Cox and ocean will make waves in Breeders' Cup

By Ron Flatter  ( 

Four wins in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup were the exclamation point on an Eclipse Award-winning year for trainer Brad Cox, shown here last spring at Churchill Downs. This week he has the top two betting choices in the $6 million Classic. (Ron Flatter photo)

Del Mar, Calif.

This part of the column was inserted after the fact. Imagine how difficult this would have been during the typewriter era.

Jack Christopher, who became the buzz horse this fall among 2-year-olds who may yet race in the 2022 Kentucky Derby, is out of Friday’s running of the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He suffered a left-shin injury that was not announced until sometime between the main course and the dessert at countless dinners Thursday night around San Diego.

So trainer Chad Brown, who landed at Del Mar with 13 would-be Breeders’ Cup starters, is down to 11 after a separate injury forced Domestic Spending to be scratched early Thursday from the $4 million Turf on Saturday.

Talk about an odd Breeders’ Cup for Brown. Of his 12 remaining grass starters, none is favored to win, even though he is far and away America’s best turf trainer. Does this mean value for most of his horses this week? Perhaps. But if any more words were to be written about this, then that whole business about “Cox and ocean” would turn into an Easter egg.

Now, back to the uninserted part of the column.

Brad Cox became a force to reckon with when he trained a record-tying four winners in the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland. Those two days almost exactly a year ago burnished his first Eclipse Award as the country’s top trainer. There is no reason to think it will be his last.

He arrived at the 2021 Breeders’ Cup with six horses, including two of the three leading candidates to be Horse of the Year. Knicks Go (5-2) and Essential Quality (3-1) carry the two shortest prices on the morning line and in futures betting for Saturday’s $6 million Classic.

Since Cox took over training Knicks Go at the start of last year, the now 5-year-old horse sired by Paynter is 7-for-7 going around two turns. But he has never raced as far as the Classic’s 1¼ miles. He is trying to become the first horse in 12 years to make his 10-furlong debut a winning one in America’s biggest race.

“His gallop-out in his races have been pretty impressive,” Cox said on Friday’s Ron Flatter Racing Pod. “He certainly can handle a mile-and-an-eighth awful well. I can’t see a reason why he would not get a mile-and-a-quarter. To look at his pedigree and think that he couldn’t get a mile-and-a-quarter, I don’t know why people wouldn’t think he would.”

Where Knicks Go might try to lead from gate to wire, Essential Quality is likely to stalk the pace. The winner of the Belmont Stakes and the Grade 1 Travers could become the 14th 3-year-old to win in the 38 runnings of the Classic, although he has been on the bench for 10 weeks.

“I feel like he’s run enough,” Cox said. “We’ve got a fit horse. He’s developed physically since the Travers. He has just expanded. He looks the part, and he’s training the part. I can tell that he has definitely gotten sharper and more aggressive in his training just since the cool weather took over the last two or three weeks.”

Cox also has a live chance in the $2 million Distaff on Saturday with Shedaresthedevil (4-1), who has done something few horses have accomplished all year. She defeated division leader and Distaff favorite Letruska. That happened in the two-turn Azeri Stakes last winter at Oaklawn Park. Three months later Letruska got even by beating Shedaresthedevil in the one-turn Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park.

“We did defeat Letruska around two turns, and we’re running around two turns,” Cox said. “I know that we can beat her. We’ve just got to have some racing luck and a good setup. I mean it’s been done.”

Cox also has a trio of 2-year-old starters Friday – Juju’s Map (5-2) in the Juvenile Fillies as well as Bubble Rock (8-1) and Turnerloose (12-1) in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Since he has entrants in fewer divisions this year, Cox can do only as well as he did last year with his four-pack in the Breeders’ Cup. But considering his recent success, the odds against it might not be all that long. To put it simply, Cox is no longer the hunter. Now he is the hunted. The very idea puts a smile on his face.

“It’s a good spot to be in, you know?” he said. “You have to be a realistic person. You have to place your horses in the proper spots, and it has a lot to do with success in this game. We’re in a good position. We’ve got some very good horses for great clients and good help, and we’re looking forward to the Breeders’ Cup.”

There is motion to the ocean, and it will have an effect on the Friday and Saturday races and, for that matter, any races at Del Mar.

As if Beyers and Bris ratings and Ragozin numbers and pace projections were not enough, the charts that display the times of high and low tide a quarter-mile from the track are important to watch. That is according to the best clocker and workout analyst in the business.

“You’re going to have two different tracks,” Bruno De Julio of Racing With Bruno said on the podcast.

Based on all the years he was based at Del Mar, De Julio learned that when the tide is high, the track carries more moisture, and it can create the sort of dead-rail idiosyncrasy that marked the 2017 Breeders’ Cup.

“You’re going to have a track that’s going to promote the outside post positions,” De Julio said of those hours when the tide is as much as eight feet above zero.

When the tide is low, the track is drier and potentially more speed favoring.

De Julio also said the way the track played the first two days of the fall meet Wednesday and Thursday will be different than it plays Friday and Saturday. That is partly because there are more races taking more time on the Breeders’ Cup days and more because low tide came two hours earlier Wednesday than it will occur Saturday.

“On Wednesday and Thursday, in the middle of the card, it’s all low tide,” De Julio said. “Depending on the atmospheric conditions, it’s going to be a dry track, and I think speed is going to be very, very good. If you’re going to go to the Breeders’ Cup, and you’re going to look at Wednesday and Thursday and think you’re going to know how that track plays, bzzz, wrong.”

De Julio is on to something here. All that needs to be done to fill the information void at Del Mar is to say the tracks are fast and firm, and the tide is low. Or not.

Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at with more frequent articles this week during the Breeders’ Cup. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available at This week features a pop-up episode available now with Las Vegas bookmakers Chris Andrews, Johnny Avello and Duane Colucci handicapping all 14 championship races. Friday’s regular episode includes jockey Mike Smith, trainers Chad Brown, Brad Cox and Bill Mott, workout analyst Bruno de Julio and XBTV’s Zoe Cadman and Jeff Siegel. The RFRP is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.

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