Cox may run Tawny Port back in Lexington

Photo: Courtesy Kentucky HBPA

Lexington, Ky.

Brad Cox put his familiar blue, University of Kentucky baseball cap aside Thursday afternoon. Instead, the reigning two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer was sporting a purple, 2022 Breeders’ Cup lid, appropriate for the Tandy Park news conference to formally launch the countdown to the championships this fall at Keeneland.

But thoughts about next month’s Kentucky Derby were not far away, nor was the possibility of a late push to get one of his contenders into the race.

“We’re talking about putting Tawny Port in the Lexington,” Cox said. He was referring to his runner-up last weekend in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) and the final Derby points prep next Saturday at Keeneland. “He came out the Jeff Ruby in good order, but we would work him back one time and just kind of see.”

RELATED: Qualifying scenarios for Kentucky Derby.

Normally, the 40 points that the Pioneerof the Nile colt earned last week would be enough to get him into the Derby. And they may yet be. But as many as 10 horses could tie for that total, bringing forth the possibility of invoking the earnings tiebreakers.

With only $122,000 from non-restricted stakes, Tawny Port would be eliminated if he were in a deadlock with any other 40-point horse. That is why Cox is standing by to see what happens Saturday in the Wood Memorial (G2), Blue Grass Stakes (G1) and Santa Anita Derby (G1), the final major preps of the season.

“I can’t remember a year when 40 points didn’t get you in,” said Cox, correctly noting that that the cut line was never higher. “Forty is normally a fairly good number. We’ll know more Saturday evening.”

Tawny Port’s stablemate Zozos also has 40 points after his second-place result March 26 in the Louisiana Derby (G2), but his $200,000 in non-restricted stakes money might be enough to keep him in the Derby top 20. Right now he is 13th .

“He’s a very good colt,” Cox said. “There’s a good bit of improving he can do and developing he’s going to do. We have six weeks to try to narrow the gap there. I’m not sure we can do it. We’re going to take our time with him. I don’t want to rush him, but if he’s able to get into the Derby, we’ll take a chance. Hopefully he gets in.”

There are no dreams about Cyberknife, whose win last week in the Arkansas Derby (G1) made him certain to get an invitation to run for the roses May 7 at Churchill Downs.

“When he’d first come in, he could be a tough horse to ride,” Cox said. “He’d tend to rear up a little bit. He could put some fear in some riders, but he’s really moved forward. Often times with these horses, the more they do, the better they’ll get. That’s exactly what he’s done.”

Florent Géroux has ridden Cyberknife and Zozos for Cox. He also rode Mandaloun to what became a victory in last year’s Kentucky Derby after this winter’s disqualification of the late Medina Spirit.

Géroux also was the man up on Monomoy Girl in 2018 and Shedaresthedevil in 2020 when they won the Kentucky Oaks for Cox, who has as many as three contenders trying to get into this year’s renewal.

Even though she finished only fourth in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), turf specialist Turnerloose earned enough points from her 17-1 upset win in the Rachel Alexandra (G2) to make the race May 6.

“We’re planning on going to the Oaks,” Cox said. “We’re going to see how she trains, but right now we’ve circled it, and we’re going to try to prepare her for the Oaks.”

His other two Oaks possibilities – Bubble Rock and Juju’s Map – are not certain of being among the 14 fillies in the starting gate.

Bubble Rock had raced only on turf and tracks before finishing third last week synthetic in the Fantasy (G3) at Oaklawn. She stands 11th in qualifying and will sit out this weekend’s final four points preps. Cox is leaning against sending her to the Oaks.

“I think we’re going to go back to the grass with her,” he said. “She ran a real big race (last week), but we really didn’t see enough to pursue the Oaks.”

Currently 18th in Oaks qualifying, Juju’s Map has been on the outside looking in since she finished second to eventual division champion Echo Zulu last fall in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar. She would need a lot of defections above her to get in. Cox rejected the idea of ​​running Juju’s Map in a late prep the next few days at Keeneland.

“I’d love to have her in the Ashland (G1 on Friday),” he said. “She wasn’t quite ready for the Beaumont (G3 on Sunday). We’re probably going to be ready toward the end of this meet or at Churchill for sure.”

Cox said the Eight Belles (G2) on May 6 at Churchill Downs could be a tune-up to get Juju’s Map ready for a run in the Acorn (G1) on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 11.

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