LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Brad Cox grew up just a few blocks from Churchill Downs, but it was a different sport, popular in his hometown, that intrigued him as a kid.
“I wanted to play basketball, but I wasn’t that good,” Cox said. “So I just figured, I’d always liked horse racing, my dad brought me to the track at an early age, so I just followed it. I was a fan of racing, I thought I’d try to make a living at it somehow, someway.”
His father, Jerry, who passed away in December of 2016, ignited the fire for the sport of kings.
“I thought about it when Monomoy won the Oaks, he wasn’t here to see the Oaks win,” Cox recalled. ”You know he’s watching and very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
The Brad Cox stable includes his older sons Bryson and Blake. They are part of the team that has exploded in the last few years. Success that comes with a price, paid for with hard work and long hours.
“You miss a lot, you know we don’t have free weekends, we don’t, our slow days, there’s not off days, but our slow days are like maybe Mondays and Tuesdays. It’s a grueling business, it’s a lot of hours and it’s a lot of time, a lot of phone calls and a lot of dedication from a lot of people.”
Some occasional down time these days might just find Cox on the golf course with one of his sons.
“I’ll try to play a round of golf maybe once a month,” he said. “Once every couple weeks with my oldest son Bryson, he’s really into golf. He works for us and he’s really into the horses as well, but he does have a passion for golf. I like it, so it gives me the opportunity to spend three or four hours with him on a Sunday evening or a Monday or Tuesday sometimes is our quiet days. We’ll normally play late in the evening. Aside from that, try to take a couple family vacations a year, for four or five days but that’s pretty much it. My wife is involved in the business as well, so it’s a family affair.”
His wife, Livia Frazar, is an equine veterinarian.
In April of 2018, the Brad Cox Stable had never won a Grade 1 race. Monomoy Girl changed that in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland and then a few weeks later in the Kentucky Oaks. She hasn’t stopped winning and neither has Cox.
“It’s been a great run and we’re just trying to continue everyday to keep it going,” Cox said. “It’s a lot of work, but we love what we do, and it’s easy to get up in the morning and do this. Every morning when the alarm goes off at 4:20, it’s not hard to get up and know that in the first couple sets you’re going to watch Essential Quality, Mandaloun or Caddo River or Travel Column or Coach, one of these great three-year-old’s train. That’s what it’s all about. Every day you’re preparing yourself, the night before you start getting ready for the next morning. It’s constantly preparing for the next step and preparing these horses to peak on race day.”
Cox burst onto the national scene, winning four Breeders’ Cup races at Keeneland last November, including Essential Quality’s win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Six months later, the son of Tapit is the morning line favorite in Kentucky Derby 147.
“I felt pretty confident when we started training him at Keeneland and breezing him,” Cox recalls. “I thought he was a good horse. To sit here and and say I thought he was going to be favored for the Derby, you never know that, but boy he sure had a lot of talent, and sure acted like he could take you to the next level. It’s very rewarding to put all this time into these young horses and one jump up and show you as much talent as he has and it play out.”
Essential Quality is unbeaten in five career starts. On Saturday he’ll attempt to become just the 10th undefeated Kentucky Derby winner, and the sixth since Smarty Jones in 2004.
The colt is owned by Godolphin, the racing operation of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Godolphin has chased the Kentucky Derby for decades, with little to show for it. Billions spent at horse sales and on real estate have produced 11 starters, with a fourth place finish by Frosted in 2015 as the best result.
“He’s put so much into the game from a financial standpoint,” Cox said. “Their whole team, the amount of time and labor they’ve put into the horse racing business, has just been unbelievable and he deserves a Derby. If there’s anyone that deserves a Derby, it’s definitely him. With what, he has five farms in Lexington, in the Lexington area. He’s been a great provider, one of the biggest providers of all-time for the thoroughbred industry throughout the world, not just America or Europe, Japan, Australia, Europe, several different continents, Dubai, so I mean, it’s a worldwide, he’s a worldwide leader in the thoroughbred industry.”
Cox has trained for Godolphin for two years and Essential Quality was in the second crop of two-year-old’s he received.
Mandaloun, a 15-1 shot in the morning line, will join the favorite as the first Kentucky Derby starters for the Iroquois High School graduate. According to Churchill Downs, a Louisville born trainer has never won the Run for the Roses.
He followed up his Kentucky Oaks win with Monomoy Girl by winning a second Oaks in 2020 with Shedaresthedevil, but the Derby remains the ultimate goal.
The nerves figure to kick in when the call to the post reverberates from the bugle of Steve Buttleman and the horses head to the track.
“That’s probably when I’ll get a little nervous, is once the horses get onto the track, The 10 to 12 minutes before the race is probably where, it’s kind of out of your hands at that point, so that’s probably when I’ll get a little nervous,” Cox admits.
Don’t look for him in some fancy box or suite, Cox will be perched in front of a TV somewhere in the Downs.
“I watch all my races on a television,” he revealed. “I don’t watch them in the grandstand, for me to obviously see better with the television. Yeah I use binoculars for all my works on the frontside in the grandstand, but that’s works, For racing, for me, it’s so much easier for me to focus on it and take it in with watching it on television. I’m able to see the fractions and how the race is unfolding. Who is moving, who is not, and just to me you can just see so much more about not only your horse, but what everyone else is doing on a television as opposed to live.”
If Essential Quality or Mandaloun crosses the finish line first, you might see an immediate outburst, but you will not see a night of partying from the Cox crew.
“If we’re fortunate enough to win the Derby, I probably won’t be one of the guys celebrating too much, I’ll probably be in here the next morning checking on Essential Quality or Mandaloun, whichever one was able to win it, and hopefully we’re making plans on trying to win the Preakness and going down the Triple Crown path.”
If the last three years are any indication, don’t bet against Brad Cox.