Making his first start around two turns, the 3-year-old Hard Spun colt took a seven-horse field gate-to-wire to win by 10 1/4 lengths over runner-up Cowan. The Brad Cox trainee covered a mile in 1:38.19, returning $3.20 as the 3-5 favorite.
CADDO RIVER strolls to victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes @OaklawnRacing securing 10 Derby points! @FloTheJock aboard for @bradcoxracing & Shortleaf Stable!#RoadtotheDerby @SpendthriftFarm pic.twitter.com/2yeagKCc6p— TVG (@TVG) January 22, 2021
Caddo River produced second-place efforts at Saratoga and Belmont Park before breaking his maiden on third asking in November at Churchill Downs. That breakthrough win came at a one-turn mile, prompting a first try for Derby points Friday at Oaklawn.
Under jockey Florent Geroux, Caddo River worked his way over from the outside post No. 7 and led into the first turn. Behind him, feisty long shot Hardly Swayed got in the way of 2-1 second choice Cowan, who had to check up and fell back in the field.
Caddo River clicked off fractions of 23.12, 47.16 and 1:12.42 through the first six furlongs. Hardly Swayed gave way early in the far turn, and no one else was there to give the favorite any trouble.
The Shortleaf Stable homebred rolled on to a commanding victory to earn his first 10 points toward the Kentucky Derby starting gates.
"He broke very alertly," Geroux said. "Very nice and relaxed. You want to see these type horses doing it the right way. It's easy to go to the lead and keep on going. You want them to relax and do everything right. He did everything perfect.
"The distance doesn't look like it's going to be a problem. Very excited about what's coming up ahead of us with him. Looks like he can run all day, which is a good problem. Hopefully, we can go on, go up the stepping stones and have a nice horse for the first Saturday in May."
Cox, an Eclipse Award finalist for 2020's top trainer, now has four runners who have accumulated points toward the 2021 Kentucky Derby: Essential Quality (30), Caddo River (10), Mandaloun (two) and Swill (two).
Finishing second and third for trainer Steve Asmussen were Cowan and Big Thorn, recipients of four and two points, respectively, on the Derby trail. The Kantharos colt Cowan entered the Smarty Jones with four points thanks to a runner-up effort last month at Remington Park in the Springboard Mile Stakes.
"He ran good," jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. said of Cowan. "It was his second time going long. I think the longer he goes, the better he's going to be. The winner is a nice horse."
Running fourth Friday and picking up a single Derby point was Gulfstream Park allowance winner Moonlite Strike for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.
Oaklawn Park’s points-paying Kentucky Derby prep series also includes the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) on Feb. 15, the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) on March 13 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 10.