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Racing! Belinda Stronach gives rare interview

Hello, my name is John Cherwa as we all hold our breath as racing returns to Santa Anita. The future of California racing may hang in the balance in what happens this weekend.

Well, it’s been almost a month since Santa Anita conducted live racing. Fans should be both excited and holding their breath. Santa Anita needs clean, safety first racing for as long as it can sustain it. Anything less will ratchet up the discussion of horse racing’s long-term viability.

On Thursday, Belinda Stronach, CEO of The Stronach Group, had most of her proposals signed off on by the California Horse Racing Board. It was a good day for her. She got the Lasix reduction passed and she paved the way for a no-whip rule. The CHRB hasn’t given its final sign off, but it’s in the pipeline.

There are a couple stores you can read to find out more.

--A rare sit down with Stronach after her victories on Thursday. Just click here.

--And a deeper dive into what the CHRB ruled on at its meeting. Just click here.

We’ll continue to follow the developments, but for now, let’s return to regularly scheduled programming.

Jon White’s Kentucky Derby rankings

Time to turn our attention to the Kentucky Derby. As always, we’re lucky to have the top expert Jon White take a look at what’s happening there. Jon makes the morning line at Santa Anita, he’s a licensed steward, and he’s the pre-eminent historian on racing. We’re lucky to have him. So, here’s his Kentucky Derby rankings, brought courtesy of Xpressbet.com.

“Six straight favorites have won the Kentucky Derby: Orb in 2013, California Chrome in 2014, American Pharoah in 2015, Nyquist in 2016, Always Dreaming in 2017 and Justify in 2018.

“However, as April 2019 looms, it is not certain who will be the Kentucky Derby favorite this year on May 4. No one has stepped up so far in 2019 to separate themselves from the pack. This muddled picture stems in large part from four high-profile favorites being defeated in the last couple of weeks.

“Two weeks ago, Game Winner and Improbable both finished second as odds-on favorites in Arkansas. Next, War of Will ran ninth as an odds-on wagering choice last Saturday in Louisiana. And yet another odds-on favorite failed to get the job done last Sunday in New Mexico when Much Gusto finished third.

“There are three newcomers on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week. They are Cutting Humor and Anothertwistafate, who ran one-two in the Sunland Derby, and By My Standards, winner of the Louisiana Derby.

“Cutting Humor, who finished a troubled seventh in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in February, won the 1 1/8-mile Sunland Derby by a neck at odds of 2-1. His final time of 1:46.94 broke the track record of 1:47.21 set by Oh So Regal in 2018. Anothertwistafate gave it a fine try to finish second, nearly six lengths clear of Mucho Gusto. Todd Pletcher trains Cutting Humor. Blaine Wright conditions Anothertwistafate.

“By My Standards, coming off a Feb. 16 maiden victory for trainer Bret Calhoun, won the 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby by three-quarters of a length in a 22-1 upset. His final time was 1:49.53.

“War of Will, trained by Mark Casse, began alertly in the Louisiana Derby, but then abruptly lost his footing behind a few strides after the start. The colt did not come out of the race well. Casse told Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman that, ‘right after the race, when we got back to the barn, he was walking really off in his right hind.’

“By Sunday morning, War of Will reportedly was much better. Casse was quoted in the track's Sunday stable notes as saying ‘it's amazing how much better he was today. ...We feel very optimistic that we can still make the [Kentucky] Derby.’

“Despite Casse saying he is very optimistic War of Will will be able to run in the Kentucky Derby, the colt’s status certainly is up in the air at this time, prompting me to drop him from my Top 10 this week. I will monitor his situation in the days ahead. War of Will ranked No. 4 last week.

“Mucho Gusto exits my Top 10 this week following his loss in the Sunland Derby. He was No. 7 last week.

“Instagrand also drops off my Top 10 this week to make room for By My Standards at No. 10. Instagrand, who was No. 10 last week, is scheduled to run in the Santa Anita Derby on April 6. A good performance in the Santa Anita Derby most likely would get Instagrand back onto my Top 10.

