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Caddo River faces toughies in G3 Oaklawn Mile

by Bob Wisener | March 31, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Caddo River wins the Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 22, 2021, at Oaklawn. - Photo courtesy of Coady Photography

Not in the main event, of course, but Caddo River gets a second chance to win on Arkansas Derby Day at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort.

Second to Super Stock in the 2021 Grade 1 race after winning the Smarty Jones and placing third in the Rebel, Caddo River has four Oaklawn victories and eight board finishes in 10 local starts. An Oaklawn stakes winner for Brad Cox, Caddo River now races for Hall of Fame trainer Wayne Lukas, his rider still in the familiar yellow and brown silks of Hot Springs owner-breeder John Ed Anthony's Shortleaf Stables.

A son of Hard Spun-Pangburn, Caddo River won at 1 1/16 miles in the mud Feb. 25 on Rebel Saturday at the track and needs to be tops physically, or close to it, for the Grade 3 $400,000 Oaklawn Mile Saturday. Ricardo Santana Jr., regaining the mount from Joel Rosario, won three consecutive races aboard Caddo River last year, the first two at Oaklawn.

In a field of seven older horses, all taken off Lasix for this race, Caddo River breaks from post five with 121 pounds.

The Oaklawn Mile draws two past winners at age 2 of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, a November Derby prep at Churchill Downs. Smile Happy prevailed in 2021, a year after Silver Prospector. Both are Oaklawn meet winners, Smile Happy March 16 in his 4-year-old debut for Ken McPeek and first start since eighth in the Kentucky Derby. Runhappy's son worked in New Orleans before shipping to Oaklawn, where McPeek's stable, with four victories on one December card, is hot again. Francisco Arrieta, in contention for his first Oaklawn title, rides Smile Happy from the rail with 121 pounds.

The other likely favorite is Hopper, making his local bow for Bob Baffert in his second start at 4, winning the Grade 3 Affirmed at Santa Anita late last spring. He comes off consecutive losses by a combined 3 1/4 lengths in graded stakes at the same track, getting Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard from outside post seven with 117 pounds.

Baffert is represented in the Arkansas Derby, although Reincarnate is entered under Tim Yakteen's name to make the morning-line favorite eligible for Kentucky Derby qualifying points.

Necker Island, like Smile Happy, ran in the Kentucky Derby, finishing seventh in 2020 for trainer Chris Hartman. The Hard Spun 6-year-old ran third to stablemate Edge to Edge in a Feb. 17 allowance and eighth in Last Samurai's Grade 3 Essex Handicap March 18. Kentucky-based Mitchell Murrill, winning twice aboard Necker Island last year, regains the mount, breaking from post two.

Leading trainer Robertino Diodoro and top meet jockey Cristian Torres join forces with Hero Status, who started the year in California and ran fifth in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap Feb. 18, also won by the Lukas-trained Last Samurai. Silver Prospector won an Oaklawn allowance over stablemate Super Stock Feb. 11 and has Grade 3 wins at Oaklawn and Lone Star Park. With $1.3 million for Ed and Susie Orr, the Declaration of War horse is the field's leading money winner.

Lukas, with a second starter, hopes for a form-changing appearance by Atoka, giving Mickaelle Michel the mount. Union Rags' son scored his last victory in late December 2021 at Oaklawn when winner Caddo River was disqualified.

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