Cox’s Caddo River takes on Baffert in Rebel

An Oaklawn Park press release (Coady Photography photo above of Caddo River and jockey Florent Geroux winning the Smarty Jones):

HOT SPRINGS, AR (Friday, March 12, 2021) – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has dominated Oaklawn’s four-race Kentucky Derby prep series the last decade. But it’s Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox who has owned 2021.

Cox sent out Caddo River, fresh off a Churchill Downs maiden victory on Nov. 15, to a record-setting 10 ¼-length victory in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 22 for breeder/owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs. Cox then saddled champion 2-year-old male Essential Quality to win the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 27 and remain unbeaten in four career starts.

It’s now Caddo River’s turn, again, this time in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2), which highlights Saturday’s blockbuster program at Oaklawn. Probable post time for the Rebel, the 11th of 12 races, 5:16 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at noon. The infield will be open, weather permitting.

The Rebel is among five stakes races to be run Saturday at Oaklawn, the others being the $150,000 Temperence Hill for older horses at 1 ½ miles, $200,000 Hot Springs for older sprinters, $350,000 Azeri (G2) for older females at 1 1/16 miles and the $500,000 Essex Handicap for older horses at 1 1/16 miles.

Whitmore, the country’s champion male sprinter of 2020, will be making his seasonal debut in the Hot Springs. The gelding has won the 6-furlong Hot Springs a record four consecutive years. The Azeri will mark the 2021 debut of Shedaresthedevil, last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner and a finalist for champion 3-year-old filly.

The Rebel is Oaklawn’s third of four Kentucky Derby points races. The eight entrants from the rail out: Caddo River, Florent Geroux to ride, 122 pounds, 9-5 on the morning line; Big Lake, Ricardo Santana Jr., 117, 12-1; Hozier, Martin Garcia, 117, 12-1; Get Her Number, Javier Castellano, 119, 8-1; Twilight Blue, Brian Hernandez Jr., 119, 15-1; Keepmeinmind, David Cohen, 119, 4-1; Concert Tour, Joel Rosario, 117, 2-1; and Super Stock, Joe Talamo, 117, 6-1.

The Rebel will offer 85 points (50-20-10-5, respectively) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby, which is limited to 20 horses.

Caddo River earned 10 points for his front-running victory in the 1-mile Smarty Jones, which marked the two-turn debut for the long-striding son of 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun. Caddo River closed his 2-year-old campaign with a front-running 9 ½-length maiden victory going a mile Nov. 15 at Churchill Downs.

Concert Tour makes two-turn debut for Baffert

Baffert finished second to Cox in the Southwest with Spielberg, but returns for the Rebel, a race the trainer has won a record seven times, with a more highly regarded prospect in unbeaten Concert Tour (2 for 2). Concert Tour, who will be making his two-turn debut, broke his maiden Jan. 15 at Santa Anita and won the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (G2) Feb. 6 at Santa Anita.

“Concert Tour, I just think that he’s done everything right and he’s worked well coming into this race,” said Baffert, who, since 2010, has 15 victories in Kentucky Derby prep races at Oaklawn. “I think Caddo River is definitely the horse to beat. Cox is tough right now. He’s got some nice horses and does a great job. And Keepmeinmind ran a great race in the Breeders’ Cup. He’s a good horse. You want to move forward. You just want to make a forward progression. They have to run first or second, to me. They’ve got to run first or second.”

Caddo River had been based at Oaklawn before Cox moved the colt to Fair Grounds Feb. 11, shortly before severe winter weather shuttered Oaklawn for almost two weeks. Remaining on a regular work schedule, Caddo River breezed four times at Fair Grounds before returning to Hot Springs Wednesday. Caddo River was able to clear his rivals from the extreme outside (post 7) going into the first turn of the Smarty Jones and now gets the rail for the Rebel.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Cox said. “He’s doing great. We couldn’t ask him to be training any better. He hasn’t missed anything. He’s on a great schedule and training like the part.”

Caddo River’s resume has been flattered in recent weeks. Smarty Jones runner-up Cowan finished a troubled second in the $1.5 million Saudi Derby Feb. 20 in Saudi Arabia and Greatest Honour, who twice finished behind Caddo River in maiden races last fall in New York, won the $200,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) Jan. 30 and the $300,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) Feb. 27. Both races were at Gulfstream Park.

“It’s nice to see that horse has been kind of dominating the south Florida circuit,” Cox said. “He’s run twice and obviously he’s moved forward. I think we’ve moved forward as well. It gives us confidence, for sure.”

Baffert won the 2020 Rebel with Nadal, who also entered 2 for 2 after breaking his maiden sprinting in January at Santa Anita and winning the San Vicente. Concert Tour stalked the pace in the San Vicente and Baffert called Saturday’s post position “fine.”

“My horses always seem to draw the rail,” Baffert said. “I draw it so much. It’s one of those things, they still have to get away cleanly. Spielberg had a nice outside post and it ended up a horrendous break. No fault of anybody’s, but he just moved at the last minute. They still have to get away from there and break cleanly and get into the race. You just want to get them into a nice rhythm where they can breathe easily and not get stopped.”

Keepmeinmind returns to racesLate-running Keepmeinmind will be making his first start since breaking his maiden with a last-to-first victory in the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs. Prior to the Kentucky Jockey Club, Keepmeinmind finished third to Essential Quality in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Nov. 6 at Keeneland and second to Essential Quality in the $400,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) Oct. 3 at Keeneland.

Keepmeinmind, with David Cohen up, won Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club. Coady Photography

Keepmeinmind was to make his 3-year-old debut in the Southwest, which was originally scheduled to be run Feb. 15 before the race was postponed twice because of severe winter weather. Robertino Diodoro, Oaklawn’s leading trainer last year, opted to pass the delayed Southwest and point for the Rebel after Keepmeinmind’s training schedule was interrupted by snow and bitter cold. Keepmeinmind has been based at Oaklawn since late December.

“I like the draw, the post, I like everything about it, to be honest,” Diodoro said. “No complaints. My famous saying is the race is run on dirt, not paper, but on paper it looks like more pace than I predicted to be in there. I like what the race looks like.”

Diodoro said Keepmeinmind will carry the silks of famed Spendthrift Farm for the first time in the Rebel after it recently purchased an interest in the son of Laoban.

Grade 1 winner Get Her Number will be making his 3-year-old debut for Southern California-based trainer Peter Miller. Super Stock ran third in the Breeders’ Futurity for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

The Rebel is the final major local prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 10. Nadal won the second division of last year’s Arkansas Derby.

Baffert also won the Rebel in 2010 (Lookin At Lucky), 2011 (The Factor), 2012 (Secret Circle), 2014 (Hoppertunity), 2015 (American Pharoah) and 2016 (Cupid).

 

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Jennie Rees