Wet Paint whips other fillies to claim Martha Washington

HOT SPRINGS -- Don't forget that before he became a horse whisperer to Kentucky Derby prospects, Brad Cox displayed a certain charm with fillies.

In what seems destined to be a Hall of Fame career, the 42-year-old trainer scored his first Grade I victory in the 2018 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland with Monomoy Girl, taking his first Kentucky Oaks crown next out at Churchill Downs. A champion at 3 and 5 with victories in the Breeders' Cup Distaff both seasons, Monomoy Girl won 14 of 17 starts. the 2021 Grade III Bayakoa at Oaklawn included, though second in that year's Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap.

Seeking his third Oaks victory, Cox received cheering news in Florida that Saturday at Oaklawn Racing Resort Casino, Wet Paint was his latest stakes winner in the $200,000 Martha Washington. Taxed, trained by Randy Morse, held on for second at 27-1, just ahead of last-out Oaklawn stakes winner and even-money favorite Defining Purpose from Ken McPeek's barn.

In her fourth start and second victory, Wet Paint traded strength for strength with the pick-up of jockey Flavien Prat, while Cox's go-to rider, Florent Geroux, rode 2022 Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife (from the same barn) in the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

Were it not for light rain and the distance involved, with nothing much shaking, Prat and his filly could have counted the crowd on the backstretch. Sitting the last of six after the leader's opening half-mile in 48.18 seconds over a wet-fast surface, Wet Paint picked up a horse entering the second turn and swung four wide into the stretch.

She pulled away by two lengths, her 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.62 with the composure of someone who had done it before. A rival or two was breathing deeply after a mile, while Wet Paint kept going, having never raced at a shorter distance.

"Brad was telling me she wasn't really quick out of there," Prat said. "He said to give her time to get herself on her leads. After that, she was traveling well. I was able to cut the corner. And, when I tipped her out, she really responded well."

Wet Paint, her maiden victory coming second out in October in the slop at Horseshoe Indianapolis, collected 20 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points from her first stakes victory. Unless Cox chooses other options, she has Grade III Oaklawn races for consideration in the Honeybee on Feb. 25 and the Fantasy on April 1, both at the Martha Washington distance before she would presumably stretch out to nine furlongs in the Kentucky Oaks.

Getting 3-1 odds, Wet Paint paid $8, $4.60 and $2.80. Cox previously won the Martha Washington -- taken last year by future Oaks winner Secret Oath -- with Taraz in 2020, that proving the Juddmonte Farms' filly last start before breaking down fatally in a workout.

Taxed out-kicked Year's End Stakes winner Defining Purpose, the heavy favorite under David Cabrera.

"It is what it is. I don't think she's a horse that likes to feel pressure," Cabrera said. "She's a horse that likes to run free like last time. We'll know that for next time."

Close second choice Trapeze, a Remington Park stakes winner for trainer Todd Fincher, set the early splits but blinked first in upper stretch. Olivia Twist (fifth), Defining Purpose and D. Wayne Lukas-trained Take Charge Briana divvied up remaining Oaks points to the top five.

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