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Cox Looks for First Preakness Win With First Mission

First Mission
Lexington Stakes winner First Mission is headed to the Preakness (Photo: Keeneland).

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 May 20 at Pimlico Race Course.

“He’s doing very well,” Cox said of First Mission, winner of Keeneland’s Stonestreet Lexington (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 (G3) at Keeneland.

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“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.

First Mission Wins Lexington

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.”

Mage’s Four-Race Experience Could be a Plus for Preakness

OGMA Investments, Ramiro Restrepo, Sterling Racing and CMNWLTH’s Mage became only the second horse to win the Kentucky Derby (G1) without racing at age 2 since Apollo in 1882. The other was 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify. Mage also was only the third Derby winner since the filly Regret in 1915 to prevail in its fourth lifetime start, following Justify and Big Brown in 2008.

With four races, including the 1 ¼-mile Derby, behind Mage, the light schedule now could work into his favor in the Preakness Stakes.

“Yes,” Gustavo Delgado Jr., son of and assistant to trainer Gustavo Delgado, said earlier in the week. “What happened to be the opposite side coming into the Derby – if the horse is feeling good enough to pursue the Preakness and Triple Crown – now we are on the good side of it. Because he’s lightly raced, and everything seems in order for him to continue to improve.”

Mage had a second day of galloping at Churchill Downs Wednesday after two days off following the Kentucky Derby. Delgado Jr. gave the “so far, so good” update while reiterating that final plans have not been made.