Steve Landers, a defeated mayoral candidate in his hometown, tosses his hat in the ring for the 2023 Kentucky Derby.

A car dealership in central Arkansas and a member of the Arkansas Racing Commission, Landers is part of an ownership group with some promising two-year-olds trained by Brad Cox. Cox hails from Louisville, whose Cyberknife won the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in Oaklawn in April. Cox won championships 2 and 3 with Essential Quality, winner of the 2021 Belmont Stakes and Oaklawn’s Grade 3 Southwest. A two-time Eclipse Award-winning coach, he is considered a strong contender for his first Oaklawn Championship in the upcoming 2022-23 season, which begins December 9.

Cox is eyeing the Jan. 1 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn for the next start of Giant Mischief and also considering the Dec. 17 springboard at Remington Park. Both are a mile away and offer 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby qualifying points. Cox won the 2020 Smarty Jones with Caddo River, owned by Hot Springs lumberman John Ed Anthony, Oaklawn’s career ladder in races won by an owner.

Giant Mischief is the sire of Into Mischief, a half brother of champion race mare Beholder and the first foal of multiple Grade 1 winner Vertical Oak. Giant Mischief’s win by a three-quarter length over Bob Baffert-trained favorite Arabian Lion, 3-5 favorite in a $160,000 premium race on November 4 around seven stadiums in Keeneland, scored high on the Derby radar screens. It was 17 1/2 lengths back to third place Old Alliance.

The win was bolstered by Giant Mischief’s ThoroGraph performance, ranked as the fastest youth race of the Breeders’ Cup weekend at Keeneland. On a scale where lower numbers are better, Arabian Lion got a 3/4 with a wider trip, while Giant Mischief got a 2 and Forte, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner for trainer Todd Pletcher, got longer for 2 1/2 went .

Cox’s Giant Mischief partners are Landers, Barry Weisbord, Bloodstock agent Liz Crow and Martin Schwartz. Crow played a prominent role in the career of two-time racer and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner, Monomoy’s Girl, who was trained by Cox and won the 2020 Apple Blossom Handicap Grade 1 at Oaklawn.

“It’s a group of Brad Cox customers who have been looking for more triple crown action,” Weisbord told Bloodhorse.com writer Bob Ehalt in a weekday feature. The group bought 23 year-old stallions in 2021 and a 2-year-old earlier this year, an $8 million company with 10 owners.

“It takes a while for something like this to get off the ground,” Cox said in the Bloodhorse story. “We haven’t had many runners, but those who have run make good debuts.”

Giant Mischief, for example, caught the attention of Bob Baffert, trainer of Arabian Lion and Arabian Night, with the latter horse prominently in the Derby talk after a first win at Keeneland on November 5th. “Brad’s horse was looking really good in the paddock,” said Baffert, a six-time Kentucky Derby winner. “I could see he was the one we had to beat.”

Giant Mischief, a September debut winner at Horseshoe Indianapolis, fetched $475,000 at the September 2021 Keeneland Yearling Sale. Another Cox-trained prospect, Rank 1 Loggins, raised $460,000 in Saratoga.

Loggins has passed the Breeders’ Cup after missing out at the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, one of Forte’s three Grade 1 victories. Ghostzapper’s Loggins is 40-1 this week in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 2; Cox plans to return to Fair Grounds, where Cyberknife won before coming to Oaklawn.

Giant Mischief is 25-1 in Pool 2, with Forte entered as a 10-1 individual favorite and other 3-year-olds and geldings making the 3-5 chalk alongside 38 solo selections. A separate selection finds 3-year-old fillies at 80-1, same win pool odds for Kentucky Derby pisser Rich Strike 2022. Only three fillies have won the race, none since Winning Colors in 1988.

Cox is aiming for his second Kentucky Derby win, but first straight away. Mandaloun was declared the winner of 2021 after the late Medina Spirit failed a drug test. Baffert’s record seventh Derby win was thus scrubbed and the Hall of Fame coach ruled Churchill Downs through to the 2023 Spring Classic. Most recently, he won the Derby in September 2020 with future Horse of the Year Authentic after Tiz the Law won a curtailed Belmont Stakes in the pandemic season, but as usual it was held in June.

Cox also coached 2020 Kentucky Oaks winner Shedaresthedevil, who co-owns Hot Springs rider Staton Flurry. The five-time Class 1 winner was sold to Keeneland after the 2021 Breeders’ Cup and again in November.

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