Racing! American Pharoah is No. 8 in Triple Crown countdown; Jon White’s Belmont rankings

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we’ve got a lot of content for you to weight through.

Before we get to Jon White’s Belmont rankings, let go to No. 8 in our Triple Crown countdown. It was always going to be interesting to see where American Pharoah landed in the rankings. His being from a very different era makes comparing him to the others as very difficult. But the panel has spoken and here’s where he landed.

8. American Pharoah (2015) 64 votes

This was the horse that ended the 37-year Triple Crown dry spell. And it also makes his performance one of the more difficult to evaluate as the business changed a lot in four decades. Gone were the aggressive pre-Derby race schedules and approaches to breeding and training also have changed. Panelist Tim Layden put it this way: “The most significant aspect of his Triple Crown is that it came at a time when the breeding industry had bred most of the toughness and stamina out of the modern thoroughbred. And he won just the same.”

The voters struggled, with one voting him 10th, one had him ninth, two had him eighth, four had him seventh, one put him in sixth and two had him as high as fifth. It’s also the only horse that all of the panelists got to see live. Tim Wilkin said this about his win in the Belmont: “I never heard Belmont Park as loud as it was when Pharoah flew down that long stretch, but I wasn’t there for Secretariat. And Rick Hammerle called it: “One of the top sporting events I’ve attended in my life.”

Trainer Bob Baffert has not been shy about mentioning Justify’s name alongside American Pharoah, which is why expectations are high for this year’s Belmont.

The idea that American Pharoah would never lose was taken off the table in his first race, when he finished fifth. Baffert thought he was too unsettled in the race and took off the blinkers and put cotton in his ears to lessen the noise for his next two races. It worked, he went gate to wire to win the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity by 4 ¾ lengths and then in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes he duplicated that running style and won by 3 ¼ lengths. He suffered a deep bruise to his left front hoof in a workout just before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and did not run any more that year.

As the 3-year-old campaign started, Baffert had a problem, he also had a very promising colt in Dortmund and he didn’t want them to run against each other. So, he kept Dortmund at Santa Anita and sent American Pharoah to Arkansas. Baffert had a similar problem this year when he had McKinzie, who he was going to keep home, and Justify, who was supposed to ship to Arkansas. But, McKinzie was injured and Baffert kept Justify at Santa Anita.

Pharoah made his debut in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, winning by 6 ¼ lengths, and then he won the Arkansas Derby by a powerful eight lengths. At the Kentucky Derby, jockey Victor Espinoza, who had taken over from Martin Garcia since his second race, had him positioned third for most of the race. Entering the stretch, Pharoah was moved to outside and commenced a strong but difficult run. He got past Firing Line and Dortmund to win by a length. You can watch the Derby here. Baffert has said Pharoah did not have his “A-game” in that race but still won. He said the same thing about Justify in the Preakness.

American’s Pharoah’s win in the Preakness will be remembered for the apocalyptic rain storm that descended on the track just before post-time turning the surface to slop. Espinoza, breaking from the rail, immediately took the colt to the lead, steadied him on the backstretch after blistering fractions, and when he asked for a run, Pharoah gave it to him. Pharoah brought his “A-game” and won by eight lengths. You can watch the Preakness here.

On to the Belmont, where recent tries by California Chrome and I’ll Have Another were ended both on and off the track. Pharoah broke a step slow but Espinoza took him to the lead, running sensible fractions for the 1 1/2-mile race. Frosted was close to Pharoah entering the stretch but was in a full-out drive. Pharoah hadn’t hit his top gear yet, but when Espinoza urged him he drew off to a 5 ½ length win. You can watch the Belmont here. More than 90,000 $2 win tickets on the horse went uncashed and remained a memento to those in attendance.

American Pharoah went on to win the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth, but then suffered a ¾-length defeat in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, known as the graveyard of champions. He had one more race to go and that was Breeders’ Cup Classic, where he was facing mostly older horses. He won by an easy 6 ½ lengths, stamping his position as one of the all-time greats.

His stallion career is just starting and we should start to see some of his progeny this year. He stands at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky. His fee is $200,000.

The Times Triple Crown panel is composed of horse racing experts, journalists and racing secretaries. It members are Rick Hammerle, racing secretary at Santa Anita; Steve Haskin, racing author and columnist the BloodHorse; David Jerkens, racing secretary at Del Mar; Tim Layden, turf writer at Sports Illustrated; Tom Pedulla, lead writer for America’s Best Racing; Jay Privman, national correspondent for the Daly Racing Form; Jeff Siegel, veteran horseman and lead commentator at; Childs Walker, turf writer at the Baltimore Sun; Alicia Wincze Hughes, racing editor at the BloodHorse; Jon White, racing historian and morning-line maker at Santa Anita and Tim Wilkin, turf writer at the Albany Times Union.

