Sports

Newsletter: Racing! Jon White has his Kentucky Derby rankings

Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome to our horse racing newsletter, as we welcome our new Santa Anita handicapper Ciaran Thornton.

On Thursday, the big three racing companies, the Stronach Group, Churchill Downs Inc. and New York Racing Assn., plus independent tracks such as Del Mar and Los Alamitos thoroughbred, announced an initiative meant to curtail the use of Lasix. I wrote about it and the CHRB meeting at Santa Anita. You can read about it here.

Here are the high points.

-- Starting next year, 2-year-olds will not be allowed race-day Lasix in any races.

-- Starting in 2021, no horse, regardless of age, will be allowed race-day Lasix in stakes races. However, they can have race-day Lasix in nonstakes races, and that includes the 2-year-olds who have turned 3.

This comes well short of the measures put forward by the Stronach Group, which will continue to phase out race-day Lasix in all races.

As for the CHRB meeting, here’s what it accomplished after a contentious public comment time, dominated by animal rights’ activists demanding that horse racing end.

-- Some of the medication rules that Santa Anita instituted will be in effect for all tracks starting May 3.

-- There was no discussion of moving the Santa Anita dates.

-- The use of controversial Bisphosphonates seem to be headed out the door.

So, in short, no surprises at the CHRB meeting, but there were about 90 passionate minutes from both sides on the future of horse racing. The biggest point of contention was the animal rights’ groups saying that horses after racing are routinely sent to slaughter. Vice chairman Madeline Auerbach pushed back, saying how there are rules against that.

No doubt, the mood was intense, regardless of which side you came down on. Expect more of the same.

Jon White’s Kentucky Derby rankings

Time to turn our attention to the Kentucky Derby. As always, we’re lucky to have 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 preeminent historian on racing. We’re lucky to have him. So, here’s his Kentucky Derby rankings, brought courtesy of Xpressbet.com:

“In the Feb. 8 edition of this newsletter, Omaha Beach debuted on my Kentucky Derby rankings. At that time I wrote: ‘The newcomer to the Top 10 this week is Omaha Beach at No. 9. After finishing second in three straight starts, the War Front colt won a seven-furlong maiden race in the slop by nine lengths at Santa Anita last Saturday. Not only was it a visually impressive performance, his final time was an excellent 1:21.02.’

“On March 16, Omaha Beach won a division of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park by a nose. Finishing second was Game Winner. Going into the Rebel, I had Game Winner ranked No. 1. Omaha Beach was No. 8.

“In the March 22 edition of this newsletter after the Rebel, Omaha Beach rose to No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. At that time I wrote: ‘My rankings are a reflection as to how I view a horse’s chances to win the Kentucky Derby. Right now, the horse I personally think has the best chance to win the roses is Omaha Beach, which is why I ultimately decided to move him up to No. 1 this week. But let’s just say Omaha Beach is in the top spot by only a nose over Game Winner.’

“After Game Winner’s narrow defeat in the Rebel, he would go on to finish second to Roadster in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 7. Following Game Winner’s loss in the Santa Anita Derby, he moved down a notch on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 to No. 3.

“As for Omaha Beach, he won last Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn to strengthen his No. 1 ranking on my Top 10.

“Sent off as the 8-5 favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, Omaha Beach made an early move on the clubhouse turn to reach the front shortly after entering the backstretch. Despite expending so much energy early, he came home strongly and prevailed by one length on a sloppy track.

“Though Improbable did not win the Arkansas Derby, he acquitted himself well in defeat, especially considering his prerace tantrum. When Improbable became fractious in the gate, he was backed out, then was reloaded. Improbable, who was racing on a wet track for the first time, did manage to get away to a good start.

“After racing sixth early, Improbable passed several rivals to threaten entering the far turn. He moved to within a length of the leading Omaha Beach. Improbable then seriously tested Omaha Beach coming to the top of the lane when it appeared the pair were separated by only about a neck. It looked like these two might battle furiously for the lead the rest of the way.

