Family holiday trips can take some horsepeople to a “no-man’s land” where racing and the Thoroughbred industry are off the grid. Case in point: a Thanksgiving spent in Chester, Vt. As quaint as New England quaint can be, with temperatures the lowest in generations (1 degree Thanksgiving morning) to add to the flavor, Southern Vermont is an excellent place to explore any time of the year…unless you’d like to place a wager.
Racing used to take place at Green Mountain Race Track near Bennington, but a live Thoroughbred heat has not been run since 1976. Next door in New Hampshire, the state motto of “Live Free or Die” delivered an apropos twist of fate when the track closed in 2009.
Finding the racing action playable during the holiday stand, we discovered our mobile app to a preferred advance deposit wagering site nonresponsive to our commands inside the state proper, casting a large cloud over “Moonlight in Vermont.”
If the bet had gone through, it wouldn’t have been against Brad Cox. Twenty of the 40 black-type stakes wins the young trainer has amassed have come this year (from 90 starters; 22%), and it seems as if it was just a few weeks ago he was surrounded by well-wishers after landing his first grade 1 in April with Monomoy Girl in Keeneland’s Central Bank Ashland Stakes. A few more have followed, such as the filly’s score in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) and Steve Landers Racing’s Leofric’s dramatic win Nov. 23 in the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (G1; see Alicia Wincze Hughes’ recap).
Winding our way back to warmer climes in the Bluegrass, we checked in with Cox just prior to his winning the finale at Churchill Nov. 25 with Juddmonte Farms’ juvenile filly Cosmic Code.
“We’ve accomplished some grade 1s, which we wanted to get that monkey off our back,” Cox said. “It’s been a great year, and that’s due to some great horses, great clients, and great staff that have given us the opportunity. In reality, though, it comes down to the horses.
“As far as Monomoy Girl, I remember being here the last weekend of the fall meet and thinking, ‘we’ve got to try to get a grade 1 win with this filly.’ She had come up short in a grade 2 in the Golden Rod, but the goal was to get out and maybe try the Rachel (Alexandra Stakes, G2, at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots) after giving her a little break in December and then try to get to the Ashland and take a big swing, and that worked out.
“Obviously we could go to the (Longines Kentucky) Oaks if everything worked out…and it did. That was our three-race plan for the year.”
From there Monomoy Girl won the Oaks, Acorn Stakes (G1), Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), and finished first in the seven-figure Cotillion Stakes (G1) prior to the Breeders’ Cup.
“Looking ahead, honestly, she’s getting a break now and hopefully if she comes back in great shape, we’ll target grade 1 races with her. That’s what we’ll be looking for next year.”
Leofric was a $100,000 purchase as a 2-year-old out of the Keeneland November sale in 2016 for longtime client Landers. Winless in three tries prior to the sale he’s gone 8-1-2 since in 11 starts and earned nearly $950,000.
“He’s a tremendous horse,” Cox said enthusiastically. “We’ve had to stop on him because he’s had some foot issues here and there. He’s forced us to give him time, and we’ve given him time. He’s a trooper and a really neat horse to be around. He’ll stay in training (for 2019). Where he lands? I don’t know.”
What Cox does know is he’s wrapping up a stellar year. As the calendar turns to December, he’ll have a string in New York along with some 40 runners at both Fair Grounds and Oaklawn in Arkansas.
“We have a diverse group of owners,” Cox said. ”We have a good group of clients. Things are good, and we’ve had a good run.
“I only plan a weekend at a time, but hopefully we can capitalize on what we’ve accomplished this year and do bigger and better things next year.”
We’re not betting against him.