February 28, 2021

Caddo River, Cowan top Smarty Jones on Oaklawn opener

Caddo River (Robert Yates photo)

Smarty Jones S. — Race 8 (5:11 p.m. ET)

Native Arkansan John Ed Anthony long ago tasted success in the Belmont S. (G1), with Temperence Hill in 1980, and in the Preakness (G1), with Pine Bluff in 1992 and Prairie Bayou in 1993. However, the Kentucky Derby (G1) has long eluded the long-time turf patron.

Caddo River may or may not have what it takes to succeed on the first Saturday in May for Anthony, but will take the next step toward that goal on Friday in the $150,000 Smarty Jones S., the opening-day feature of the 2021 Oaklawn Park meet.

The one-mile Smarty Jones, which honors the colt that swept Oaklawn’s leading Triple Crown preps before landing the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2004, will offer Derby qualifying points of 10-4-2-1, respectively, to the top four finishers.

Second in his first two outings in New York, Caddo River broke through at Churchill Downs in his third career outing, setting a hot pace and motoring home to a 9 1/2-length graduation over a one-turn mile for trainer Brad Cox.

“He’s big, tall, rangy, leggy colt,” Cox said. “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.”

Cowan has competed exclusively in stakes company since breaking his maiden last May for trainer Steve Asmussen. The son of Kantharos has recorded three runner-up finishes in a row, the most recent being last  month’s Springboard Mile at Remington Park in which he earned four Derby qualifying points.

Asmussen also saddles Big Thorn, who easily captured a 7-furlong stakes for Florida-breds at Gulfstream Park West in November, but who finished up the track in sixth when last seen in the Mucho Macho Man S. at Gulfstream earlier this month. A potentially stronger Florida invader is the Saffie Joseph-trained Moonlite Strike, who scored in maiden and allowance company in his two most recent outings.

The remainder of the field figure to be big prices. Martini Blu and Lawlessness were maiden winners at Hawthorne last fall, while Hardly Swayed takes a bigger jump in class following two overnight wins at Mahoning Valley in Ohio.