Vote totals were 14 points for first place, 12 for second, 10 for third, and then one point less in descending order.

9. Gallant Fox (read about him here)

12. Sir Barton (read about him here)

Jon White’s Belmont rankings

In case you forgot, Jon is an historian of the sport of horse racing and also does the morning line at Santa Anita. In short, he knows his stuff. So, take it away, Jon.

“Justify's splendid workout Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs suggests he still has plenty of energy and enthusiasm following his half-length victory in the May 19 Preakness Stakes. With jockey Martin Garcia aboard for the drill, ‘Super J’ effortlessly worked four furlongs in 46.80 seconds, a brisk morning exercise that delighted his trainer, Bob Baffert.

“Baffert said: ‘I'm really happy. It's what you want to see. ... American Pharoah looked like that.’

“Ten days after American Pharoah won the Preakness, he worked four furlongs in 48 seconds flat at Churchill Downs for Baffert. Justify's 46 4/5 workout Tuesday likewise came 10 days after the Preakness.

“American Pharoah in 2015 swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont to end a 37-year Triple Crown drought. Between the Preakness and Belmont, American Pharoah had two workouts.

“In American Pharoah's final workout before the Belmont, he stepped five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 at Churchill on June 1. Five days later, American Pharoah won the Belmont by 5 1/2 lengths.

“Secretariat won the Belmont in 1973 to end a 25-year Triple Crown drought. Secretariat, like American Pharoah, had two workouts between the Preakness and Belmont. The plan is for Justify to have the same number of workouts between the Preakness and Belmont.

“Eight days after Secretariat won the Preakness, he worked six furlongs in 1:12 1/5 at Belmont Park. Just five days after that, on June 1, Secretariat had a sizzling one-mile workout at Belmont. It was such a fast workout that many wondered if perhaps it was too fast. Secretariat worked one mile in 1:34 4/5. The track record at that time for one mile on Belmont Park's main track was 1:34 2/5.

“On June 9, Secretariat won the Belmont by 31 lengths in what many consider to be the greatest performance in the history of American racing. His final time of 2:24 flat obliterated the 1 1/2-mile track record that had been set by Gallant Man in 1957. Secretariat broke Gallant Man's record by an astonishing 2 3/5 seconds.

“As for the upcoming Belmont, after last week's Belmont Stakes rankings, it was announced that Audible would not be running. Audible, winner of the Florida Derby and third in the Kentucky Derby for trainer Todd Pletcher, had the credentials to be one of the more serious threats to prevent Justify from becoming the 13th Triple Crown winner.

“There had been speculation that Audible might not run in the Belmont due to his overlapping ownership with Justify. However, according to Pletcher, Audible was taken out of consideration for the Belmont because he had not trained satisfactorily since the Kentucky Derby. It turns out that Audible not only will be absent from the Belmont, he has been taken out of training for the time being and will be getting a complete physical at a clinic in Kentucky, according to Daily Racing Form's David Grening.”

Here are this week's Belmont Stakes rankings:

1. Justify (1)

2. Hofburg (3)

3. Vino Rosso (7)

4. Bravazo (5)

5. Tenfold (6)

6. Blended Citizen (NR)

7. Noble Indy (NR)

8. Free Drop Billy (8)

9. Restoring Hope (9)

10. Gronkowski (10)

Note: Last week's ranking in parentheses

Santa Anita preview

It’s a solid Friday card of eight races starting at 12:30 p.m. But the numbers that are most interesting, are the new set of purse figures after Santa Anita announced last week that it was increasing those numbers because of an all sources handle that was up $70 million over last year.

Now, it’s not like the people who wager are suddenly betting much, much more money, although that is one of many factors. The beneficial change of when takeout has to be reported has helped. The bad weather in the East has helped. The lack of cancellations has really helped. In the end, Santa Anita has run 18 more races and that’s the biggest factor. But that’s OK, you take prosperity whenever you can get it, just like you have to accept unforeseen problems when they arise.

So, when you look at Friday’s card, you see purses of $69,000, $63,000, $61,000 instead of numbers in the $50,000. It’s a very good thing.

Now, there are four allowance/optional claimers, which is real good for a Friday card and spectacular for the first card of the week. There are three turf races, the second, fifth and eighth, none on the downhill course.

The early races could have bigger fields, but we are getting to the end of a very long meet. Here are the field sizes, in order: 6, 6, 6, 8, 8, 8, 9, 9 (5 also eligibles).

Bob Ike’s SA play of the day

SEVENTH RACE: No. 9 Twisted Rosie (4-1)

Sophomore filly from the Jeff Bonde stable drops out a stronger Cal-bred allowance race where she faded when facing older. She is lowered to her lowest level, gets back with 3-year-olds, reunites with Kent Desormeaux and should get an ideal stalking trip from her outside post.

