Cup of Coffee about him a couple of years ago.”

“Think you can find it?”

Hmmm. Back to the archives. Here goes…

The Saratoga Special, August 14, 2011.

Twenty years. Twenty hard years.

Busting kids for graffiti in the tunnels. Chasing robbers down the street. Patrolling Times Square on mounted patrol. Arresting three shoplifters with a shotgun still on the backseat of the car. Going into the subway on September 11, 2011 and looking up at what was left of the World Trade Center.

Twenty years. Twenty hard years.

Kevin Cox enrolled in the NYPD as a 20-year-old, didn’t really want to be a cop but his mother signed him up, wanted him to be gainfully employed, he wound up with the same shield number as his uncle, funny thing about cop families. The Brooklyn native stayed the course, going from graffiti patrol to mounted police in Times Square – riding Carnival Dancer, a son of Carnivalay – to eventually retiring this spring. All the while, he dreamed of the racetrack, walking the beat all night and walking hots all morning, saving his vacation days to come to Saratoga.

After 20 years, Cox got out. And moved on. Cox became a jock’s agent this spring, taking Simon Husbands’ book at the end of the Aqueduct meet.

No trainer, no agent, no racing official could beat him up like a night shift on the NYPD. Double call? Try a double homicide.

No wonder jock’s agent Kevin Cox likes his job. Enjoys patrolling the backstretch in a golfcart, big hat, low-profile jockey, begging for opportunity, hoping for a break. Cox and Husbands got that break Friday afternoon when Quiet All American won a $15,000 claimer for Guadalupe Preciado and West Point Thoroughbreds. Cox and Husbands are 1-for-5 at the meet but no win meant more to anybody than the first race Friday afternoon.

Five months into his second career, Cox had his first victory at Saratoga. First one from inside the gates, inside the circle. It took him 20 years. Retired with a pension, Cox could finally live his dream.

“There are people who stay on after 20 and I can’t see it. Once you do that 20, you have that pension, you can do anything you want,” Cox said Saturday morning. “Simon could have a bad week, ride three horses and I make $75 and I don’t care because I’m not doing it for the money, I’m doing it because I’m happy. Now, he’s getting on four every day for the Chief (Allen Jerkens), to ride for West Point, the highlight of my life was getting 60, 70 congratulations after he won. It all pays off, all the hard work, all the mornings.”

Cox and his family came to Saratoga every summer, managing a couple of weekends every year, his dad made it to at least one racing day for 40 straight summers before passing away in 2005, there’s a plaque for him underneath the scratch board. Cox ducked under the turnstile (he wasn’t always 6 foot 4 in a cowboy hat), hounded jockeys for autographs, simply a kid at the track. Infatuated by the racetrack. Over the years, Cox kept an apartment in Saratoga, simply to get out of the city, come up in the off-season and the prime-season. He knows everybody from the Parting Glass.

About halfway through his 20-year tenure with the NYPD, the World Trade Center collapsed and like so many, Cox had a new set of lenses, the world didn’t look quite the same.

“I had just gotten off duty at 6 in the morning and they called us in, because my unit was a graffiti unit, we were allowed to go onto the subway tracks with the power still on, they asked us, they couldn’t force us,” Cox said. “Me and my team went down there, underneath the World Trade Center, we were in the shopping mall, looking up through the pile, it was so surreal. As a police officer, you’re not scared, it’s so surreal. Ten years ago . . . next month.”

Nothing was ever the same for Cox.

“I started thinking of all those people who didn’t get to live their dreams. Because of that horrible day, I thought, ‘I’m not going to be a cop forever.’ ” Cox said.
Cox began walking hots for Gary Contessa. He’d work as a plainclothes officer from 9:30 to 6 the next morning, then put away his pistol and pick up a shank. He tried massage therapy, working on Joe Aquilino’s horses, then “pretended” to be barn foreman for Jimmy Ferraro.

He punched out from the NYPD this spring, hooked up with Husbands and won his first race at Saratoga Friday.

“In a blink of an eye, you’re a kid up here, you’re watching those jockeys, then 20 years later, I’m friends with their kids and I’m a contemporary of Angel Cordero,” Cox said. “To have them congratulate me after a race, I could never win another race. I’m just happy, completely happy.”