Imagine you train the best 3-year-old colt in the country and the best older horse. And your best option is to have them face each other in the biggest race on the calendar.
"It's tough," Cox told Horse Racing Nation at his Churchill Downs barn on Wednesday. "But at the end of the day, my job is just to keep them happy, healthy and fit. And they have to settle it on the racetrack. But yeah, it's not what I really want to do. But actually, it's good to be in this spot. I mean, it's the richest race we run in America, we have two extremely talented live horses. So we're looking forward to it.”
Knicks Go won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last year, and Cox has no interest in running him there again just to avoid a confrontation with Essential Quality in the Classic. “He's already been there and done that type of thing. So it's not going to enhance his value or stud value to win the Mile.”
Plus, he said, “they have different styles. Obviously, Knicks Go is a front runner, sets the pace, and Essential can kind of adapt to whatever is thrown at him and always comes running. So they're not going to get in each other's way. I certainly don't feel like they are.”
Essential Quality, with his 6: 5-0-0 record for the year, is training up to the Classic after his win in the Travers (G1) on Aug. 28. Knicks Go is 3-for-5 this year, with his most recent win in the Aug. 7 Whitney (G1).
Cox said he decided not to give Essential Quality another prep before the Breeders’ Cup because “he really hasn't had a break. He had a little bit of a freshening between the Breeders Cup and the Southwest this winter … and he's just been pretty much steady all year. He's not really getting a break, but he's getting I think 10 weeks between the Travers and the Breeders' Cup Classic. He's proven at the distance, a mile and a quarter, proven that he could do that – and he got a mile and a half. So he's got a lot of stamina just naturally, just born with it. So yeah, I feel like he'll be plenty fit."
Knicks Go will have a prep in the Lukas Classic Stakes (G3) on Oct. 2 at Churchill Downs.
“Knicks Go, on the other hand, it’s a little bit longer between the Whitney and obviously the Breeders’ Cup. And I just felt like it made sense that we could get one more start into him. It would be five weeks before the Breeders’ Cup and he's been training well, so I just thought we'd break it up a little bit. I guess there's a little bit of a question mark if he can get a mile and a quarter. I feel like he can at Del Mar. But we'll see.”
The 5-year-old Knicks Go has not raced farther than 1 1/8 miles in his career.
Shedaresthedevil, Bonny South pointed to Distaff
Cox, who won four Breeders’ Cup races last year, also has two fillies pointed to this year’s Distaff: Shedaresthedevil and Bonny South.
Shedaresthedevil, last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner, has a 5: 4-0-1 record this year after a gate-to-wire win in the Locust Grove (G3) by a neck on Saturday.
The Distaff would be a rubber match between her and Letruska, who beat Bonny South and Shedaresthedevil in the Ogden Phipps (G1) in June. That was one race after Shedaresthedevil beat Letruska in the Azeri (G2).
Cox thinks it will be an “exciting” race.
“I don't think there's a tremendous amount of separation between the two. We were able to win, beat her around two turns, and then she got the best of us at a mile and a 16th around one turn. So I look forward to another matchup with her. Our filly, she's a racehorse – she brings it every time, she's ultra-consistent, she has a win at Del Mar this year, which I think is worth something. So she went through the experience of traveling out there. I thought she ran really, really big the other day and left a little bit in the tank. She came out of it in great order, so I'm excited about taking her out there.”
Bonny South will start in the Spinster (G1) on Oct. 10 at Keeneland, Cox said, where she likely will face Letruska again.
“If she runs well there, I definitely think that Juddmonte would want to take a chance in the Distaff with her as well. She's a good filly.”
More of an unknown at this point is what juveniles, if any, Cox will take to Del Mar for the first weekend in November.
“Juveniles, we don't know yet. We got to kind of get through these races at Keeneland. We're hopeful, but we've got to through these races at Keenland before they tell us if they're going to be Breeders' Cup horses.”
And then there’s Arklow, the 7-year-old turf router who won the Louisville (G3) in May. He is winless in three starts since but lost by only a neck last out in the Calumet Turf Cup (G2). He ran out of the money in the last three Breeders' Cup Turf races, finishing sixth last year.
“I don't know if it makes sense to go back with him yet,” Cox said. “We're going to run him in the Joe Hirsch (G1) at Belmont, is our plan, and then that would kind of determine whether we look at that or something else.”
Mandaloun, the Kentucky Derby runner-up who went on to win the Pegasus Stakes and the Haskell (G1), has been out of action since last month because of a sore right hind foot.
“He's on the farm right now, he's doing great," Cox said. "They say he looks fantastic. Garrett O'Rourke, the general manager of Juddmonte Americas, said he looks fantastic. He sent some videos of him, he looks really good out in the field. He's being a horse right now, kind of letting him down.
“The goal is the Saudi Cup with him. We're going to kind of work our way back from there. We're hopeful we can get a run into him before that. We feel like we’ll need to get a run into him before that. Where that is, I don't know, with the fact that he's not even in training right now. But we're excited about getting him back this fall.”
HRN spoke with Cox Wednesday morning, before word came that superstar mare Monomoy Girl, the two-time Eclipse Award winner, would be retired from racing after discovery of an injury sustained in training on Tuesday.
“I’m going to miss having her around and not being able to put a saddle on her again, but Monomoy Girl owes us nothing,” Cox said in a news release Wednesday afternoon. “She’s an unbelievable mare and will always hold a special place in my heart as our first Oaks winner, Breeders’ Cup winner and champion. She will go to Spendthrift to start her breeding career, and I’m sure she’ll be an awesome mom.”