Tom Pedulla is interviewing prominent owners, trainers and jockeys for America’s Best Racing as they travel the Road to the 147th Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve on May 1 at Churchill Downs.
John Ed Anthony, who emerged as a prominent owner as part of Loblolly Stable in the late 1970s, is featured this week. He owns a record three Arkansas Derby victories, but the resident of Hot Springs, Ark., has not won Oaklawn Park’s signature Kentucky Derby prep since 1992.
Anthony, chairman of family-owned Anthony Timberlands, will attempt to end that drought with Caddo River, a homebred son of Hard Spun. Caddo River dominated the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn by a front-running 10 ¼ lengths before finishing a disappointing fifth in the March 13 Rebel Stakes.
Caddo River, who has 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, will be chasing a top-two finish in the $1 million Arkansas Derby to ensure a place in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. The last of the major preps offers qualifying points for the run for the roses to the top four Arkansas Derby finishers on a 100-40-20-10 basis.
Anthony’s Caddo River is set to break from post two in a field of six for trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux. Undefeated Concert Tour, heavily-favored at 3-5, drew post five. He will be ridden by Joel Rosario and is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.
Anthony, who now races as Shortleaf Stable, earned his first Triple Crown victory with Temperence Hill in the 1980 Belmont Stakes. He is a two-time Preakness winner with Pine Bluff in 1992 and Prairie Bayou in 1993.
PEDULLA: I know your father, Ted, died of a heart attack a month before you graduated from the University of Arkansas. How did that adversity shape you?
ANTHONY: My dad and I were dear friends throughout my youth. When those things happen, no matter how unfair or sad or stressed you might be, you don’t have anything to do but just deal with it. You have to go on and that’s exactly what transpired.
PEDULLA: What attracted you to racing?
ANTHONY: Summer fun and spring fun at the races [at Oaklawn] was a part of all of our lives as it is – and this is kind of important – for many people in Arkansas. There are some days when there are more people at Oaklawn Park than at all of the other tracks in the country combined.
PEDULLA: How big is your breeding and racing operation?
ANTHONY: It is pretty large. I have 20 broodmares. We try to bring about 20 [runners] a year to the races.
PEDULLA: What did you think of Caddo River after the Smarty Jones?
ANTHONY: He was very impressive. He’s a very light of foot horse. Some horses hit the ground pretty hard and are heavy horses. He is not. He looks like he runs fast — and he does — and he seems to enjoy it.
PEDULLA: What did you think of Caddo River after the Rebel?
ANTHONY: I was terribly disappointed. I don’t try to manage the horses when you have competent trainers. The idea was that there was a lot of speed in the race, and his front-running style might need to be tempered a bit and not let him get into a duel. Brad decided he would try to rate him and he was kind of like a teenage kid in that he resented it. The announcer noted that he was tussling with the rider. When we asked him to go, I think he was pouting.
PEDULLA: Does it add to the excitement that he is a homebred?
ANTHONY: Yes, I think it really does. You are always optimistic.
PEDULLA: How much of an asset is it to have Eclipse Award-winning Brad Cox as your trainer?
ANTHONY: Brad, of course, is a very competent trainer and very accomplished. I call him a Hall of Fame trainer.
PEDULLA: How proud are you of holding the record for Arkansas Derby victories with three?
ANTHONY: It’s very meaningful, of course, in Arkansas. This is where I love to race. And I will say this and you can put it in capitals: There is no place better in America to winter than Hot Springs. Clean air, clean water, good surface, good people operating the track. It’s a friendly, happy place to be.
PEDULLA: How do you expect Caddo River to perform in the Arkansas Derby?
ANTHONY: We’ll have to recognize his running style, and I’m sure Brad will give the proper instructions. I don’t think there is any question he has the talent to be a top racehorse. It’s better to do these interviews after the race than before, but I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t run a bang-up race.
PEDULLA: How hard is it to win the Kentucky Derby?
ANTHONY: I think we’ve had seven starters in the Kentucky Derby. We’ve had unfortunate trips and extremely bad luck in the Derby. We’ve been second with Prairie Bayou (1993). Prairie Bayou ran against Sea Hero three times, beat him twice. The only time he lost to Sea Hero was in the Kentucky Derby. We went to the Derby with Pine Bluff (1992) when Lil E. Tee won it. We beat Lil E. Tee three out of four races. The only race we lost to Lil E. Tee was the Kentucky Derby. Demons Begone (1987) was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby and inexplicably bled ... and didn’t even finish the race.