“Hidden Scroll is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. The 1 1/8-mile race, which has attracted a field of 11, offers 170 qualifying points (100-40-20-10) for the Kentucky Derby.

“Trained by Bill Mott, Hidden Scroll burst on the scene with a 14-length victory in his career debut Jan. 26 at Gulfstream. But Hidden Scroll then finished fourth as the 6-5 favorite in the Fountain of Youth Stakes on March 2 at Gulfstream when he paid the price late for running way too fast early.

“Code of Honor is 3-1 on the Florida Derby morning line. Bourbon War is 7-2. Code of Honor and Bourbon War finished first and second, respectively, in the Fountain of Youth.

“There also are 170 qualifying points (100-40-20-10) up for grabs Saturday in the $2.5 million UAE Derby, which will be contested at about 1 3/16 miles in Dubai at Meydan Racecourse. Heading the field of 14 is a filly, Divine Image, who again is facing males after an impressive 7 1/4-length victory against the boys on March 9. Divine Image is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Scat Daddy. Scat Daddy also is the sire of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify.

“Another UAE contender is Walking Thunder. After reeling off three consecutive dominant wins by margins from 5 1/4 to nine lengths, the Florida-bred Violence colt ran second in a Feb. 7 race. If Walking Thunder finishes first or second in the UAE Derby, he is expected to be sent to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby.

“Two UAE Derby entrants have Southern California trainers. Doug O'Neill is represented by Stubbins, who splashed his way to an eight-length triumph on a sloppy track in Santa Anita's Pasadena Stakes on March 2. That was Stubbins’ third straight win. Peter Miller starts Gray Magician, who most recently finished second in Laurel's Miracle Wood Stakes on Feb. 16. Early this year, Gray Magician ran fourth in Santa Anita's Sham Stakes on Jan. 5.

“Another UAE Derby contestant from America is Plus Que Parfait, who narrowly lost the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last Nov. 24 at Churchill Downs when the runner-up to Signalman. But in Plus Que Parfait's two starts at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots this year, he finished fifth in the Lecomte Stakes and 13th in the Risen Star Stakes.

“Here are this week's rankings, courtesy of Xpressbet:

1. Omaha Beach (1)

2. Game Winner (2)

3. Improbable (3)

4. Code of Honor (5)

5. Long Range Toddy (6)

6. Anothertwistafate (NR)

7. Cutting Humor (NR)

8. Bourbon War (8)

9. Roadster (9)

10. By My Standards (NR)

NOTE: Last week's rankings in parentheses

Santa Anita preview

It has been a while since we’ve done of these. But Santa Anita has an eight-race card starting at 1 p.m. Field sizes are good, as they should be after a three-week break because of the death of 22 horses since Dec. 26. There are three turf races and one graded stakes.

The feature is the seventh, the Grade 2 $200,000 San Luis Rey Stakes going 1 ½ miles on the turf. It has the smallest field on the card with only six horses. The post should be around 4 p.m.

The favorite, at 2-1, is Epical for trainer Jim Cassidy and jockey Tyler Baze. He was won two of his last three races, but this is his first graded stakes. There are two 5-2 horses in the race: Beach View for Leonard Powell and Rafael Bejarano and Ashleyluvssugar for Peter Eurton and Kent Desormeaux.

Beach View is three-for-13 lifetime and won a Grade 3 at Del Mar. He is one-for-nine at Santa Anita. Ashleyluvssugar is 10-for-31 lifetime but hasn’t won since May, 2017. He has been running at a high level and has earned $1.267 million in his career.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 10 (1 also eligible), 7, 9, 8, 10, 8, 6, 10.

Bob Ike’s SA pick of the day

FOURTH RACE: No. 7 Swirling (5-2)

Favorite from the John Sadler stable is a hard-knocking mare who has won three of six starts (two seconds), including a couple good efforts over the downhill turf course. Her six starts have been spaced out over nearly two years, so she is capable of running well with time between races, which could be a key factor as Santa Anita runs for the first time in 26 days.

