Making the Grade, which will run through the 2021 Triple Crown races, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
Caddo River delivered a second-consecutive dominant, front-running victory when he posted a 10 ¼-length runaway victory in the Smarty Jones Stakes to bank 10 points toward qualifying for the 2021 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. The 3-5 favorite for the Smarty Jones lived up to the hype, so let’s dive a bit deeper to examine his potential as a legitimate contender on the Triple Crown trail.
Ability: Shortleaf Stable’s Caddo River finished second in each of his first two races, both held at seven-eighths of a mile in New York. In the second start, he battled for the early lead through a fast half-mile in :44.64 at Saratoga Race Course, opened a clear lead in the stretch, and was caught late while finishing three-quarters of a length behind the winner.
The Hard Spun colt made his next start for trainer Brad Cox at Churchill Downs Nov. 15 and jockey Florent Geroux, riding him for the first time, gave him a bit of early encouragement to take control of the pace. Once in front, Caddo River settled nicely while clicking off fast fractions in the one-turn mile race. He completed the opening quarter-mile in :22.38 and led by 1 ½ lengths through a half-mile in :44.59. From there, he exerted his will on seven opponents as he drew away to win by 9 ½ lengths under minimal urging as the heavy 3-10 favorite.
Caddo River looked extremely comfortable dictating the pace under Geroux and the duo utilized the same blueprint in the Smarty Jones, which is a two-turn race at one mile. With a fairly short run into the first turn, Geroux asked Caddo River to accelerate and they were able to clear a rank Hardly Swayed entering the first turn before settling in through a fairly easy half-mile in :47.16 while largely unchallenged up front.
Caddo River pulled away easily on the final turn while opening a 3 ½-length lead at the quarter-pole and a six-length advantage in early stretch. He coasted to a runaway win as the 3-5 favorite.
“You want them to relax and do everything right. He did everything perfect,” Geroux said. “The distance doesn't look like it's going to be a problem. Very excited about what's coming up ahead of us with him. Looks like he can run all day, which is a good problem. Hopefully, we can go on, go up the steppingstones and have a nice horse for the first Saturday in May.”
After earning 88 and 89 Equibase Speed Figures for his first two races, he jumped to a 104 for his Churchill maiden win in November. Caddo River earned a 99 Equibase Speed Figure for the Smarty Jones. Daily Racing Form was a bit more optimistic as Caddo River jumped from an 82 Beyer Speed Figure for his maiden win to a 92 for the Smarty Jones.
Cox told Daily Racing Form that Caddo River most likely will be pointed to the $1 million Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on March 13. He has some ground to make up on the best 2021 Kentucky Derby contenders, but Caddo River is headed in the right direction.
Running style: Caddo River’s natural speed is probably his best asset and it’s been the driving force behind his two wins, both leading from start to finish. The fact that he settles well and relaxes once in front is a good sign, and it’s worth noting that in his second race he did press and then pounce to take a commanding lead before fading late.
I point that out because I don’t think he is a need-the-lead type, although it is pretty clear that he’s at his best when setting the pace and that almost certainly will be his preferred running style. Once he gets to the Kentucky Derby, and probably prep races with tougher competition, Caddo River will very likely be challenged early and how he responds will be key for his development. Can he rate just off the pace and win? Can Caddo River handle early pressure and still have something in reserve for the stretch? We’ll find out.
Connections: Shortleaf Stable is the racing-breeding operation of Arkansas-based Ed Anthony, who raced 2012 Belmont Stakes third-place finisher Atigun as well as graded stakes winners Plainsman, Benner Island, and Trace Creek. Shortleaf also raced Caddo River’s stakes-winning dam (mother), Pangburn, by Congrats. The colt is named after a local tributary near Hot Springs.
Trainer Brad Cox is a finalist for the Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer for 2020 after a campaign in which he won the Longines Kentucky Oaks with Shedaresthedevil and four Breeders’ Cup races: Longines Distaff with Monomoy Girl, Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile with Knicks Go, TVG Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance with Essential Quality, and Juvenile Fillies Turf with Aunt Pearl.
Monomoy Girl, a finalist for 2020 Horse of the Year, is the heavy favorite to be named champion older female Jan. 28 and Essential Quality, currently the future-book Kentucky Derby favorite, almost certainly will be named champion 2-year-old male. Cox, a former assistant to Dallas Stewart, won the Pegasus World Cup last weekend with Knicks Go. His best finish in a Triple Crown race came with Owendale, who ran third in the 2019 Preakness.
Florent Geroux is the regular rider of Monomoy Girl and rode 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner. Geroux has won 34 Grade 1 races in his career, including seven Breeders’ Cup wins, among 129 graded stakes wins through Jan. 25. He finished third in the 2016 Kentucky Derby on Gun Runner and was on Owendale in the 2019 Preakness.
Pedigree: It’s easy to see Caddo River’s sire, Hard Spun, when you watch him race. Hard Spun was a speedy type who was at his best and bravest when setting the pace, which he did when running second to Street Sense in the 2007 Kentucky Derby and when second to Curlin in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. A Grade 1 winner who competed with the best of the best in an elite group of 3-year-olds in 2007, Hard Spun has carved out a nice career as a dual-hemisphere sire. He has sired multiple top-level runners in Australia as well as U.S. champion Questing and Grade 1 winners Wicked Strong, Hard Aces, Hard Not to Like, Spun to Run, Hard Not to Love, and Hardest Core. A versatile sire capable of elite runners on dirt, turf, and synthetic, Hard Spun’s stakes winners typically show his speed and have the ability to carry it around two turns. Wicked Strong and Hard Aces both were Grade 1 winners on dirt around two turns while Rocketry is a Grade 2 winner at 1 ¾ miles.
Caddo River’s dam, the aforementioned Pangburn, won the Maryland Racing Media Stakes at 1 1/16 miles in 2016 and also placed in three graded stakes at 1 1/16 miles for Shortleaf Stable. His grandam (maternal grandmother), It’s True Love, by Yes It’s True, was a stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles and won an allowance race at 1 1/8 miles. In addition to Pangburn, It’s True Love also produced Eres Tu, a graded stakes winner at 1 1/8 miles; and Ain’t Got Time, a three-time stakes winner around two turns. Other notable members of this family include 1985 Preakness Stakes winner Tank’s Prospect.
From a pedigree standpoint, I’m more bullish than I thought I would be at first glance that Caddo River can continue to improve as the races get longer. He’s yet to show he’s fast enough to compete with the best 3-year-olds in training, but the last two races have been incredibly impressive and I view him as a serious prospect.