Sunday, January 15, 2017

 

Trainer Brad Cox Looking to Beat 2016 Records

 

Brad Cox didn’t just set career highs across the board in 2016, he smashed them. 

 

Cox, who finished Oaklawn’s 2016 meet fourth in the standings, ranked 15th nationally in victories (151) and purse earnings ($6,288,972), according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. He  also ranked seventh nationally in stakes victories (27) and his robust 28-percent strike rate (151 of 545) was higher than any other top 15 trainer.

 

All the gaudy numbers were on the heels, or, in this case, hooves of career years in 2014 and 2015.

 

“I really don’t know what to say about it,” Cox, 36, said before training hours Sunday morning at Oaklawn. “Everybody says we had a great year. But, we’re looking to do bigger and better things this year, I guess you would say.”

 

Twice down to only a handful horses in recent years after parting ways with Chicago-based Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., Cox has more than 80 horses in training at Oaklawn and in Louisiana, where he also maintains a string at Fair Grounds.

 

“Payroll’s gotten a lot bigger,” Cox said with a laugh.

 

Cox’s stable has grown so fast – newer high-profile owners include John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs, Ahmed Zayat, Sol Kumin, Tracy Farmer and China Horse Club – that the trainer wants to maintain a year-round division in New York. He maintained small strings in 2016 at Saratoga and Belmont Park.

 

“We almost did it this year, but just didn’t have the personnel for it,” Cox said.

 

Cox also set personal Oaklawn bests last year for starts (89), victories (23) and purse earnings ($1,357,528) and won a meet-high five stakes. He recorded his 100th Oaklawn victory – and the most lucrative of his 13-year career – when late-running Call Pat won the $350,00 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares last March.

 

Cox’s 2017 Oaklawn stable is headed by Arkansas-bred star Weast Hill, unbeaten in five career local starts, including three stakes. The trainer said Weast Hill was turned out following an 11th-place finish in the $150,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes (G3) May 6 at Churchill Downs to point for the 2017 Oaklawn meeting.

Before breezing in the fog Sunday morning, Cox said Weast Hill, a 5-year-old gelded son of Rockport Harbor, was pointing for a state-bred allowance sprint this month.

 

“He appears to be as good as he’s ever been,” Cox said. “He’s going to do his damage down here. This is where he’s going to make his money. There’s no sense in beating him up all summer.”

 

Following the allowance race, Cox said the hope is Weast Hill can defend his titles against state-bred company in the $100,000 Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes Feb. 25 and $100,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Stakes April 8.

 

Cox said several of his better prospects, including Dazzling Gem and Benner Island, are “stuck” in Louisiana because of Oaklawn’s ban on shippers (equine herpes virus). Dazzling Gem finished fourth in last year’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn and would be a candidate for local two-turn stakes races for older horses.

 

Benner Island, owned by Anthony’s Shortleaf Stable, was a first-level allowance/optional claiming winner Nov. 26 at Churchill Downs in her last start. Cox said he would like to run Benner Island in Oaklawn’s two-turn series of stakes races for 3-year-old fillies.

 

“I’m kind of stuck right now because of the quarantine thing,” Cox said. “Obviously, we’ll have a very slow meet until that breaks.”

 

Pick of the Litter

 

Corresponding all-source handle Friday on the new Pick-5 at Oaklawn was up almost 800 percent compared to the multi-race wager it replaced, Bobby Geiger, Oaklawn’s director of gaming and wagering, said Saturday morning.

 

Geiger said total wagering on the Pick-5 (last five races) was $39,846 – $32,926 off track and $6,920 on track.

 

All-source handle on the CLASSIX, Oaklawn’s version of the Pick-6, last year was $4,455, including $2,514 on track.

 

The all-source total represented a 794.4 percent increase. The on-track spike was 175.3 percent.

 

“One day does not make a trend, but it was eye-catching,” Geiger said.

 

A 50-cent base wager, the Pick-5 requires bettors to select the winners of five consecutive races. Friday’s winning Pick-5 payoff was $31,476.

 

The Arkansas Racing Commission approved Oaklawn’s request to add a Pick-5 this year to replace the CLASSIX, which had seen interest wane in recent years. The CLASSIX required bettors to select the winners of six consecutive races (3-8) and debuted at the 1986 meeting.

 

“Our CLASSIX, it just lost its steam over the years,” Geiger said. “The off-track players, we know that they prefer, or like to play, the Pick-5. We didn’t know what to expect on track because we’ve never offered one here. But clearly, they took to it.”

 

All-source Pick-5 handle Saturday was $50,037, with a winning payoff of $39,528.

 

Finish Lines

 

Fog obscured most of the course for workouts Sunday morning, but the track was rated fast. … Arkansas-bred star Weast Hill worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.60 Sunday morning for trainer Brad Cox. … Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen recorded his 499th career Oaklawn victory when Terra Promessa won Saturday’s $125,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. The Pippin was also the 68th career stakes victory in Hot Springs for Asmussen, who has won seven Oaklawn training titles since 2007. Asmussen has two horses entered Sunday at Oaklawn. … Alex Birzer’s victory aboard Wild Dreams ($7.20) in Saturday’s first race was the 2,985th of his career, according to Equibase. Birzer is trying to become the 173rd jockey to reach 3,000 North American career victories. … Saturday’s $125,000 Dixie Belle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 6 furlongs closed with 29 nominations. … Through the first two days of the scheduled 57-day meet, 19 claims have totaled $244,500.

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