“But Omaha Beach responded to the challenge by increasing his advantage to a length at the eighth pole. Improbable continued trying hard after that, but Omaha Beach was able to fend him off all the way to the end. Improbable had to settle for second at odds of 9-5 in the field of 11 while finishing well clear of everyone but the winner. Country House ended up third, nearly six lengths behind Improbable.

Mike Smith, who collaborated with trainer Bob Baffert to sweep the Triple Crown last year with Justify, gave Omaha Beach a flawless ride in the Arkansas Derby. Smith also won this year’s Santa Anita Derby on Roadster for Baffert on April 7.

“The very instant the Arkansas Derby was over, speculation commenced as to whether Smith would opt to ride Omaha Beach or Roadster in the Kentucky Derby. Omaha Beach is Smith’s choice. For Omaha Beach to have ‘Big Money’ Mike Smith aboard in the $3 million Kentucky Derby certainly is a big plus. Meanwhile, Baffert has named Florent Geroux to ride Roadster in the Run for the Roses.

“The 35-race series in which horses earn qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby concluded last Saturday with the Arkansas Derby and Keeneland’s $200,000 Lexington Stakes. Owendale won the 1 1/16-mile Lexington, defeating runner-up Anothertwistafate by 1 3/4 lengths. Sueno finished third.

“As of today, no one from the Lexington has enough points to start in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4. Anothertwistafate has 38 points and Sueno 32 points to rank 23rd and 24th, respectively, on the Kentucky Derby points standings. Owendale is 29th with 20 points.

“The number of points required at this time to start in the Kentucky Derby is 40. Spinoff and Bodexpress each have 40, but Spinoff gets preference to start because of his $224,000 in nonrestricted stakes earnings compared to Bodexpress’ $188,000. Since the points system was instituted in 2013, Mo Tom’s 32 were the most points required to start in the Kentucky Derby.

“Spinoff currently is No. 19 on the Kentucky Derby points standings, while Bodexpress is No. 21. In addition to the 19 horses who have qualified to start in this year’s Kentucky Derby because they have accumulated the most points, the 20th and final spot goes to Master Fencer, who qualified via what is called the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby.

“Due in large measure to Anothertwistafate’s iffy Kentucky Derby points situation following his defeat in the Lexington, he exits my Top 10 this week. His defection opened the door for Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Code of Honor to move back onto the Top 10 at No. 9. Code of Honor will be going into the Kentucky Derby off a third behind Maximum Security and Bodexpress in the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream on March 30.

“Long Range Toddy ranked No. 7 last week, but he tumbles to No. 10 this week after he finished sixth, nearly 15 lengths behind Omaha Beach, in the Arkansas Derby. I did not drop Long Range Toddy off the Top 10 this week because there is a possibility he just did not care for the sloppy track in the Arkansas Derby. He had never raced on a wet track before. Long Range Toddy did show what he’s capable of doing on a fast track when he won a division of the Rebel by a neck over Improbable.

“Because War of Will had a terrific workout last Saturday at Keeneland, five furlongs in a 59.00 seconds, fastest of 44 works at the distance, I have moved him up a notch this week to No. 4. Trained by Mark Casse, War of Will finished ninth as the 4-5 favorite in the $1 million Louisiana Derby on March 23. War of Will abruptly lost his footing behind in the first few strides of the Louisiana Derby, then came out of the race with a strained patellar ligament, according to Casse. But War of Will now has had two sharp workouts since the Louisiana Derby. He also worked four furlongs in :48.80 at Keeneland on April 6.

“Prior to War of Will’s Louisiana Derby debacle, he had never been beaten when racing on the dirt. He won a maiden race on the dirt at Churchill last Nov. 24 when the track was sloppy. War of Will then took a pair of stakes races on the dirt in New Orleans. He won the Lecomte by four lengths on Jan. 19 and Risen Star by 2 1/4 lengths on Feb. 16. Two of his victims in the Risen Star were Owendale and Plus Que Parfait. Owendale finished eighth in the Risen Star before winning the Lexington. Plus Que Parfait finished 13th in the Risen Star, then won the $2.5 million UAE Derby.

