Jockey Chantal Sutherland may be the most famous Canadian female participating in the Breeders’ Cup. But she’s not the only one. Gail Cox is operating under the radar as the trainer of Hard Not to Like, listed at 15-1 on the morning line in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IIT).
Cox, like Sutherland, came up by galloping horses on the racetrack. That led to training a horse or two on her own, and for the past 12 years she has trained a larger stable.
“They gave me 18 stalls at Woodbine this year, and it’s the best year I’ve ever had,” said Cox, 54. “I’ve won 14 races at the meeting.”
Hard Not to Like will be the first Breeders’ Cup starter for Cox as well as the filly’s owner-breeder, Garland Williamson.
“This is my first year training for him,” said Cox. “Hard Not to Like was broken in Florida, and she came to me in May. I had been told that her mother was a little quirky, but this filly has been nice right from the start.”
Williamson bred Hard Not to Like in Canada from his homebred stakes winner Like a Gem, an earner of $582,708. The filly’s sire, multiple graded winner Hard Spun , finished second in 2007 to Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), second to Curlin in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (gr. I), and third to Curlin and Street Sense in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). Hard Not to Like is from Hard Spun’s first crop.
Hard Not to Like has started four times, all at Woodbine on the turf, with three wins and a fifth. Two of her victories came against males.
“She’s very independent,” said Cox. “She just sort of marched on the racetrack and went about her business.”
Cox originally planned to debut Hard Not to Like in June on Woodbine’s Polytrack. But when the filly developed a little bit of mucus in her respiratory tract, Cox delayed her first start until July 30 in a six-furlong maiden race on the turf. Hard Not to Like won by a half-length.
A prep for the Sept. 17 Natalma Stakes (gr. IIIT) didn’t fill, so Cox entered her against males in a mile allowance race Aug. 26. Hard Not to Like took that even easier, by 1 1/4 lengths.
The result set Cox and Williamson to discussing the possibility of the Breeders’ Cup until the Natalma. Hard Not to Like suffered from a rough trip, in which she was bumped at the top of the stretch.
“She wound up being shuffled way back to last, and there was just way too much left to do,” said Cox.
The Natalma appeared to end Breeders’ Cup hopes, and Cox entered her in the Oct. 15 Cup and Saucer Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. On soft turf, Hard Not to Like defeated males by 4 3/4 lengths, putting the Breeders’ Cup back into play.
“She came out of the race great,” said Cox. “For Garland as a breeder, it’s a great opportunity, especially since he has the family.”
Williamson and Cox had to overcome one more hurdle, whether Hard Not to Like could draw into the race, since it was going to overfill. To their delight, she was not left on the also-eligible list, which cemented the decision to travel to Kentucky. Now it’s up to the filly to conquer the Americans and Europeans, which would take Cox’s best year into the realm of fantastic.