Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘I Don’t Think I Could Ever Work For Somebody Else’

Jorje Abrego distinctly remembers that dark day in 2012 when Midwest Thoroughbreds abruptly removed their horses from trainer Brad Cox’s barn. 

“It was 3:00 in the afternoon, and I looked down the shed row to see all webbings laying open, no horses in the stalls; it was sad,” Abrego said. “I remember somebody told me, ‘You know, you better find another job, because Brad has only two horses!’ 

“Brad came into Barn 47 and told me, ‘Please don’t go anywhere, I’ll keep you on your salary if you stay here. I’m going to get more horses.’”

That he did. The Cox operation is now setting new milestones: the barn had four Breeders’ Cup winners at the 2020 World Championships, and has three top candidates on the Kentucky Derby trail early in 2021.

“You know, sometimes bad things come, and then very good things come after,” Abrego said from his office at Oaklawn Park. “The rest is a very good story. It’s amazing, really.”

The 35-year-old native of Guatemala has been at Cox’s side since 2009, working his way up from a part-time groom and part-time hotwalker to one of the trainer’s top assistants. Abrego had only ever worked with a few horses, and had never seen a racehorse before arriving in the United States at the age of 22. He only walked hots before taking the job in Cox’s barn.

It isn’t hard to see that Abrego’s long-time loyalty to the trainer runs deep; he’s one of the first ones at the barn in the morning, and one of the last to leave it at night. He can be found in most of the photographs of the barn’s top runners, and he still answers Cox’s calls with a crisp, respectful, “Yes, sir.”

For the past five or six years, Abrego has made Oaklawn Park his winter home, handling a barn full of horses as well as the high-quality ship-in runners. Last weekend, for example, champions Monomoy Girl and Essential Quality shipped up from New Orleans before triumphing in local stakes races.

Assistant trainer Jorje Abrego celebrates a victory at Oaklawn Park

The chestnut phenom Monomoy Girl is the one who has Abrego’s heart, however. 

“I love every single horse in my barn, and maybe Brad Cox will win 100 more Grade 1 races, but I’ll always remember her,” Abrego said. “She was the first Grade 1 for the team, and it’s amazing to have a 6-year-old filly still running.”

The daughter of Tapizar gave Cox his first G1 win in the 2018 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, and has now won two editions of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, in 2018 and in 2020. She missed over a year of racing between her championship-defining victories, but came back with a vengeance to dominate her division in 2020. 

Monomoy Girl sold to Spendthrift Farm for $9.5 million at the end of 2020, and B. Wayne Hughes decided to return the champion racemare to Cox for a final season of racing in 2021. In her first start as a 6-year-old, Monomoy Girl posted a facile victory in the G3 Bayakoa Stakes on Feb. 28 at Oaklawn.

Her racing success isn’t the only thing Abrego loves about the mare.

“This filly is so sweet, too, especially when you give her a peppermint,” he said. “When this filly is walking the shed row, she’s like a pony. You’d never think she would run like that.”

The excitement is ramping up in the whole barn this year, as Cox has three runners with points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The trainer has never started a horse in the Run for the Roses, but with 2-year-old champion Essential Quality in the barn, as well as prep winners Mandaloun and Caddo River, the first Saturday in May can’t come quickly enough.

“I just hope we have the right one in the barn, the winner,” Abrego said, smiling.

Jorje Abrego, left, schooling Essential Quality in the paddock at Oaklawn before the colt’s win in the G3 Southwest Stakes

At the end of the day, win or lose, Abrego knows he has the best job in the world. He has a hard time expressing his gratitude to Cox for taking a chance on him all those years ago, but he’ll never forget it.

“When I told him this, believe me, it came from my heart,” Abrego relayed. “I told him, ‘I don’t think I could ever work for somebody else.’ I love this job too much. 

“I don’t feel like Brad Cox is my boss, really. The guy treats me like family.”

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: ‘I Don’t Think I Could Ever Work For Somebody Else’ appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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