Horse Racing Evolutions: The Rise of Trainer Brad Cox

Horse Racing Evolutions: The Rise of Trainer Brad Cox

Trainer Brad Cox may not be from horse racing bloodlines, but that hasn’t stopped him from making his mark in the sport.

Updated: Dec. 15, 2018 • 9:35 AM ET

Brad Cox grew up in the shadows of the hallowed Churchill Downs.

You won’t find any records of it on www.equibase.com, the vast archive of horse racing knowledge based in Lexington, Ky., nor can you watch the simulcast feed at 1:10 p.m., or bet on the featured race of the day. However, if you type 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd., New Orleans, La. into Google Maps, you’ll see it.

Look carefully, it’s like the arrow within the FedEx symbol (ever spotted that, by the way?). What you might notice is a shape; an oval.

This site was once the Metairie Race Course, a central fixture in the New Orleans area before the Civil War. Understand that 19th century horse racetracks were great intersections where race and class wove together in an intricate and convoluted dance. After the war ended, the Metairie Race Course shuttered its turnstiles by 1872 and was sold to a group that turned it into a major cemetery.

There are wonderful, and of course, fanciful stories associated with New Orleans, which has a long history that reflects its diverse and complicated past. If you have lived or ever even visited the city, surely you have all kinds of memories; or maybe, for some strange reason, not.

Metairie’s end was an attempt by the city fathers in the post-Civil War era to consolidate and mark their territory for a New South. In place of the track, a modern garden-centered space was built that became the focal point for the Lakewood district for generations.

From a horse racing perspective, the major reverberation was felt with the founding of a new venue, Fair Grounds Race Course, just past the current home of the Delgado Community College Dolphins and the New Orleans Museum of Art.

I was thinking about the Fair Grounds, the third-oldest track in North America, as it recently opened its new season, because that’s the base during the winter months for trainer Brad Cox.

It's been a heck of a year for Cox; some would call it a meteoric rise. He set personal bests in most categories, the capstone to the year being a signature win in Kentucky Oaks the day before Derby Day and a win in the Breeders' Cup Distaff with his prize horse Monomoy Girl (a horse that is currently 9-for-11).

But, all the success and expansion that Cox is seeing isn't something we should interpret as happening overnight. He’s like that oval or Fedex symbol — look deeper.

Cox is part of a new generation that include the likes of Chad Brown (mainly based on the East Coast) and Peter Miller (primarily based on the West Coast). These talented trainers are redefining the sport and challenging the old establishment.

Watch out Baffert, Lukas and Hollendorfer!

Cox’s story is interesting because he isn’t from a racing family, wasn’t raised on a farm and isn’t a former jockey. He came to horse racing at early age, though, happening to grow up down the street from Churchill Downs in Louisville, one of the Meccas of American thoroughbred racing. That would be like living on Lansdowne Street in Boston or renting an apartment near Valley Ranch in Irving, Texas — kid in a candy store.

During the afternoons in grade school, Cox handicapped races, then took off to the track to place wagers, deceiving gate officials by claiming his folks were inside. Later, he started mucking out stalls and working his way up the ladder as an assistant on the backstretch.

It took time. Cox’s tenacity, something one of his mentors, trainer Dallas Stewart, has pointed out as a key asset, has become his calling card. For some time, though, Cox was mainly known as a claiming trainer, taking on low-level mounts that could be flipped into ready cash by their owners. He got let go from an outfit, only having three charges left in his barn — not enough to saddle a stagecoach.

That was a big moment, though, because he could have folded. Instead, he recalibrated and came back with a renewed resilience. From there, he began to steamroll the competition, winning the training title at the Fair Grounds this past season.

In 2018, Cox continues to expand his base at Churchill, something that is indicative of a great up-and-coming trainer. It reflects that they can win in places they do not normally run. He saddles mounts at the New York Racing Association tracks like Belmont and Saratoga, as well as Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

Cox has already cemented himself as a rising star in the training community. Monomoy Girl’s success will likely continue into 2019. Look for Cox to vie for future Eclipse Awards (given to the leading trainer) and triumphs along the Derby Trail. He has proven that staying the course and looking deeper can produce major dividends at the Fair Grounds and beyond. Stay tuned!

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