Caddo River is 82-year-old owner's Kentucky Derby dream

Caddo River is 82-year-old owner's Kentucky Derby dream
Photo: Ted McClenning / Eclipse Sportswire

Owner John Ed Anthony’s last experience in a Triple Crown race could not have gone worse.

After Prairie Bayou placed second as a beaten favorite in the 1993 Kentucky Derby and rebounded to win the Preakness, the prized gelding suffered a catastrophic injury to his left front leg during the Belmont Stakes. Veterinarians had no choice but to euthanize the horse less than a half-hour after the horrifying breakdown.

Given that grim backdrop, Anthony needed to be as sure as anyone can be before he agreed to allow speedy Caddo River to compete in the Kentucky Derby just three weeks after he took second to upset winner Super Stock in the April 10 Arkansas Derby (G1).

[RELATED – Kentucky Derby 2021: Early analysis for 20 expected starters]

Anthony, 82, will be an enthusiastic participant after conferring with trainer Brad Cox on Monday night. “If I didn’t think we had a chance to win, we wouldn’t be running,” he said.

The veteran owner said he thought hard about waiting for the May 15 Preakness. “Actually, it’s six of one, half-dozen of the other. The races are very similar, almost the same distances, and the same conditions and our running style is suitable for both,” he said.

Caddo River’s good condition ultimately swung the decision.

“He’s doing well. The only issue for consideration was the turnaround from the Arkansas Derby and both the Derby and the Preakness. One of the positives for the Preakness was the five-week spread,” Anthony said. “But the horse hasn’t run a lot of races, and so he’s certainly not knocked out. The Arkansas Derby was a tough race, but he’s bounced back suitably. Brad feels good about it, so we’ll give it a run.”

Anthony is a two-time Preakness winner, accomplishing that in consecutive years with Pine Bluff and Prairie Bayou. He also owns a Belmont victory with Temperence Hill in 1980. The Derby, however, has been an exercise in frustration.

While racing under the Loblolly Stable banner from 1984 to 1993, he was unable to smell the roses with any of six starters. Vanlandingham, viewed as one of his better shots, wound up a distant 16th 
in 1984 after he sustained a leg injury that sidelined him for a year. In 1987 favored Demons Begone, who had no history of bleeding, bled profusely. Jockey Pat Day, recognizing the hopelessness of the cause, pulled him up well before the finish.

Anthony, who now races as Shortleaf Stable, feels comfortable about making the three-week turnaround with Caddo River because the homebred son of Hard Spun has not been heavily raced. The Kentucky Derby would mark his fourth start in a season that opened with a runaway victory in the Smarty Jones, a fifth-place effort in the March 13 Rebel (G2), in which he apparently resented an attempt to take him back, and then a good second in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, in which he was allowed to run more freely.

Caddo River has made six career starts, winning two of them with three runner-up efforts for earnings of $396,092.

Caddo River’s presence should help to ensure a solid pace. It remains to be seen whether he will be a factor at the end of the testing 1 1/4 miles.

“The main question for everybody in it is, 
Will your horse go a mile and a quarter? Anthony said. Nobody knows. The winner will, obviously, be the horse that is most suited for the distance and most enthusiastic to run it. We know our horse will go a mile and an eighth. That last eighth of a mile is a question everybody on the docket will be asking.”

Florent Geroux rode Caddo River in the Arkansas Derby. He is set to ride Mandaloun, another of Cox’s starters, in the Derby. Cox also has undefeated 2020 juvenile champion Essential Quality, piloted by Luis Saez.

Anthony is optimistic he can still land a quality rider. “All of these horses have work to do before the Derby, and I promise there will be some turnover between now and the first of May. That creates options that may not be on the table today,” he said.

Caddo River is set to work Saturday at Churchill Downs as a final determination of his readiness.

Anthony emphasized that his age was not a major factor in the decision-making that allows him to resume his decades-long pursuit of a Derby triumph.

“I don’t think that impacted things much. I don’t feel 82,” he said. “I feel the same as I did when I was running in the 1980s.”  

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