Monomoy Girl: From Ellis Park to 3-year-old filly champ

Monomoy Girl winning the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff under Florent Geroux Saturday at Churchill Downs. Coady Photography

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018) — On horse racing’s biggest global stage, Monomoy Girl became only the third Kentucky Oaks winner to also take the $2 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff in the same year. She further entrenched her status as the country’s best 3-year-old filly in Saturday’s length victory over Wow Cat at Churchill Downs.

“That’s what you’re looking for, what you hope is going to happen: that she’d continue to stay in the form she’d been in or even improve,” trainer Brad Cox said Sunday. “That’s what I said going into this race, ‘She has to improve to beat these fillies,’ and she did.

“I don’t want to say she peaked yesterday, but it was definitely the biggest race she’d had to date.”

It was a long way from the summer of 2017, when Monomoy Girl was stabled at Ellis Park, preparing in anonymity for her racing debut that came in a mile grass race at Indiana Grand the day after the Ellis meet ended. Though Monomoy Girl didn’t race at the track, she has served as an endorsement for Ellis Park as an excellent place to train young horses over a good, safe surface and in a laid-back environment.

Monomoy Girl at Ellis Park as an unraced 2-year-old. Courtesy Tessa Bisha

“She’s always had a mind of her own,” said Tessa Bisha, Cox’s assistant who had Monomoy Girl at Ellis Park all that summer before the filly joined the stable’s Churchill Downs division. “Our fear of her getting beat was not with her ability but with her mind wandering. She’s very independent-natured. She loves to train; she always has. But she just kind of wanted to do it the way she felt like on any given day. You couldn’t really boss her around. We didn’t know how talented she was then, but we knew she had ability. And we knew you couldn’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole.

“I wouldn’t consider her to be quirky. But we really did have to shape and develop her mind. It wasn’t just getting her fit. It was really teaching her. There’s a lot of pride to having those ones that need to be taught, that don’t just take to it like a fish to water. Once she broke her maiden, that was all it took. She just needed that one run at race experience and she put all the pieces together and never looked back. But you’ve got to get them there.”

Cox’s training career already was on the ascent, but Monomoy Girl has added jet-burners. The filly in Keeneland’s Ashland Stakes in April gave Cox his first Grade 1 victory. More Grade 1 glory followed in the Kentucky Oaks, New York’s Acorn Stakes on the Belmont Stakes card and Saratoga’s Coaching Club American Oaks. She also finished first in Parx Racing’s $1 million Grade 1 Cotillion but was disqualified to second for drifting out and interfering with Midnight Bisou, who wound up third in the Distaff in the rematch.

In the Breeders’ Cup, Monomoy Girl ran straight as a string under Florent Geroux while covering 1 1/8 miles in 1:49 3/5 as the 9-5 favorite in the field of 11 fillies and mares. The $100,000 Keeneland yearling purchase now is 9 for 11 lifetime, with two seconds, while earning $2,954,750. The only time she hasn’t been in front at the wire was her neck defeat in last year’s Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill, her hometown track with the Louisville born, raised and based trainer.

Brad Cox. Mike Kane photo

She will be Cox’s first Eclipse Award champion, the only question being if she’s the unanimous selection in balloting for the 3-year-old filly division.

“She’s an amazing animal,” he said. “She’s stepped up every time for us, and she does wonders for your career. She’s definitely made memories that will last a lifetime. It’s been an amazing ride with her. Hopefully she’ll move on as a 4-year-old and we’ll try to make her champion older mare next year.”

Cox said Monomoy Girl will get some turn-out time at some point but will do most of her winter training with his New Orleans division. Cox is the two-time defending training champion at the Fair Grounds, his 53 victories last year (reflecting a 30-percent strike rate) included Monomoy Girl’s 3-year-old debut in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra.

“She’ll get a break at some point this winter, just not sure how quick it’s going to come. We’ve kind of flirted with the idea of looking at the Pegasus World Cup,” he said of the $9 million race on Jan. 26 at Florida’s Gulfstream Park against males running 1 1/8 miles. “Right now, that would be the race in the near future that we’d kind of target. Beyond that, it would just be the Breeders’ Cup Distaff next year at Santa Anita.”

Cox said he expected to race Monomoy Girl at Ellis, but Indiana Grand became Plan B when that didn’t work out before the Ellis meet ended. 

“It just goes to show you that you never know where a good horse is going to come from,” he said. “When she came in, there was no huge hype around her. She was just another 2-year-old that got off the van. She was very green when she got there. She was well broke and everything, but she didn’t know what was going on. She’s come a long way.”

Bisha said Ellis Park was an ideal setting for Monomoy Girl at that stage.

“There was just enough action and just enough for her to see that she was getting acclimated to the real racetrack environment, but it was quiet enough for her to handle it,” she said. “They have a grandstand to look at and a real starting gate with starters who can work with them. Some of the training centers, you just don’t have access to that kind of thing. With Monomoy, it took her a long time to teach her to come out of the gate. She was very confused about why she needed to come out. She didn’t understand anything until she ran the first time. It was like we taught her all the pieces, and she put them together.”

Cox also finished fourth in Saturday’s $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf with Arklow, winner of Ellis Park’s $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Calumet Farm Turf Cup and Kentucky Downs’ $750,000 Calumet Farm Kentucky Turf Cup. Both horses were ridden by Geroux.

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Jennie Rees

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