Caddo River exited his strong second-place finish in the April 10 Arkansas Derby in good order and with more than enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. And yet John Ed Anthony, an owner for five decades, said he must think long and hard about whether to enter his homebred in the most prestigious race of all.
His experience with six previous Derby starters – and with the Triple Crown format – has been that nightmarish.
“Racing takes pride that the Triple Crown winners are tough horses – and they are,” said Anthony. “But the price that is paid by all the rest is not good for racing. I’m not going to play that game anymore.”
Anthony, 82, noted that considerable pressure must be placed on young horses simply to advance to the Derby and the start of the Triple Crown. He believes the format of three arduous races in five weeks is simply asking too much of still-developing 3-year-olds.
“Shortleaf Stable will never run in the Triple Crown races spaced the way they are,” Anthony said. “I’ve lost too many horses.”
Anthony had six previous Derby starters under the name of Loblolly Stable. His first starters, Pine Circle and Vanlandingham, finished sixth and 16th, respectively, in 1984. Vanlandingham sustained a leg injury that sidelined him for a year.
He thought he had his first Derby victory well within reach when he returned with Demons Begone, the favorite, in 1987. Demons Begone had no history of bleeding, and yet he bled so profusely during the mile-and-a-quarter contest that jockey Pat Day acted mercifully and pulled him up before the stretch run.
After Lost Mountain was a lost cause in 12th in 1991, Loblolly was back at it with Pine Bluff in 1992. According to Anthony, Pine Bluff did not handle the Churchill Downs surface well and could do no better than fifth. Pine Bluff went on to win the Preakness and came in third in the Belmont. Apparently, he paid a steep price for those efforts. He sustained a career-ending leg injury soon after the Belmont.
The most dreadful experience of all occurred with Prairie Bayou, a deserving Derby favorite who was upset by Sea Hero in the 1993 Derby when jockey Mike Smith felt compelled to make a six-wide move in a desperate attempt to find running room. Prairie Bayou rebounded to win the Preakness and hopes were high for the Belmont.
Prairie Bayou never survived the mile-and-a-half marathon.
Despite Anthony’s pleas, veterinarians determined that nothing could be done to save the colt after he suffered an injury to one of his front legs that involved a compound fracture of the cannon bone, two shattered sesamoid bones in his ankle and a broken pastern. Veterinarians had no choice but to administer a lethal injection to relieve Prairie Bayou of his agony.
All of which helps to explain why Anthony, as much as he would cherish a Derby triumph, is giving serious consideration to possibly skipping the opening leg of the Triple Crown with speedy Caddo River, who is trained by Brad Cox, and taking aim at the May 15 Preakness.
“There’s always the prudent thing to do and there is always the desirable thing to do,” the octogenarian said. “Obviously, we’d love to run in the Kentucky Derby, but the Preakness is shortly thereafter.”
Cox and his team are closely monitoring the son of Hard Spun. Anthony expects to make a decision in conjunction with Cox some time next week. He emphasized that he will not allow outside pressures to influence him in his desire to do whatever is possible to protect his horse.
“People say ‘Give back to racing. Give back to racing,’ ” he said. “I’ve done all that and don’t intend to do it anymore.”