The year 2023 may be young, but so far, at least when it comes to racing in America, it belongs to trainer Brad Cox. Not only does the Eclipse Award winner of 2020 and 2021 rank atop his peers by stable earnings through the end of February, he also is dominating the prep season for the Classics. Cox trains a remarkable seven horses that are listed among the top 21 possible runners for the Kentucky Derby, or 33% of the likely candidates for the Run for the Roses at this stage.
And he opined recently that he has even more colts in his barn who could step up and make the grade for a Triple Crown race. But that’s not all. Cox also trains three of the top 14 fillies – or 21% – currently ranked with qualifying points for the Kentucky Oaks. Leading the way in this group is Godolphin’s homebred Wet Paint, who splashed through rain and mud, surging through deep going along the rail to move from near last to first to capture the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn in great style on 25 February.
“She showed a lot of heart to be able to handle these conditions,” praised Cox, who conceded he had been worried while watching the early stages of the race. “She showed she liked the wet track, and I think as the distances get longer, she’ll keep improving. The Kentucky Oaks is our goal and I think, timing wise, the Fantasy (at Oaklawn) or the Ashland (at Keeneland) is the next logical goal.”
Wet Paint’s dawdling during the early going of the Honeybee also worried jockey Flavien Prat, who found himself taking muddy kickback while 11th of 12 runners. “I didn’t think I had much chance from where I was,” Prat said. Yet when he asked Wet Paint to run, . she did, albeit greenly and swapping leads as she shot through openings along the inside.
“Wet Paint definitely kicked home well and she likes to run from behind. She really showed a nice turn of foot,” Prat said. Now a multiple Stakes winner, Wet Paint jumped to the top of the Oaks standings with 70 qualifying points, giving Godolphin a powerful onetwo punch since the Brendan Walshtrained Grade Two winner Pretty Mischievous is second with 63 points.
Wet Paint is the only starter so far for her dam, the Graded Stakes placed Sky Painter, a daughter of Street Cry and the multiple Grade Two winning Sky Mesa mare Sky Lighter. Sky Painter has a yearling filly by Medaglia D’Oro and was bred to Not This Time for 2023. Meanwhile, Cox also has Stakes winners The Alys Look and Chop Chop in the hunt for Oaks starting positions for other owners.
While he does not have a potential Classic colt at this stage for Godolphin, for whom he currently trains a quintet of 3yos including three fillies, Cox has plenty of other ammunition. Despite that wealth, however, his trainees Verifying and Giant Mischief finished fourth and sixth, respectively, in the richest Classic prep to date, the $1 million Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on 25 February at Oaklawn.
That race was won by the well bred Confidence Game, a son of Candy Ride and champion Zenyatta’s half-sister Eblouissante, who zoomed to the top of the Derby qualifying points standings. “I was hoping to learn a good bit from yesterday’s race,” a somewhat perplexed Cox said the following day. “I’m not sure I learned as much as I was looking or hoping to.
That would be the best way to sum that up. I really thought I was going to find out something yesterday and I don’t know what I found out.” Verifying, a Justify half-brother to champion Midnight Bisou campaigned by a Coolmore partnership, came into the Rebel off a strong allowance win and was Grade One placed at two.
Giant Mischief, a son of Into Mischief out of multiple Graded winner Vertical Oak, was making his seasonal debut. Both runners finished more than five lengths behind Confidence Game. “Verifying lost a lot of position from the quarter pole to the eighth pole,” Cox said. “He went from basically being fourth to eighth or ninth.
You can’t do that in these type of races with these good horses. In my eyes he remains on the Derby trail and is a contender. “Giant Mischief was in contention turning for home. He hadn’t raced in a while and may have needed the race. I wouldn’t say he’s off the trail at all. We’ll regroup with the team and come up with a plan here in the near future,” he observed.
Cox’s other potential Classic contenders include multiple Graded winner Instant Coffee; Angel Of Empire, upset winner of the recent Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes, and Grade 3 Withers Stakes winner Hit Show. “We’re going to be there. I don’t know with who,” Cox proclaimed, referring to the Kentucky Derby, a race he technically won in 2021 with Juddmonte’s Mandaloun after the long disqualification procedure involving Medina Spirit but which he surely yearns to capture on race day with full festivities.
With the way his horses have started this year, and regardless of the Rebel outcome, it would be no surprise to see Cox in a winner’s circle at Churchill Downs, Pimlico Race Course or Belmont Park.