Cox-trained Caddo River targeting Oaklawn’s Smarty Jones

Oaklawn Park’s media notes, headed by Kentucky-based trainer Brad Cox (Caddo River photo by Robert Yates):

Powerful maiden winner Caddo River will make his stakes and two-turn debut in the $150,000 Smarty Jones for 3-year-olds Jan. 22 at Oaklawn, the colt’s trainer, Brad Cox, said Tuesday morning.

The 1-mile Smarty Jones is Oaklawn’s first of four Kentucky Derby points races, a series that continues with the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 15, $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 13 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 10. 

A homebred for Arkansas lumberman John Ed Anthony’s Shortleaf Stable, the lightly raced Caddo River finished second in his first two career starts in New York, both 7 furlongs, before concluding his 2-year-old campaign with a front-running 9 ½-length maiden victory Nov. 15 at Churchill Downs. Caddo River, as the odds-on favorite, covered a mile over a fast track in 1:35.22 to earn a career-high 104 Equibase speed rating, a 15-point increase over his previous start.

“He’s a very good colt,” Cox said. “He ran against two really good colts in New York. He was able to break his maiden, one turn at Churchill. He’s big, tall, rangy, leggy colt. I really do think that he’s going to be better around two turns. He’s got what I think it takes to be a serious horse. He’s got speed and he can carry it.”

Caddo River has been based at Oaklawn since late December and already logged two half-mile workouts locally, including a :48 move over a fast track Sunday morning that ranked the third-fastest out of 85 published at the distance.

Caddo River is by 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun and out of the Anthony-raced Pangburn, an allowance winner at the 2015 Oaklawn meeting. Pangburn then finished third in the $150,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) and fourth in the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3), Oaklawn’s two biggest events for 3-year-old fillies. All three races were 1 1/16 miles.

“It appears as though he can carry it,” Cox said, referring to Caddo River’s speed. “We’ll find out this next race around two turns, but I think he’s a very, very good colt.”

Cox has several other promising Kentucky Derby prospects, notably probable juvenile champion Essential Quality, who is unbeaten in three career starts. The Fair Grounds-based Essential Quality is under consideration for the Southwest, Cox said.

Talk Derby to Me

Early bird nominations to Oaklawn’s four Kentucky Derby points races, all part of an expanded process, close Thursday.

The series begins with the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 22, followed by the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 15, $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 13 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 10.

The Smarty Jones and 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 like the Smarty Jones, Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby will have starting preference at Churchill Downs.

Nominations to the 1-mile Smarty Jones also close Thursday. In previous years, Oaklawn had offered early bird nominations, typically closing in early February, to the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby. The Smarty Jones is part of the series in 2021, with the early bird nomination fee to the four races $600.

 Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby prep series is the country’s richest. Oaklawn also offers a lucrative three-race points series for the Kentucky Oaks, the nation’s biggest prize for 3-year-old fillies.

Oaklawn’s Kentucky Oaks series consists of the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 30, $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 6 and the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) April 3. The Martha Washington is a 17-point race, while the Honeybee and Fantasy are worth 85 and 170 points, respectively.

Brad Cox, Oaklawn’s third-leading trainer in 2020, figures to be chasing points on both fronts. Cox is already pointing lightly raced Caddo River to the Smarty Jones and among his top locally based 3-year-old fillies is Coach, who won her first three career starts before finishing third behind stablemate Travel Column in the $200,000 Golden Rod Stakes (G2) Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs.

“We’ve got a good group of 3-year-old colts and fillies,” Cox said Tuesday morning. “This is, obviously, the best 3-year-old program in the country for both, colts and fillies. I think we’ll have an impact in both divisions.”

Nominations to the 1-mile Martha Washington close Jan. 14. The 2020 Fantasy, part of a reshuffled stakes lineup because of COVID-19, produced winners of the Preakness (Swiss Skydiver) and Kentucky Oaks (the Cox-trained Shedaresthedevil). Shedaresthedevil also won the Honeybee.

Finish Lines

Post positions for Oaklawn’s opening day, Jan. 22, will be drawn Jan. 15. …  Horses for trainers Bret Calhoun, Joe Sharp and Tom Van Berg are on the grounds training in advance of the 2021 meeting. Calhoun, who has a string at Oaklawn for the first time since 2016, won two stakes races at the 2020 meeting –  $200,000 Oaklawn for 3-year-olds with Mr. Big News and the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses with By My Standards. Calhoun has 103 career Oaklawn victories, including 13 stakes.

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Jennie Rees