Cox Fully Loaded for G3 Southwest

January 26, 2023

Corona Bolt out on the track at Oaklawn Park (Cathy Riccio)

By Robert Yates – Oaklawn Barn Notes

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.— The morning after winning the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes New Year’s Day at Oaklawn, trainer Brad Cox was asked where he would be Jan. 28.

“I’ll probably be in Miami,” Cox said. “Cyberknife’s meant a lot to us. He’s a good colt. I’m definitely sad to see him go because I feel like he’s just hitting his best stride.”

Cyberknife, who won the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) last April at Oaklawn, will make his final career start in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1) Saturday at Gulfstream Park in suburban Miami. The reference to Jan. 28 – almost four weeks earlier – was sparked by Cox revealing that he planned to run as many as three horses in Oaklawn’s $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds.

Cox will be represented by three horses in Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile Southwest, which is scheduled to be run approximately 20 minutes after the Pegasus, in unbeaten Corona Bolt (2 for 2), stakes winner Jace’s Road and Hit Show, a Dec. 17 entry-level allowance winner at Oaklawn. The most intriguing of the trio is Corona Bolt, the country’s top-rated Kentucky Derby prospect in Jeremy Plonk’s weekly Triple Crown scouting report, “Countdown to the Crown.”

From the first crop of millionaire multiple Grade 1 winner Bolt d’Oro, Corona Bolt will be making his two-turn and 3-year-old debut in the Southwest, Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby points races. Corona Bolt was a front-running 6 ¾-length winner of the $100,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at 6 furlongs Dec. 26 at Fair Grounds. He came from just off the pace to win his Nov. 19 career debut at Churchill Downs going 6 ½ furlongs.

Florent Geroux will have his regular seat aboard Cyberknife in the Pegasus, but he also rode Corona Bolt in his first two starts. Corona Bolt, favored in both races, is 6-1 on the morning line for the Southwest.

“I think he’s definitely a horse with talent,” Geroux said moments after riding Misty Veil in the $150,000 Pippin Stakes Jan. 7 at Oaklawn. “He’s been winning going away both times, well in control in both races. Now, the question mark is if he’s going to be able to carry his speed all the way around two turns. I don’t see why not. It looks like the perfect race to get him started for the Kentucky Derby trail, for sure.”

A $225,000 purchase at the 2020 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, Corona Bolt is campaigned by nationally prominent breeder/owner Barbara Banke (Stonestreet Stables). Corona Bolt is a half-brother to Proven Strategies, a stakes winner at a mile on turf at 3 in Canada for Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse.

“He’s got speed,” Cox said of Corona Bolt. “He’s a very fast horse.”

Corona Bolt will be ridden in the Southwest by Flavien Prat. Cox and Prat teamed to win the Smarty Jones with unbeaten Victory Formation (3 for 3), who was making his two turn, stakes and 3-year-old debut in the 1-mile race.

Cyberknife will be making his 13th and final career start in the Pegasus, a race Cox won in 2021 with Oaklawn allowance winner Knicks Go. Cyberknife, a millionaire multiple Grade 1 winner, will enter stud at Kentucky’s Spendthrift Farm following the Pegasus. He’s the 5-2 program favorite.

“Florent breezed him (Jan. 1) and was like, ‘Man, it’s a shame we’re having to send him off to stud,’ ” Cox said. “But look, it is what it is. We’re going to do the best we can with him Pegasus Day and hopefully he goes out a winner.”

The Southwest will offer 40 points (20-8-6-4-2, respectively) to the top five finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby points series continues with the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25 and the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 1.

Cox also won the Smarty Jones in 2021 with Caddo River and the Southwest in 2021 with champion Essential Quality.

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