Caddo River returned to the track Tuesday morning for the first time since a record-breaking victory in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds Friday at Oaklawn. At the same time, his trainer, Brad Cox, was plotting the next move for the speedy colt and his handful of other Kentucky Derby prospects, including probable Eclipse Award winner Essential Quality.
The road to Churchill Downs, at least regarding next-race plans for Caddo River and Essential Quality, will run through Oaklawn’s lucrative series of Kentucky Derby points races, with Caddo River, a homebred for Hot Springs lumberman John Ed Anthony’s Shortleaf Stable, probably making his next start in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles March 13, Cox said.
Caddo River received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 92, a career high, for his front-running 10 1/4-length victory in the Smarty Jones, the most lopsided result since the 1-mile race was inaugurated in 2008. Anthony also became the first owner to sweep what are now Oaklawn’s four Kentucky Derby points races.
“He’s a very good colt, and we’re hoping he can get us to the first Saturday in May,” Cox said. “This has been a very good path to take, through Arkansas, to get there. We’ll let the dust settle and talk it over with Mr. John Ed (Anthony), but I’d say right now, given the timing and everything, it probably makes the most sense to run him back in the Rebel. Just based off the calendar, the Rebel would be the next logical spot for him.”
The Smarty Jones marked the two-turn, stakes and 3-year-old debut of Caddo River, a long-striding son of 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun. After finishing second in his first two starts in New York, both at 7 furlongs, Caddo River closed his 2-year-old campaign with a front-running 9 1/2-length maiden victory in a one-turn mile Nov. 15 at Churchill Downs.
“We have high expectations for him,” Cox said. “He’s a good horse. Any time you can win a race by, say, 10 lengths — you don’t really ever go into a race thinking you’re going to win by 10. We think a lot of him. We have high hopes for this horse. He’s one of three colts, three or four colts that we have in our barn, that we think can get us to the first Saturday in May.”
The Rebel is the final major local prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 10. Oaklawn’s four-race Kentucky Derby points series began with the Smarty Jones and continues with the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 15, which Cox said will mark the 2021 debut of unbeaten Essential Quality, who is now based at Fair Grounds.
Essential Quality (3 for 3) won the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 6 at Keeneland in his last start for Cox, Oaklawn’s third-leading trainer last year and a finalist for an Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding trainer of 2020. One Oaklawn-based horse pointing for the 1 1/16-mile Southwest is Keepmeinmind, who finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for trainer Robertino Diodoro.
Caddo River marked the first Smarty Jones starter for Anthony, who has won the Rebel a record five times (1980, 1984, 1987, 1992 and 1993). Three of Anthony’s Rebel winners — Temperence Hill in 1980, Demons Begone in 1987 and Pine Bluff in 1992 — also won the Arkansas Derby. Anthony has won the Southwest three times.
Like the Smarty Jones, the Southwest will offer 17 points on a sliding scale (10-4-2-1) to the top four finishers. The Rebel will award 85 points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5), with 170 up for grabs to the top four finishers in the Arkansas Derby (100-40-20-10).
The Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters. Horses with the highest point totals accumulated in designated races such as the Smarty Jones, Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby will have starting preference at Churchill Downs.
Essential Quality tops the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 30 points, according to Churchill Downs. Keepmeinmind ranks second with 18, and Caddo River is eighth with 10.