Sunday’s result (Mar. 3): I don't remember who I picked or what the result was, so let's start fresh today.

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

Golden Gate weekend preview

Santa Anita is about to be back in action, but Golden Gate hasn’t missed a day. So let’s get back to our weekly look at the best racing at Golden Gate Fields. As with the last couple of meetings, we’re delighted to have race caller and all-around good guy Matt Dinerman as our host for previews and other musings. So, take it away, Matt.

“Another week of good racing and betting sequences are in store for Golden Gate Fields. Friday’s card has some interesting puzzles for handicappers. Race five on Friday is Leg D of the Stronach 5 wager. The race is a field of nine lower-level claimers going one mile. One race that caught my eye is Friday’s sixth race, an allowance for 3-year-olds going two turns.

“My top pick, Visistant, was very well regarded before his first start and won like a good thing, defeating maiden special company with great ease. Trainer William E. Morey said on TVG before the race that he was excited to see Visistant run two turns, and he will now get the chance to do that while facing winners for the first time.

“There are nine races on Saturday, headlined by a second-level allowance featuring stakes winners Choo Choo and Respect the Hustle, the stakes-placed More Power to Him, and local sharpies Sweet River Baines and Unusually Big.

“In other news, Anothertwistafate solidified his status as a worthy competitor on the Kentucky Derby trail with a good runner-up effort in the Sunland Derby on Sunday. During the stretch run, there was a roar from the Golden Gate Fields grandstand as folks watching on TV and supported their local horse. Although he came up a neck short to the Todd Pletcher-trained Cutting Humor, trainer Blaine Wright and owner Peter Redekop were very satisfied, and there has certainly been a buzz around Golden Gate knowing that it might have a local horse to cheer for.

“’Down the stretch, [Anothertwistafate] got down to business and went after the winner,” said trainer Wright. “He made up ground and finished strong. He handled the dirt with no problem and was able to stalk the pace and run on. He didn’t quit when he was challenged. He ran super.’

“’Now our goal is to run in the Kentucky Derby. We’ll wait, see how the points leader board looks in a couple of weeks and go from there. If he has enough points to get into the Derby after more of these prep races, then we’ll go straight to the Derby. If not, we may have to run in another Kentucky Derby point’s race if we want to secure a starting spot.’

“In other news: Jockey Irving Orozco, one of the top riders at Golden Gate Fields, is back in the saddle after taking five months off. Orozco was injured in an October spill and suffered internal injuries as a result of the fall. He won with his first mount back on Sunday afternoon aboard the maiden filly Kynance, making her first start in the United States for trainer Manny Badilla.

“’Words could not describe such an amazing moment,’ said Orozco. ‘I definitely held back some tears … but they were happy tears. I am beyond grateful to be back riding horses.’”

Los Alamitos weekend preview

Los Alamitos is back racing after taking a week off to refurbish its track. So, there is only one thing to do, turn this over to marketing and media guru Orlando Gutierrez, who will tell us about the upcoming weekend at Los Alamitos. Orlando, the floor is yours.

“Live racing resumes on Friday night at Los Alamitos Race Course headed by the $35,000 Moonist Handicap for older horses and a pick 6 carryover of $9,842. First post for the eight-race program is 6 p.m.

Ed Allred's multiple Grade 1 winner He Looks Hot and two-time 2018 derby winner Black Fryday are among the top horses expected to race in the Moonist Handicap at 400 yards. Trained by Scott Willoughby and ridden by Vinnie Bednar, the millionaire He Looks Hot enters after a solid fourth in the Grade 1 Brad McKinzie Los Alamitos Winter Championship. He Looks Hot starts from post two.

“Trained by John Cooper for owner Ron Hartley, Black Fryday will make his first start of the year and first since winning the Grade 2 Southern California Derby on Dec. 14. Black Fryday also won the Governor's Cup Derby in late July. He'll enter the Moonist after working 350 yards handily from the gate in 18.10 seconds. Hartley campaigned the great champion Moonist during his racing career with Cooper conditioning the horse he often described as a ‘Dandy’. A 12-time stakes winner at Los Alamitos, Moonist died of colic in 2016.