Monday’s result: Compelled (7-1) finished third in the Monrovia Stakes.

Bob Ike is a Partner/VP of (here’s a video) and the proprietor of (full-card picks, 3 Best Plays and betting strategy).

Golden Gate weekend preview

Now a look at the best racing coming up at Golden Gate. Race caller and all-around good guy Matt Dinerman is our host to previews and other musings. So, take it away Matt.

“Live racing continues this week with three more racing days after our all-turf card Thursday. We’ve got seven races on the program Friday, nine on Saturday, and nine more on Sunday.

“A fun allowance race on the turf goes as the nightcap Friday. Nine 3-year-old fillies go one mile on the turf, with the one to beat being Campanile Stakes second-place finisher Lavadia, who was beat by Pulpit Rider in that race. Pulpit Rider is a main contender on Sunday in the $200,000 Melair Stakes at Santa Anita. Also entered in the Golden Gate Friday feature is Getting Sideways, who ran third in the Campanile, allowance victors Crown Kitten and Tinabud, and recent starter allowance winner Madam Sophia, who is a half sister to graded stakes performer Sircat Sally.

“Saturday features two allowance fields for older colts and geldings sprinting six furlongs, a 4 1/2 furlong sprint for 2-year-olds in and a two turf events. To end the week, we’ve got a solid card featuring two allowance races, a maiden special weight, and five races on the lawn. Featured in the maiden special weight is Acclaim the Queen, a half sibling to multiple Cal-bred stakes winner Heck Yeah from the Baffert barn.

“With six racing days to go, jockey Abel Cedillo has 87 wins and sits atop the jockey standings, with Irving Orozco in second with 80 wins. In the trainer standings, Jonathan Wong has a three-win lead over Jerry Hollendorfer.”

Los Alamitos weekend preview

This weekly segment is in the hands of Orlando Gutierrez, marketing and media maven at Los Al. So, the floor is yours, Orlando.

“With most of the big equine names at Los Alamitos Race Course preparing for major Grade 1 stakes trials later this month, there are no major races on the docket this weekend. Friday’s card features the return of the intriguing 4-year-old gelding Highest Leader, who won his career debut by a head when racing 300 yards in a fast time of 15.69 seconds on April 21.

“Trained by Valentin Zamudio for Aaron Parra, Highest Leader will take on allowance runners in the featured $11,025 eighth race, while stretching out for this slightly longer race at 330 yards. He’ll be taking on a group that includes the experienced Billionaire Boy, who has raced nine times in his career while qualifying to the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity in 2016. Billionaire Boy will be making his 2018 debut. His last start was a second-place finish in a trial to the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Super Derby last October. The eight-race card will also feature a modest pick 6 carryover of $6,194.

“As for the upcoming racing, a full night of trials to the Grade 1 Ed Burke Million Futurity will be on Sunday, June 10, while top older horses will race in the trials to the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity on Sunday, June 17. Grade 1 stakes winners such as BH Lisas Boy, Zoomin For Spuds, and Lotta Blues Man are expected to take part in the Vessels trials.

“There was also a big name on the workout tab on Wednesday morning, as the superstar filly J Fire Up posted her first move since her track record setting championship campaign of 2017. The Kiddy Up filly drilled 220 yards in 12.30 seconds on Wednesday, her first official appearance since winning the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity on Dec. 17. That victory made her the highest money-earning filly in a single season with $1,430,411 at Los Alamitos. J Fire Up is beginning her preparations to race in trials to the Governor’s Cup Derby on Sunday, July 15.”

Ed Burgart’s LA play of the day

FIFTH RACE: No. 4 Class Stopper (5-2)

Trainer Valentin Zamudio has always done well with first-out claims and returns the gelding at the same level from where he claimed him nearly two months ago. In his last, he won despite getting bumped from both sides after a sluggish start. He is only one of the field’s two multiple winners.

Final thought

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And now the stars of the show, Friday’s entries.

Santa Anita Entries for Friday, June 1.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 28th day of a 42-day meet.


