By Joe Nevills
Between the first of April and the first of July, Brad Cox saw the kind of career progression most trainers spend a lifetime trying in vain to achieve.
April started with Cox picking up his first Grade 1 win after Monomoy Girl conquered the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. He finished the prestigious meet tied with Wesley Ward as the leading trainer by wins.
May saw the trainer and Monomoy Girl grab global headlines with a game victory in the Kentucky Oaks. In June, Cox found a new gear, adding another Grade 1 win with Monomoy Girl in the Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park, and another Grade 1 winner when Long On Value took the Highlander Stakes at Woodbine. Cox finished the month as the leading trainer of the Churchill Downs spring meet by earnings.
At age 38, with a stable of about 100 horses spread across four tracks, Cox has laid the groundwork to entrench himself among North America’s leading trainers for a long time to come. What will keep him there is his commitment to training like he’s still got 15 horses in his barn.
“We’re grinding every day,” Cox said. “We have a very good team assembled.”
In the aftermath of Monomoy Girl’s Kentucky Oaks win, much was made of Cox’s local ties to Louisville, Kentucky. The story has become almost boilerplate when writing about the trainer at length: Cox grew up just two blocks from the Churchill Downs property, in a white house at 903 Evelyn Avenue in Louisville’s Wyandotte neighborhood. His father, Jerry Cox, a forklift driver at a local factory, took his son to the track as a child and the younger Cox caught the racing bug so severely, it became a career path.
The trainer admitted he does not often drive by to check on the house, just a stone’s throw off of Longfield Avenue, even though he is at the track nearly every day. His parents moved out a half-decade ago. Jerry died in 2016, and Mary resides in another part of town. However, the trainer’s reasons are less about sentiment and more about logistics.
“It’s kind of by Gate 10 (an entrance to the track’s parking lot]) and I go in and out of Gate 5 (the backstretch entrance),” he said.
What makes Cox’s success somewhat unique is that he is not a generational horseman. His father was noted in many stories for his affinity toward betting on Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, but no one in the family had hands-on experience with horses to pass on to Brad. When he made his way on to the Churchill backstretch for the first time as a teenager, Cox started with a built-in handicap.
Cox made up for the lost time in spades by paying attention and being punctual. He hotwalked and worked as a groom for a handful of trainers on the Louisville backside, including Frank Brothers and William “Jinks” Fires. He relished the grunt work, slowly gaining the trust of his bosses and working his way up their ranks.
“It’s a tough business,” Cox said. “As far as coming to work every day, I enjoyed it. I had no problem getting up in the mornings. It wasn’t a job for me, and it’s still not a job for me. It’s something I love to do. I’ve always said getting up seven days a week is half the battle.”
Years later, Cox is now an equal to the trainers that gave him his start. Fires said he speaks with Cox regularly and considers him a friend.
“He’s gone on and become successful,” Fires said. “He pretty much did it himself. He had that work ethic to go on, and that’s what people do. When they want to, they go on, and he did it.”
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