(Trainer Brad Cox / Photos by Holly M. Smith)

From the Horseshoe Indianapolis Media Team / Jennie Rees:

Cox seeks second sweep of Grade 3 Indiana Derby-Oaks

at Horseshoe Indianapolis

 SHELBYVILLE, Ind. (Thursday, July 4, 2024) — Brad Cox is as much a fixture on Horseshoe Indianapolis’ biggest day of racing as corn in the surrounding fields.


This year Cox brings Dragoon Guard, a 3-year-old colt with limited experience but huge potential, to the $300,000, Grade 3 Indiana Derby and the Grade 1-placed Impel to the $200,000, Grade 3 Indiana Oaks. Florent Geroux will ride both Juddmonte-owned horses in the 1 1/16 miles races.


Cox has won at least one stakes on Indiana’s showcase thoroughbred card since 2016, including last year’s featured Indiana Derby with Verifying.  In the early stages of building his stable into one of the most successful in the world, Cox feasted on the day’s supporting stakes. That changed in 2020, when he swept the Indiana Derby with Shared Sense and the Indiana Oaks with Shedaresthedevil, who subsequently won the Covid-delayed Kentucky Oaks.


“It’s always been a day of racing that we’ve been able to bring some live horses to and perform well,” said Cox, whose main base is Churchill Downs but whose divisions include one at Horseshoe Indianapolis. “Indiana has always been good to us through the years. It’s really a good day of racing. The crowds are always great. I remember during Covid in 2020, it was like the first time we were back around people.”


Saturday’s first race goes off at noon, with the Indiana Oaks set the 11th race (6:04 p.m. ET) and the Indiana Derby the 12th and last (6:41 p.m.) The card includes four $100,000 open stakes (the Mari Hulman George Memorial, Jonathan B. Schuster Memorial, Michael G. Schaefer Memorial, and the Indiana General Assembly Distaff Handicap) as well as a pair of $100,000 stakes for registered Indiana-bred 3-year-olds (The Snack) and state-bred 3-year-old fillies (The Ellen’s Lucky Star).


The 44-year-old Cox is the only trainer to sweep Indiana’s two biggest races since Bob Baffert in 2010 at Hoosier Park, before the graded stakes moved from the Anderson track to Horseshoe Indianapolis in 2014 and before switching from early October to July in 2015. 


Dragoon runs in a stakes and two-turn race for the first time after three-length-plus victories in a Keeneland maiden race at seven furlongs and 184 feet and a mile allowance race at Churchill Downs in the slop. He ran once as a 2-year-old in September, losing by a neck.


“We’ve spaced his races just trying to let him develop, and he has,” Cox said. “He’s a nice-looking colt by Arrogate, a homebred for Juddmonte. I’m excited about getting him around two turns. It’s a big ask, his first race around two turns and being in a graded stakes can always be tough. I thought he drew well enough, trained well enough to give us confidence.”


Dragoon Guard is the 7-2 third choice in the Indiana Derby’s adjusted line behind 2-1 favorite Santa Anita Derby winner Stronghold and 5-2 E J Won the Cup, who won the Texas Derby after a third in the Santa Anita Derby. 


“There are horses proven at a stakes level and graded-stakes level,” Cox said. “It’s a very good edition of the Indiana Derby.”


But he expects Dragoon Guard, based of his pedigree and physique, should move forward racing longer and at two turns.


“That’s what he’s bred to do,” Cox said. “But it’s always nice when they have enough speed to be forwardly placed going one turn, like he has in his first two runs this year. Again, he’s facing a lot tougher horses in this race than he has in his first two. Yeah, he definitely needs to move forward.”


Cox has huge respect for Stronghold, who before moving to trainer Phil D’Amato’s main division in California got his career started in Kentucky last year with a second at Ellis Park and a win at Churchill Downs. Stronghold wrapped up his 2-year-old year with a pair of seconds in graded stakes in California before starting his 2024 campaign with a victory in the Sunland Park Derby (G3) and Santa Anita Derby. He has not raced since finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby.


“He’s a nice horse. Phil has done a great job managing him,” Cox said. “I actually ran against him last year at Ellis. We had a horse Awesome Road that we thought a good bit of who performed really well that day and broke his maiden. I’ve kind of watched Stronghold just because of that throughout the winter and into the spring.”


Impel is the 7-5 favorite in the Indiana Oaks, with stakes-winning Band of Gold 3-1 and 2-for-2 Neon Icon 7-2 in the field of eight 3-year-old fillies. Winning her debut sprinting Jan. 1 in New Orleans, Impel rolled to an 8 1/2-length score in an Oaklawn Park allowance race. Moved into stakes company a month later in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland at 1 1/8 miles, she finished a competitive third behind Leslie’s Rose and 2-year-old filly champion Just F Y I. Switched back to two turns in the seven-furlong Eight Belles (G2), Impel was a good second on the Kentucky Oaks undercard in her last start.


“I think we’re still trying to figure out what she wants to do,” Cox said. “She threw me a little bit of a curveball in the Ashland. I thought she set a really good trip. Obviously, it was a Grade 1 race and a really good group of fillies. She was doing really well out of the Ashland; it was kind of a last-second decision to enter her in the Eight Belles. I thought she ran a great race from the inside post. We’ve taken our time with her. We want to give her another chance around two turns. Based off her pedigree and her physical, she acts like she’ll go two turns. She’s got a great mind, and I thought she drew well (post 7), just like the colt did.”


Cox recalls his first horse for Juddmonte being Speed Gun, who won his career debut at age 4 in early 2018 in New Orleans by 5 1/4 lengths. Speed Gun only raced three times. But since then, the ownership has teamed with Cox for such standouts as Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner and champion older female Idiomatic, Grade 1 winners Set Piece and Juliet Foxtrot and burgeoning star Scylla.  And, oh, by the way, with 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Mandaloun, who only this past winter was declared the official victor after the appeals ran their course following first-place finisher Medina Spirit’s post-race disqualification for a medication violation.


“Obviously there was no thrill of victory with it,” Cox said. “We’re looking to get back to that position and hopefully get our picture taken.”


The French stakes-winner Elounda Queen also will make her first start for Cox in the Indiana General Assembly Distaff on turf.