Horse Racing

Brad Cox – 2024 Kentucky Derby Trainer Profile

FanDuel Staff
FanDuel Staff
Brad Cox – 2024 Kentucky Derby Trainer Profile

One of the younger trainers at the top of the sport, trainer Brad Cox is a two-time Eclipse Award winner for outstanding trainer, and he seems to have a live contender at just about every major race day. Monomoy Girl gave him his first Kentucky Oaks win in 2018, as well as his first Breeders’ Cup win in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff the same year. Since then, his ascent has been dizzying. He has now won ten Breeders’ Cup races, including four in 2020 alone: the Breeders’ Cup Distaff with Monomoy Girl (again!), Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with Knicks Go, TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with Essential Quality, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf with Aunt Pearl.

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Kentucky Derby Record

Cox had never started a horse in the Kentucky Derby until 2021. However, he has had multiple starters in each of the next three editions of the race. After the disqualification of Medina Spirit from the 2021 edition, his first two runners placed first and third, with long shot Mandaloun getting the best of his beaten favorite Essential Quality. He had three more starters in 2022 and another four in 2023, with the best finish among them being a third-place showing from favored Angel of Empire in 2023.

Cox has also won the Belmont Stakes: Essential Quality bounced back to win the final jewel of the 2021 Triple Crown. The Preakness Stakes is the only Triple Crown race that Cox has yet to win, though Owendale finished third behind War of Will in the 2019 Preakness.

Catching Freedom

Catching Freedom leads Brad Cox’s trio of Kentucky Derby contenders in 2024. He is by Florida Derby (G1) winner Constitution out of the Pioneerof the Nile mare Catch My Drift, a stakes winner at 1 ⅛ miles who was Grade 1 placed at the same trip. A $575,000 yearling purchase for owner Albaugh Family Stables, he will be ridden by Flavien Prat in the Kentucky Derby.

Two-Year-Old Season

Well bet on debut in a maiden special weight dirt mile at Churchill Downs last October, he chased midfield, circled up into the lane, and cleared off to win by 3 ¾ lengths. He was bet down to favoritism again when stretching out to 1 1/16 miles for an allowance the next month, also at Churchill Downs, but ran into traffic and had to settle for fourth, 2 ¼ lengths behind Bill Mott trainee Parchment Party.

Three-Year-Old Season

On January 1, Catching Freedom started out his three-year-old year in style, rallying to win the Smarty Jones at Oaklawn over Just Steel, who he will face again in the Kentucky Derby. Mystik Dan, fifth in the Smarty Jones, will also line up next to Catching Freedom in Kentucky.

Catching Freedom did the rest of his Kentucky Derby preparation at Fair Grounds. In the Risen Star (G2) on February 17, he rallied for third behind Sierra Leone and Track Phantom, both of whom have punched their tickets to Churchill Downs. Catching Freedom then notched his first graded-stakes win in the Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 23, rallying from last to outfinish Honor Marie by a length.

Between the likely honest pace in the Kentucky Derby, his proven Churchill Downs form, and jockey Flavien Prat’s excellent record in the run for the roses, Catching Freedom gives Brad Cox an excellent chance to win his second Kentucky Derby.

Just a Touch

Just a Touch is a colt by Triple Crown winner Justify out of the Tapit mare Touching Beauty, a Grade 3-winning miler. A $300,000 two-year-old purchase, he is owned by a partnership that includes Qatar Racing, Resolute Racing, and Marc Detampel. Florent Geroux is his regular rider.

Two-Year-Old Season

Just a Touch did not race as a juvenile.

Three-Year-Old Season

Just a Touch made his debut in January at Fair Grounds in a six-furlong maiden special weight sprint. He was bet down to 1-2 favoritism. Just a Touch ran to the money, stalking the pace and opening up by 4 ¼ lengths.

That smart maiden victory earned Just a Touch a ticket to graded stakes company; he was sent off the 8-5 favorite in the Gotham Stakes. Deterministic got the jump on him, but he chased on honestly to finish second by two lengths, ½ length in front of New York stalwart El Grande O. The next stop on Just a Touch’s road to the Kentucky Derby was Keeneland, where he was the third betting choice in the Blue Grass (G1). He stalked the pace and led midstretch, but could not hold off the powerful finish of Sierra Leone. Though he crossed the wire 1 ½ lengths behind the winner, it was another 3 ¾ lengths back from him to Epic Ride.

From the Blue Grass field, Just a Touch will face Sierra Leone and fourth-place Dornoch in the Kentucky Derby. Third-place Epic Ride needs three defections to get into the field for the rematch.

Just a Touch cedes experience to many of his Kentucky Derby foes, and needs to move forward to prove he can go toe-to-toe with Sierra Leone. However, his tactical speed could prove handy, and his pedigree makes the extra furlong of distance genuinely interesting.

Encino

Encino, a Godolphin homebred, has quite the classic pedigree: he is by Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist out of a winning Bernardini half-sister to Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. He has enough points to make the Kentucky Derby field, though his jockey has yet to be determined since his regular rider, Florent Geroux, also rides Just a Touch.

Two-Year-Old Season

Encino debuted just before the 2023 calendar ran out. On December 29, he was the 2-1 wagering favorite for a one-mile maiden special weight on the Tapeta at Turfway. Away slowly, he settled at the rear but mustered a good run beginning around the far turn. He improved to the finish, but missed by a neck to longshot pacesetter Stingy.

Three-Year-Old Season

Encino returned to the maiden ranks at Turfway a month later. He was bet down to odds-on. He came away much better than he had on debut, set the pace, and held on to win by half a length.

Despite the slim margin, his maiden win earned him a place on the Kentucky Derby trail, as Cox brought him back in the John Battaglia Memorial, also on the Tapeta course at Turfway. Only the fourth betting choice, he shifted running styles and overcame a parking-lot post draw, rallying from midpack to win by a length over favored Epic Ride.

Encino was entered to try dirt for the first time in the Blue Grass (G1), but after drawing the far-outside gate, he was rerouted to the Lexington (G3), also at Keeneland, but a week later on April 13. He reverted to the frontrunning style he showed on debut, set an honest pace, and still dug in to deny The Wine Steward, a horse who was Grade 1-placed over the course in 2023, by ¾ length. It was another nine lengths back to third-place Dilger, suggesting the top two were clearly best.

With only four starts and one on dirt, Encino cedes some experience to the rest of the field. However, this Brad Cox trainee has several markings of a live Kentucky Derby longshot. He has never run a bad race, he can win from multiple styles, he can still run well if things don’t go his way, and his pedigree has classic stamina through and through.


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