Essential Quality and Caddo River are key for Cox

Brad Cox will be hoping Essential Quality and Caddo River join Mandaloun in qualifying for the Kentucky Derby on May 1.

Forty-year-old Brad Cox is coming off a year in which he received the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer. Although not yet in the Hall of Fame, he's certainly headed in that direction. His four Breeders' Cup wins in 2020 lifted him to almost $19million in earnings for the year, placing him in second place nationally.

Louisiana Derby entries

The Kentucky native already has one horse qualified for the Kentucky Derby on May 1. Mandaloun will be looking for a second consecutive victory at The Fair Grounds in New Orleans Saturday afternoon. He'll be facing a tough field in the $1million Louisiana Derby, which includes Midnight Bourbon, Proxy and Hot Rod Charlie.

Eight horses will be competing for points on a 100-40-20-10 scale, with two or three more Kentucky Derby invitations hinging on the outcome. The 50 points Mandaloun earned for winning the Risen Star Stakes on February 13 gave him a total of 52, placing him in third place on The Road to the Kentucky Derby list, trailing Life Is Good and Greatest Honour, both with 60 points.

Quality is Essential for Kentucky Derby

Cox also trains the undefeated Essential Quality, currently seventh in the standings with 40 points and on the verge of earning an invitation to the Kentucky Derby. The winner of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on February 27 is expected to race next in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, on April 1.

The Bluegrass also awards points on a 100-40-20-10 scale, so any finish of fourth or higher will send Essential Quality on to Churchill Downs for the Triple Crown opener. With his performances so far, the expectations for the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Breeders' Cup Futurity in 2020 are far higher than a fourth-place finish.

Along with Life Is Good, Essential Quality is considered a solid contender to challenge for the Triple Crown, despite trailing a number of other horses in points. His point total is a bit deflated due to his lack of a race above the 20-8-4-2 level. That should change on April 1.

Caddo River must flow after Oaklawn disappointment

A third Cox-trained horse in Kentucky Derby contention is Caddo River, although he stumbled to a disappointing fifth-place finish as the favorite in the $1million Rebel Stakes last week at Oaklawn. Any momentum he had from a win at the same track in the Smarty Jones Stakes on January 22 disappeared on Saturday.

He'll be looking to rebound on April 10 in the $1million Arkansas Derby and its 100-40-20-10 point payout. Having only 10 points by virtue of the Smarty Jones win, Caddo River will need to finish no worse than second to give Cox a chance at entering three horses in the Kentucky Derby.

It appears he'll be facing at least as deep a field in April as he let get away from him in the Rebel, so it will probably take all of Brad Cox's considerable skill to pull it off. Regardless of Caddo River's success or lack of it in the Arkansas Derby, we'll be hearing a lot from Brad Cox for years to come.