Kentucky Derby Maiden Watch: First Mission, Promise Me a Ride impress for Cox

March 20th, 2023

The 2022-23 Road to the Kentucky Derby has been productive for trainer Brad Cox. The Kentucky Derby (G1)-winning conditioner has won the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and Lecomte (G3) with Instant Coffee, the Gun Runner S. with Jace’s Road, the Smarty Jones S. with Victory Formation, the Withers (G3) with Hit Show, and the Risen Star (G2) with Angel of Empire.

But Cox’s roster of talented three-year-olds is still growing. Last weekend at Fair Grounds, Cox saddled Triple Crown nominees First Mission and Promise Me a Ride to win two-turn maiden special weights in impressive fashion. With seven weeks remaining until the Kentucky Derby, it’s not inconceivable that one or both could still join the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

First Mission posted a particularly flashy victory. The Godolphin homebred son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense was favored at 3-10 to win a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on Saturday, and after tracking splits of :23.81 and :47.72 from second place, First Mission ran down a runaway leader and finished fast (final five-sixteenths of a mile in :30.76) to dominate by 6 3/4 lengths in 1:44.55.

First Mission had previously finished second in a six-furlong maiden special weight at Fair Grounds, beaten less than a length by next-out allowance optional claiming winner Bishops Bay. Produced by the Medaglia d’Oro mare Elude, First Mission is bred to relish running long and obviously appreciated stretching out over 1 1/16 miles for his second start, so he appears to have a bright future ahead of him.

The following afternoon, Promise Me a Ride debuted in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight that was rained off the turf. Facing four rivals, the son of Mastery tracked and pressed fractions of :24.08 and :48.18 before taking over and drawing off down the homestretch to score by 4 1/4 lengths in 1:45.25. Promise Me a Ride’s affinity for Fair Grounds is fitting since his dam, Promise Me More, ran second in the 2013 Rachel Alexandra (G3) over this track.

We should also give a quick mention to Arcangelo. While not a Triple Crown nominee, the Jena Antonucci trainee impressed in a one-mile maiden special weight on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, which marked his third career start. After settling a few lengths behind quick early fractions of :23.17 and :45.55, Arcangelo rallied around the turn and pulled away in the final furlong to win by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:34.82.

A son of champion Arrogate, Arcangelo finished fast (final quarter-mile in :24.72) and is bred to run long. He’s progressing in the right direction and may improve further once he stretches out around two turns.