By Bill Heller
The quote greeting visitors to the Brad Cox Racing website tells you all you need to know about the 38-year-old trainer on an unbelievable roll: “I think to be successful at this, you’ve got to be somewhat obsessed.”
How could he not be?
In the space of six days, Cox, who grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, five blocks from Churchill Downs, realized he has two live contenders for the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks: Monomoy Girl, who gave Cox his first Grade 1 stakes victory when she won the Ashland Stakes by 5½ lengths at Keeneland on April 7th; and Sassy Sienna, who rallied to take the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes by a nose at Oaklawn Park on April 13th. Monomoy Girl is now five-for-six, the lone miss a second by a neck in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes last year. “When she hit the wire, it was like, ‘Wow!’” Cox said. “To get a Grade 1 is something I’ll never forget. She means a lot to us.”
Cox’s success isn’t surprising to trainer Dallas Stewart, Cox’s mentor for five years before he ventured on his own in 2004. “Brad is doing a great job,” Stewart said. “I’m very proud of him. He works hard. He’s doing what he should be doing. He’s knocking it out of the park.”
No lie there. In 2017, Cox posted career highs in victories and earnings for the fourth consecutive year, finishing eighth in wins (204) and ninth in earnings ($8.83 million) in North America. So far this year, he’s fifth in both categories. That’s quite a progression from winning just 52 races and $1.1 million in his first five years total.
Cox said he never wavered in his belief that he would be more successful during his lean years. “There’s no substitute for the hours you put in,” he said. “I kept telling myself, ‘You’re one of the younger guys doing it. You’ll get a break.’ I never even thought about doing something different. I made a commitment to myself: this is what I want to do. This is what I’m going to do. It’s a lot of work, but I do believe if you stay focused and do the right things every day, opportunity will knock. If you stay with it, you will get a chance.”
He has made the most of his chances. He credits the first two trainers he worked under, Burk Kessinger Jr. and Jimmy Baker, for teaching him “to take pride in horses, how to take care of a horse, and horsemanship.” He thanks Stewart, one of D. Wayne Lukas’ many assistants who have starred in their own careers, with “learning organization, how to run a large barn. It’s meant a lot to our program,” Cox said.
Cox’s stable has grown to 100 horses. They raced at Oaklawn Park and Keeneland this spring, and will race at Churchill Downs, Belmont, Saratoga, and in Indiana. “We’re very comfortable with where we are now,” he said.
And if succeeding requires a bit of obsession, so be it. “It’s something we talk about,” Cox said. “On a daily basis, you can work from the minute you wake up until the minute you go to bed. You can’t spend the time we do if you didn’t love it.”
Cox has loved it ever since his dad took him to Churchill Downs. “I was five or six years old,” Cox said. “I was intrigued.” He was intrigued enough to sneak into the track after school and dream: “I always dreamed of being big in the business. I’ve dreamed of having good horses for a while.”
He has them now. The up-and-comer has just about reached the head of the class.
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