06/07/2005 12:00AM

Maidens Prayer responds for Cox


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - If the longest of journeys starts with but a single step, then Brad Cox can consider himself well under way. Cox, a former assistant to trainer Dallas Stewart, began his solo training career last fall with just three horses, but his initial successes have allowed his stable at Louisville Trackside to grow at a steady pace, and he now finds himself as an occasional player in races of decent stature.

As a prime example, Cox, 25, will run as a viable contender in the Thursday feature at Churchill Downs, a $53,300, second-level allowance at a mile on turf. In her first and only start after breeder-owner John Gunther had the filly shipped to Cox from Canada, Maidens Prayer responded with the kind of run that should make her one of the horses to beat Thursday.

The victory on May 12 by Maidens Prayer was one of three so far at this meet for Cox, who had had just nine starters coming into Wednesday. Maidens Prayer, a 4-year-old Hennessy filly, has been among Cox's most impressive runners, as she rallied from ninth in a field of 10 to break through her initial allowance condition.

Corey Lanerie, who has picked up recent momentum at the Churchill spring meet, will have the mount on Maidens Prayer, replacing Gary Stevens, who will be active at Belmont Park this weekend.

Besides Maidens Prayer, the ninth race drew a handful of useful grass fillies, including , a sharp winner of a May 15 turf allowance for trainer Bob Holthus and jockey John McKee; and Bright and Shiny, whose last race on dirt can probably be overlooked and who adds leading rider Rafael Bejarano for this trip.

A field of 13, including three also-eligibles and two fillies designated as "main track only," has been entered.

The secondary feature on the Thursday card is the fourth race, a $49,600, entry-level allowance for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs. Reunited, a Dixie Union filly who looked sensational when she captured her May 15 debut by nearly seven lengths for trainer Neil Howard, figures as a solid favorite in a field of six.

The card also includes a turf sprint for $40,000 claiming fillies (race 3) and a maiden special weight sprint (race 10) that drew a competitive field of 3-year-olds and upward.