Brad Cox doesn't have time to be nervous.
With three Kentucky Derby starters this year – likely favorite Essential Quality, Mandaloun and Caddo River – you couldn't blame the Louisville native if things were getting a little tense around his barn.
But Cox has trained more than his share of stars for very big races. Just last year, he had two Breeders' Cup winners on his way to picking up the Eclipse award for best trainer.
And he was all business on the Churchill Downs backside Thursday morning as he discussed his contenders with Horse Racing Nation. Still, he acknowledged that this is a special time.
"We're in a good position with all three," he said. "Obviously we have, looks like, what's going to be the morning-line favorite. And we're in a good spot. And it's exciting. I mean, we're staying pretty busy – can't sit around, think about what what may happen. We're just trying to execute and prepare and train each day, and we're pretty busy right now. So I'm not nervous yet."
One factor yet to be resolved for all three is when they will have their final work, with rain in the forecast for Saturday.
Essential Quality "went to the gate today, stood in the gate, had normal gallop. He's doing what we're planning. We're hopeful we can breeze on Saturday morning – we're going to have to watch the weather. If worse comes to worst, we can always back it up to Sunday."
The undefeated colt's last race was the April 3 Blue Grass (G2), and his last published work was five furlongs in 59.6 at Churchill on Saturday.
Cox has a similar plan for Mandaloun, whose last race was a sixth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (G2).
"They won't work together, but it's on the same schedule," Cox said. "So they could possibly breeze Saturday, Sunday. I wouldn't completely rule out tomorrow, but we'll see how things go."
Essential Quality and Mandaloun are "both in a good spot right now," Cox said. "We're pretty happy with the way they're both training for sure."
Caddo River has not worked since his runner-up effort in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 10, and "we're thinking he will probably breeze tomorrow," Cox said. "Nothing super fancy. It'll be his first work since the Arkansas Derby – he just ran a mile-and-an-eighth, and he's going to be running the Kentucky Derby back in three weeks. So probably not looking to do a whole, whole lot with him. But he bounced out of it in good shape. He was one that stood in the gate this morning as well. And he's looking good. We're happy with him."
After jockey Florent Geroux held back Caddo River in the March 13 Rebel (G2) and finished fifth, he had more success in gaining the lead in the Arkansas Derby before being passed by Super Stock.
"We felt like Caddo River has done his best running on the lead," Cox said. "We took that approach last time. We didn't take that approach two back, and we ended up with a better result last time. So we do feel like he needs to be forwardly placed. I don't know if he's going to be in front, but we're going to make an attempt to get there and just kind of take it from there.
"Essential Quality is probably a touch more ratable and you can adjust pace. He's obviously the horse that definitely has the ability to have a different style. He can adjust to a race and adjust to a pace. So that gives you a lot of confidence.
"And then Mandaloun, he's always been one that's somewhat close routing, and we'll just kind of see where he breaks and puts himself."
Geroux rides both Mandaloun and Caddo River. He'll stay on Mandaloun for the Derby, and Cox hasn't decided on a jockey for Caddo River, saying, "We'll see how things play out over the next couple of days, kind of finalize things, maybe Sunday."
Meanwhile, Cox also is preparing for next Friday's Kentucky Oaks with two fillies – Travel Column and Coach, who made her way into the field with a defection earlier this week.
Cox said Travel Column, winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) last out and on the board in all five starts, will breeze on Friday.
"She's doing fantastic," he said. "She stood in the gate yesterday, she's going to breeze tomorrow. She's on target. She's a fantastic workhorse. Hopefully we get enough. Need a good move out of her tomorrow – nothing super, super fast. You know, I'm sure we'll see what we need to see. And hopefully, we'll march forward to next Friday."
Coach is coming off a third-place finish in the Fantasy (G3) on April 3.
"I'm not sure when she's going to breeze," Cox said. "I may have her down for tomorrow as well and kind of finalize things here shortly, but she's doing good. She really is. She's kind of getting in due to some defections, and she's obviously earned the right to get there. She had run a big race last time in the Fantasy, she moved forward. And hopefully, if she can move forward again – and I think she can – I think she'll be a player and numbers are going the right way."
Joining Cox's barn at Churchill is superstar Monomoy Girl, the two-time Eclipse winner who lost by a nose to Letruska in the April 17 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), her first loss since returning from injury last May.
"She's doing fantastic," Cox said. "She galloped this morning for the first time, and she bounced out of it in good order. I don't really know about her race yet. As far as moving forward, I'm happy to report she did come out of the race in good shape."