6½ Furlongs. Purse: $47,000. Claiming. 3 year olds. Claiming Prices $50,000-$45,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1El AsesinoStewart Elliott122Mick Ruis6-150,000
2Sir ValentineRafael Bejarano122David Jacobson6-150,000
3Candy CrewHeriberto Figueroa113John W. Sadler6-145,000
4Platinum EquityGeovanni Franco122Richard Baltas2-150,000
5Master RulerGary Stevens122John W. Sadler12-150,000
6GraycasterFlavien Prat122Jerry Hollendorfer6-550,000


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $61,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. 3 year olds. Claiming Price $75,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1KylemoreRafael Bejarano122Eoin G. Harty4-1
2True LoyaltyKent Desormeaux122James P. DiVito5-1
3Magic MusketierAsa Espinoza115Jerry Hollendorfer5-1
4La La Land Joseph Talamo124Philip D'Amato8-5
5Desert Stone Geovanni Franco122Richard Baltas7-2
6Pepe TonoFlavien Prat122Victor L. Garcia5-1


6 Furlongs. Purse: $69,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $75,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1ConquerorKent Desormeaux122Vladimir Cerin5-1
2Sunset DragunnGeovanni Franco125Tirso Rivera12-1
3BlameitonthelawJoseph Talamo122John W. Sadler4-1
4Moe CandyVictor Espinoza122John W. Sadler5-2
5K Thirty EightAsa Espinoza115Karen Headley8-1
6Touching RainbowsFlavien Prat125Philip D'Amato6-5


6 Furlongs. Purse: $25,000. Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $25,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1UtanaKent Desormeaux125Robert B. Hess, Jr.6-125,000
2Lady's War DressBrayan Pena125Bobby Wayne Grayson20-125,000
3Bobbie LincolnJoseph Talamo125Ronald W. Ellis7-225,000
4Royal AstronomerStewart Elliott125John E. Cortez12-125,000
5Creative SparkTiago Pereira120Daniel Dunham6-125,000
6Ib ProspectingTyler Conner125Peter Eurton3-125,000
7Get Yourself HomeRafael Bejarano125Michael Machowsky7-225,000
8Kentan RoadHeriberto Figueroa118John W. Sadler4-125,000


1 1/8 Mile Turf. Purse: $63,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $62,500.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1DemigoddessModesto Linares121Charles R. Stutts30-1
2India MantuanaTiago Pereira121Philip D'Amato6-1
3PricedtoperfectionVictor Espinoza123James M. Cassidy12-1
4AmboseliKent Desormeaux121James M. Cassidy4-1
5Finess Bere Rafael Bejarano116Bob Baffert6-1
6VasilikaFlavien Prat121Jerry Hollendorfer5-2
7FuerzaMario Gutierrez123Richard Baltas12-1
8The Tulip Drayden Van Dyke123Patrick Gallagher9-5


7 Furlongs. Purse: $59,000. Maiden Special Weight. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Storming LadyJoseph Talamo120Simon Callaghan6-1
2KindredAsa Espinoza118John A. Shirreffs8-1
3Aunt LubieFlavien Prat120Richard E. Mandella3-1
4Unaffordable UHeriberto Figueroa113Richard Baltas15-1
5ChickatiniMike Smith120Peter Eurton7-2
6Royal DescendentTiago Pereira120Brian J. Koriner5-1
7My Midnight AffairBrice Blanc120Mick Ruis15-1
8Hot AutumnGeovanni Franco120Ian Kruljac5-2


6 Furlongs. Purse: $28,000. Claiming. Fillies. 3 year olds. Claiming Prices $20,000-$18,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Mis ViolaMario Gutierrez122Doug F. O'Neill12-120,000
2Uno Trouble MakerHeriberto Figueroa117Peter Miller3-120,000
3Willows BabeGeovanni Franco122Richard Baltas6-120,000
4Mama's KidFranklin Ceballos120Sal Gonzalez20-118,000
5Baytown JulietBarrington Harvey122Kenneth E. Nettles30-120,000
6Tiger MomRafael Bejarano124Robert B. Hess, Jr.5-120,000
7Palace PaynterAsa Espinoza117Peter Miller5-220,000
8AsemStewart Elliott122Gary Sherlock8-118,000
9Twisted RosieKent Desormeaux122Jeff Bonde4-120,000


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $61,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. Fillies. 3 year olds. Claiming Price $75,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Casino Red Drayden Van Dyke122Patrick Gallagher7-2
2Mongolian WindowVictor Espinoza122John W. Sadler12-1
3Hope WinsGeovanni Franco122Philip D'Amato12-1
4Trust Fund KittyMartin Pedroza122Michael Machowsky12-1
5StreetwithnonameFlavien Prat122Eoin G. Harty8-1
6Mybluebell Kent Desormeaux122Robert B. Hess, Jr.6-1
7Pursuing The Dream Stewart Elliott122James M. Cassidy3-1
8Medaglia GoldHeriberto Figueroa115Clifford W. Sise, Jr.6-1
9LuminosoRafael Bejarano122Doug F. O'Neill4-1
Also Eligible
10Bunny YogurtKent Desormeaux122John W. Sadler15-1
11Lexington Grace Gary Stevens122Ian Kruljac4-1
12Pacific StrikeMario Gutierrez122Peter Eurton8-1
13TraviezaRafael Bejarano122Doug F. O'Neill4-1
14Film ActressBrayan Pena124Margie Cantrell12-175,000