“The field will also feature stakes winners Katies Easy Moves, One Proud Eagle and Yanque plus Rite Quick, Scoopie Jess, My Favorite Cartel, Da One Two Special and Cm A Pollitical Star.

Ed Burgart, the longtime voice of Los Alamitos, also returns after a well-deserved vacation. Burgart will call the Los Alamitos nighttime racing action and his selections, racing analysis and morning line will also be featured.

“On Saturday night, owners Jay and Char Parsons will have an excellent chance to win the La Primera Del Año Derby for the second straight year when they’re represented by fastest qualifier Terrific First Down and Governor’s Cup Futurity runner-up Favorite Wise Lady in the Grade 3 $210,000 derby at 400 yards. First post is 6:30 p.m.

“The Parsons won the La Primera last year with multiples stakes winner A Political Lady, who would eventually be named the 2018 AQHA champion 3-year-old filly. Terrific First Down is the 9-5 favorite in the La Primera after scoring a daylight victory in the trials. Sired by FDD Dynasty and out of the Grade 1 winning mare Terrific Energy, Terrific First Down finished third in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby earlier this year.

Chris O’Dell, who trains both Terrific First Down and Favorite Wise Lady, will saddle the outstanding Powerful Favorite in Sunday’s Grade 3 $211,000 El Primero Del Año Derby. The star gelding won the Governor’s Cup Futurity last year and qualified to all three of Los Alamitos’ million dollar futurities. So far this year, Powerful Favorite is three for three, including a 1 ¼ length win in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby.”

Final thought

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Any thoughts, you can reach me at johnacherwa@gmail.com. You can also feed my ego by following me on Twitter @jcherwa.

I think we’re back on a regular schedule, which means we’ll see you on Saturday.

Santa Anita Entries for Friday, March 29.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 55th day of a 61-day meet.

FIRST RACE.

1 Mile. Purse: $21,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies. 3 year olds. Claiming Price $25,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Lucky Brite EyeDiego Sanchez124Martine Bellocq20-125,000
2Curryforthree BangIgnacio Puglisi124Joe Herrick5-125,000
3Ride Out the StormAssael Espinoza119Carla Gaines4-125,000
4Lily ConJ.C. Diaz, Jr.117Richard Baltas3-125,000
5Cyber SavingsGeovanni Franco124Eoin G. Harty12-125,000
6Discrete Stevie BTiago Pereira124Marcelo Polanco6-125,000
7Tick TockHeriberto Figueroa124William E. Morey2-125,000
8Reds Sacred AppealMartin Pedroza124Walther Solis20-125,000
9West Way DreamsHumberto Tellez114Salvador Orozco50-125,000
10Miss OmnipotentEdgar Payeras124George Papaprodromou20-125,000
Also Eligible
11Belltown BelleTiago Pereira124William Spawr8-125,000

SECOND RACE.

1 Mile Turf. Purse: $33,000. Starter Allowance. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Halo DarlinKent Desormeaux124Michael Pender5-1
2Madaket SunsetRafael Bejarano122Doug F. O'Neill3-1
3Trust Fund KittyBrice Blanc122Val Brinkerhoff8-1
4DearbornDrayden Van Dyke122Jeff Bonde4-1
5Take a LeapAaron Gryder124Manuel Ortiz, Sr.5-1
6Tiny TinaGeovanni Franco122Philip D'Amato5-2
7Sweet Connie GirlIsrael Ocampo122Anna Meah8-1

THIRD RACE.

6 Furlongs. Purse: $18,000. Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $12,500.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Night At the OperaJorge Velez117Jorge Periban12-112,500
2Buck DuaneRuben Fuentes124Steve Knapp2-112,500
3Sunset SevenMartin Pedroza124David E. Hofmans3-112,500
4GiddymeisterEdwin Maldonado124Genaro Vallejo7-212,500
5Iron CurtainAlonso Quinonez124Val Brinkerhoff4-112,500
6Skagit RiverChristian Aragon124Patricia Harrington30-112,500
7Duke of FallbrookMario Gutierrez124Antonio Garcia30-112,500
8Royal SeekerTiago Pereira124Marcelo Polanco20-112,500
9Moon JuiceGeovanni Franco124Philip A. Oviedo8-112,500

FOURTH RACE.

