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Five years after he won his first Grade 1 stakes, Louisville-based trainer Brad Cox has the opportunity to complete a personal lifetime Triple Crown with Godolphin’s First Mission in the 148th Preakness Stakes (G1) May 20 at Pimlico Race Course.
2023 Preakness Stakes
“He’s doing very well,” Cox said of First Mission, winner of Keeneland’s Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (G3) under Luis Saez in his most recent start on April 15. “He had a good breeze here Derby morning (five-eighths of a mile in 59.80 seconds). He bounced out of it in great shape. We really like what we’ve seen from him all winter and into the spring. He’s obviously stepped up. He’s lightly raced but he’s got a lot of talent. We’re looking forward to giving him a swing at a Grade 1.
First Mission has raced only three times, finishing second in his Feb. 18 debut at Fair Grounds, before graduating in his first start around two turns by 6 ¾ lengths a month later at Fair Grounds and winning the Lexington at Keeneland.
“I really believe this horse is one of the top 3-year-olds in the country. Like I said, he’s lightly raced but a lot of talent. A very intelligent horse; sound horse; does everything right. I think he’s only going to get better the more he does it.”
Cox earned his first Grade 1 victory in Keeneland’s 2018 Ashland Stakes with Monomoy Girl, who became a two-time Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner and a champion. If he wins the Preakness, First Mission would be the 13th individual horse to win a Grade 1 stakes for Cox.
Cox’s first Triple Crown victory came with Mandaloun in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, albeit after the First Saturday in May. That’s when first-place finisher Medina Spirit was disqualified from the Derby victory for a minor medication infraction. That result is still being litigated, but Churchill Downs recognizes Mandaloun as the winner.
The 2020-2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer’s first Triple Crown race winner to cross the wire in front was Godolphin’s 2-year-old champion Essential Quality in the 2021 Belmont Stakes.
Cox has only been in the Preakness once, finishing third with Owendale and fourth with Warrior’s Charge in 2019.
“It would be cool to win that jewel of the Triple Crown,” he said. “It’s a very fun week there in Baltimore. They really put on a good show. A lot of history there; it’s an older racetrack. It’s a really cool experience.”
Even if he’s only been in the headliner once, Cox has enthusiastically embraced the Preakness weekend stakes.
“We’ve had a lot of luck over there in undercard races, such as the Dinner Party and the Black-Eyed Susan,” he said. “(Champion female sprinter and 3-year-old filly) Covfefe ran there. I love going over there. It’s a great atmosphere. Baltimore is a very cool city and I’m looking forward to going back next week.”
For the seventh-straight year, the Maryland Jockey Club is offering bonus money totaling $100,000 to trainers who run a minimum of five horses in the 15 Thoroughbred stakes races during Preakness weekend, May 19 and 20, at Pimlico. Points are accumulated for finishing first (10 points), second (seven), third (five), fourth (three) and having a starter (one). First place is worth $50,000, a prize Cox earned in 2019, with Steve Asmussen winning the bonus the past two years.
“I’m not sure we’re going to have enough horses to compete for the title, but who knows?” Cox said. “I honestly don’t really look at that. Whatever you take there, you send with intent. You don’t put them on the van if you think they’re going to be an also-ran. If everything works out and they run the way they can, maybe we’ll be in contention.”
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