Caddo River and Keepmeinmind Work Towards Arkansas Derby

Two candidates for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 10 recorded workouts over a fast track Saturday morning at Oaklawn.

Caddo River, in company, breezed a half-mile in :48 after the first surface renovation break under Fernando De La Cruz. Caddo River, on the outside, worked with stablemate Joe Frazier, who finished sixth in the $200,000 Springboard Mile for 2-year-olds Dec. 18 at Remington Park. Joe Frazier also was credited with a half-mile in :48. Clockers had the Brad Cox-trained duo galloping out 5 furlongs in 1:00, 6 furlongs in 1:13 and 7 furlongs in 1:27.60.

A homebred for John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs, Caddo River was a record-setting 10 ¼-length winner of the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 22 before finishing a disappointing fifth in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 13. The Smarty Jones and Rebel are among two major local preps leading up to the Arkansas Derby, which Anthony has won a record three times (1980, 1987 and 1992).

Rebel sixth Keepmeinmind breezed after the second renovation break under regular rider David Cohen. Keepmeinmind went 5 furlongs in 1:00 and galloped out 6 furlongs in 1:13.60, according to clockers.

Trainer Robertino Diodoro said Keepmeinmind is under consideration for the Arkansas Derby and the $800,000 Blue Grass Stakes (G2) April 3 at Keeneland and a decision on the colt’s next start should be made by Monday.

“If it’s the Blue Grass, he’s going to miss a little bit of serious training, shipping over there and stuff,” Diodoro said. “Gave him a stiff work today. If we run him next weekend, he’s not going to be doing a whole bunch from now until then. We’ll jog him, little easy gallop. If he stays here for the Arkansas Derby, then we’ll probably come back next weekend with a real easy half.”

Post positions for the Blue Grass will be drawn Tuesday. Unbeaten champion Essential Quality is expected to headline the field. Essential Quality, who is also trained by Cox, won the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 27 at Oaklawn in his last start.

Unbeaten Rebel winner Concert Tour worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.80 Saturday morning at Santa Anita for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Other noteworthy workers Saturday at Oaklawn included champion Whitmore for co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs and Shedaresthedevil for Cox and co-owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs.

Whitmore, who breezed with stablemate Galilee, went a half-mile in :49.40 in advance of the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older sprinters April 10 at Oaklawn. Whitmore has won the Count Fleet three times.

Shedaresthedevil went a half-mile in :49.20 in preparation for the $500,000 La Troienne Stakes (G1) April 30 at Churchill Downs. Shedaresthedevil began her 2021 campaign with a front-running victory in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares March 13 at Oaklawn. She was a finalist for an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly last year after winning four races, including the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Oaklawn’s $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3).

Torres Making Noise

Newcomers Francisco Arrieta and Elvin Gonzalez are entrenched in the top 10 in the Oaklawn rider standings heading into the final month of the 2021 meeting.

Another newcomer is making a splash, too. The newest newcomer.

Through Friday, Day 29 of the scheduled 51-day meeting, Cristian Torres was tied for ninth with nine victories. What makes Torres’ position noteworthy is that he missed the first six days of the season and Oaklawn lost eight live racing dates in February to severe winter weather.

Asked if he had already exceeded expectations, Torres, 23, said, “Completely.”

Torres, a native of Puerto Rico, had been riding at Gulfstream Park when he decided to move his tack to Oaklawn for the first time. Although Torres didn’t make his debut until Feb. 4 – Oaklawn’s season began Jan. 22 – he quickly made an impact, guiding Starrgarita ($26) to victory Feb. 11 for trainer John Henry Prather Jr. of Hot Springs. It was the jockey’s third Oaklawn mount.

Torres subsequently recorded victories for six other trainers – Federico Villafranco, Larry Jones, Karl Broberg, John E. Cox, John Sadler and Chelsey Moysey – and ended Friday with a 9-4-7 mark from 56 starts and purse earnings of $253,756. Torres added another victory for Broberg and owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs in Saturday’s first race aboard favored Sevier ($4.20). Torres had six winners from 126 mounts at the Gulfstream Park championship meet that began Dec. 2.

“I didn’t really know any of the trainers,” Torres said. “This is completely different from Florida, here. But I speak very good English and I think that made it a little better to communicate with everybody. It’s always hard to start some place that you’re completely new. But with him by my side, it makes it easier.”

Him would be Torres’ new agent, Ruben Munoz, whom the jockey credited with getting his foot in the door with so many trainers at Oaklawn. Munoz is the longtime agent for seven-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. and was seeking a second rider this year in Hot Springs after splitting last March with Ramon Vazquez. Munoz said Torres checked all the boxes.

“Great kid, great attitude, quiet, dedicated, responsible,” Munoz said. “He started riding in Florida and did extremely well as a bug rider. He’s won over 240 races since 2019 and I didn’t have a rider to come here this year and I figured it would be a good opportunity for him, being all the top riders in the country are at Gulfstream right now. This would be a good opportunity for him to have different exposure and experience things as a young kid, young rider. Speaks perfect English and we’ve been very fortunate with the few opportunities we’ve had so far.”

Torres has been riding in the United States since 2019. He was attending Puerto Rico’s Escuela Vocacional Hipica Agustin Mercado Reveron when Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September 2017, roughly two months before he said he was to graduate from the famed jockey school. Escuela Vocacional Hipica Agustin Mercado Reveron has produced, among others, Hall of Famer John Velazquez, Eclipse Award-winning brothers Jose and Irad Ortiz Jr. and Vazquez.

“Everything was messed up,” Torres said. “We couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t work. We couldn’t go to the school.”

Torres said he moved to Florida and eventually New York, where, in 2018, he began working as exercise rider for trainer Mark Casse, who was elected to National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2020. Torres said multiple Grade 1 winner Got Stormy, millionaire Awesome Slew and 2019 Preakness champion War of Will were among the horses he got on for Casse.

Torres began his riding career in April 2019 at Gulfstream Park and won 122 races that year to finish 76th nationally. He won 120 races the following year to finish 43rd. Torres finished fourth in voting for an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion apprentice jockey of 2020.

“It was awesome, as a bug,” Torres said. “I won over 160 races. I won my first stakes four months after I started as a jock. It was wonderful down there. Everything worked awesome for me.”

But after business slowed as a journeyman in Florida, Torres is trying to jumpstart his career in Arkansas. He met Munoz a couple of years ago while galloping horses for Casse in Kentucky.

“Since then, we never lost contact,” Torres said. “He’s known me since the beginning, everything I’ve done in my career. The meet had almost started here and we were talking. I was like, ‘Hey, why don’t you take me over there?’ He was thinking about taking another rider. He just asked and everything worked out perfect. Really thankful that he brought me here.”

Torres said he’s undecided where he will ride after the Oaklawn meeting ends May 1.

Arrieta was Oaklawn’s No. 2 rider through Friday with 27 victories. Gonzalez was tied for seventh with 11 victories.

Santana topped the standings with 38 victories.