Trainer Kenny Cox had a pretty good run in the early 1990s with a warrior racehorse named Flaming Emperor, who earned more than $700,000. When his business dried up, and no more Flaming Emperors found their way into his barn, Cox was forced to take a job working in the Pimlico starting gate to pay his bills.
In 2001, after five years in the gate, Cox got the urge to train again and two years later he works for Michael Gill, the top owner in the country. The fruits of being with an owner of almost unlimited resources were on display Saturday afternoon as a Cox-trained, Gill-owned runner named Move to Strike blasted out of the gate and whipped six other sprinters to win the $50,000 Sonny Hine Stakes for 3-year-olds at Pimlico.
After opening up a six-length lead in the stretch, Move to Strike had just enough left to withstand a dramatic charge by Wimplestiltskin and win by a nose, running the six furlongs in 1 minute 10.59 seconds.
"Anytime you get an opportunity like this, it's a lifetime chance," Cox said in the winner's circle after accepting the trophy from Carolyn Hine, widow of late trainer Sonny Hine, who conditioned the great Skip Away.
Cox's stable of 15 horses had dipped to six before Gill asked him to replace Phil Schoenthal. Gill, who could not be reached to comment, has a controversial reputation, and his leading trainer, Mark Shuman, is currently under suspension for a drug infraction.
"There's a lot of knocks on him, but he's been nothing but great with me," Cox said. "The horses are first with him."
Pointing to the top-shelf medication he has been able to give his horses under Gill, Cox said: "If the horse needs it, he gets it. Smaller outfits get generic [drugs], and with generic you don't know what you're getting."
Move to Strike, a stakes winner at Pimlico in April, had run three straight poor races under other Gill trainers. He had been laid up since July and gelded after his last race, Cox said. A series of fast workouts signaled a return to form.
"The horse was training unbelievably," Cox said. The Sonny Hine was "a tough spot to come back in, but he was doing so good we decided to take a shot."
Racing Notes: With a sustained drive from the backside of the turf course, Ticker Tape, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, won the Grade I $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland. Trained at Santa Anita by James Cassidy, the daughter of British stallion Royal Applause won her second Grade I race of the year, taking the 11/8-mile race in 1:51.35. . . .
With a victory in the Grade II Kelso last week at Belmont Park, Pimlico-based turf runner Mr. O'Brien will be supplemented for $135,000 to run in the Breeders' Cup Mile on Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park. Trained by Robin Graham, the 5-year-old is 4 for 5 at the distance and has run in some of the top turf stakes in the country this year.