About 6½ Furlongs Turf. Purse: $33,000. Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $25,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Red ShelbyRafael Bejarano122Jerry Hollendorfer5-125,000
2Easter DreamEdwin Maldonado122Frank Lucarelli8-125,000
3Kennedie SkyAgapito Delgadillo122Rafael DeLeon30-125,000
4Holy MoseyMartin Pedroza122Molly J. Pearson4-125,000
5MistressofthenightAaron Gryder122Richard Baltas7-225,000
6WhirlingGeovanni Franco122George Papaprodromou6-125,000
7SwirlingJ.C. Diaz, Jr.115John W. Sadler5-225,000
8Dahlia AzulAlonso Quinonez122Patricia D. Visscher6-125,000

FIFTH RACE.

6 Furlongs. Purse: $55,000. Maiden Special Weight. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Joeys AceJ.C. Diaz, Jr.111Jerry Hollendorfer20-1
2Still in the GameMario Gutierrez118Ben D. A. Cecil12-1
3Gate SpeedMartin Pedroza118William E. Morey7-2
4NesbittTiago Pereira118Art Sherman10-1
5OggonisAssael Espinoza113Jerry Hollendorfer8-1
6Always ForgivenDiego Sanchez118J. Keith Desormeaux20-1
7RafalDrayden Van Dyke118Bob Baffert8-5
8Air BossJorge Velez111John W. Sadler15-1
9Benny the JetAlonso Quinonez118Mark Glatt12-1
10BelethAaron Gryder118Ronald W. Ellis4-1

SIXTH RACE.

1 Mile. Purse: $57,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $40,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1He WillRafael Bejarano124Jerry Hollendorfer4-140,000
2Lord GuinnessRuben Fuentes124William E. Morey5-1
3JamminwithbrandonGeovanni Franco124Vladimir Cerin15-1
4Super Duper CooperEvin Roman122Richard Baltas3-1
5LeroyTyler Baze122Philip A. Oviedo15-1
6California JourneyMario Gutierrez124Jerry Hollendorfer8-1
7Route Six SixDrayden Van Dyke124Brian J. Koriner7-2
8Shane ZainHeriberto Figueroa124Richard Baltas7-2

SEVENTH RACE.

1½ Mile Turf. Purse: $200,000. 'San Luis Rey Stakes'. 4 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1EpicalTyler Baze120James M. Cassidy2-1
2Risky PropositionDrayden Van Dyke120William Spawr5-1
3UnapologeticGeovanni Franco120William Spawr8-1
4Beach ViewRafael Bejarano122Leonard Powell5-2
5Marckie's WaterMario Gutierrez120Richard Baltas8-1
6AshleyluvssugarKent Desormeaux120Peter Eurton5-2

EIGHTH RACE.

7 Furlongs. Purse: $22,000. Maiden Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $25,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Raggy RocksJ.C. Diaz, Jr.117Tim Yakteen6-125,000
2Big Bad GaryHeriberto Figueroa124Ruben Gomez12-125,000
3Far WestRuben Fuentes118Ryan Hanson12-125,000
4Hot DecisionEvin Roman124Clifford W. Sise, Jr.10-125,000
5Why Not UsRafael Bejarano124Jerry Hollendorfer6-125,000
6Paul's DivaAssael Espinoza119Mike Puype6-125,000
7OutlawGeovanni Franco124Steven Miyadi7-225,000
8Captain N. BarronJorge Velez117Craig Anthony Lewis5-125,000
9Persuasive CatVictor Espinoza124John W. Sadler8-125,000
10Mr ClassicalMartin Garcia124Doug F. O'Neill6-125,000

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