Caddo River opened the 2021 season as one of the hottest 3-year-olds on the Kentucky Derby trail. Now, he closes it Sunday attempting to shake afterthought status in an Oaklawn allowance.

Caddo River returns
Caddo River seeks the form that won last January’s Smarty Jones Stakes. He returns in a Sunday allowance at Oaklawn Park with much to prove. (Image: Coady Photography)

The Hard Spun colt returns for the first time in 6 ½ months as the 8/5 morning-line favorite in a one-mile allowance. And he returns to the scene of his greatest victory: a 10 ¼-length demolition in the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes.

This stamped Caddo River as one of the Derby favorites. Some of that luster faded when he finished fifth in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes, although he did take second in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby a month later.

Trainer Brad Cox pulled him from the Derby after the Arkansas Derby, citing a minor illness. He brought the colt back in June for the seven-furlong Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard. That didn’t end well; Caddo River finished a well-beaten sixth of six, finishing 15 lengths behind winner Drain the Clock.

Caddo River got five months off

At that, Cox put Caddo River on the shelf. He gave the colt the rest of the summer off.

“We just gave him time,” Cox told Oaklawn’s Robert Yates. “He had no injury. Just time and freshen him up. To try to make the Derby and all that, it’s very demanding on a horse. It felt like it had kind of taken its toll between all of that, the whole winter. The race in the Woody Stephens was not what we were looking for, so we gave him time and he’s come back and trained very, very well. I think this is a really good race to get him back going.”

Cox put Caddo River back to work in mid-October at Blackwood Stables. He’s had eight workouts since, including a five-furlong 1:01.0 breeze at Oaklawn that was fourth of 24 running that distance Dec. 11. He clocked a six-furlong bullet of 59.80 Dec. 4.

Caddo River is 2-3-0 in seven starts, banking $404,092 in earnings in those seven starts.

A pivotal race for Caddo River’s future

This is Caddo River’s first test against older horses. And Cox minced no words saying this race will illustrate where Caddo River stands in Cox’s deep pecking order of older horses. That roster got deeper this week when former Bob Baffert standout sophomore Concert Tour moved to Cox’s barn.

“We have Warrior’s Charge, Night Ops, Shared Sense is down here (Fair Grounds). We have Mandaloun, Concert Tour. We have a very good group of horses,” Cox said. “Listen, he’s going to have to step up. He was a very, very good 2/3-year-old. Some of them take those steps forward, some of them don’t. If he takes a step forward, he’ll be fine and hopefully, he will be a player in the handicap division there.”