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

1. Omaha Beach (1)

2. Maximum Security (2)

3. Game Winner (3)

4. War of Will (5)

5. Roadster (4)

6. Improbable (6)

7. Tacitus (9)

8. Vekoma (10)

9. Code of Honor (NR)

10. Long Range Toddy (7)”

Santa Anita preview

Not much to say about Friday’s eight-race card starting at 1 p.m. There is no feature; in fact, the largest purse is $36,000 for a claiming race. There are three turf races, first, fifth and seventh, all a mile. The downhill turf course remains shut down for sprints. The field sizes are bigger than over the weekend. Here they are, in order: 8, 5, 7, 6, 8, 8, 7, 8.

Long as we’ve got nothing more to say about Santa Anita’s card, let’s look at Keeneland and how many Southern California trainers have horses in races there on Friday. How’s eight horses sound? Phil D’Amato has two and the following have one horse: Richard Baltas (an also eligible), Paddy Gallagher, Peter Miller, Jeff Mullins, Doug O’Neill, Shelbe Ruis.

Introducing our new handicapper

We’re extremely pleased to add Ciaran Thornton to our stable (get it, stable?) of handicappers for the remainder of the Santa Anita meeting. Ciaran is the handicapper for Californiapick4.com, a site that focuses on California racetracks. He learned the art of handicapping from his father growing up in Ireland, and then honed those skills from his days at Santa Anita and Del Mar. So, Ciaran, welcome aboard.

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day

FIRST RACE: No. 2 VANDER KELEN (8-1)

Vander Kelen has speed and tries turf and a stretch out for the first start in three months after winning last out for trainer Mark Glatt. Joe Talamo rides and they are winning 29% together and have two wins and a second from the last four starts. Moving up in class we see a series of very sharp workouts and we are getting a great value morning line of 8-1. Gate to wire will be the strategy here. This is one of the best betting races on the card today. 6,2,5,3 are my selections for exotic bets.

Ciaran Thornton is the handicapper for Californiapick4.com, which offers daily full card picks, long shots of the day, best bets of the day.

Golden Gate weekend preview

We’re back with 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.

“Turf racing is back after the normal winter hiatus. Horsemen and jockeys indicated the grass was nothing short of terrific after the first week back. There will be more turf races in the next three days. In fact, half of the late pick 4 on Friday is on the turf.

“The late pick 4 is solid with 40 horses in the four-race sequence. The fifth race, the first leg of the late pick 4, is also Leg D of the Stronach 5 wager. It’s a wide-open starter allowance race on the turf. I give the nod to 4-1 morning-line shot No. 7 Upo, second start off the layoff for trainer Blaine Wright. From a 46-horse sample, Wright wins at an outstanding 33% clip with his trainees making their second start off a layoff. Last time out, Upo sprinted and probably needed the race.

“The sixth race is for maidens and features Koa, who was purchased for more than $700,000 as a yearling and started off his career with a solid runner-up effort last month. The seventh is an allowance race. Look for No. 4 Kynance to do some damage in her first start against winners. She was extremely impressive breaking her maiden in March and makes her second start in the United States since being purchased in Europe by her current connections. The last leg of the late pick 4 is a claimer for 11 fillies and mares routing on the grass. There are 10 races on Saturday and nine more on Sunday.

“Nominations closed Thursday for all eight stakes races for next Saturday and Sunday, the inaugural Gold Rush Weekend at Golden Gate Fields. A large field is expected for the Grade 3 $250,000 San Francisco Mile, the weekend headliner. Southern California shippers River Boyne and Bowies Hero are listed as ‘probable’ for the race and European invaders Westwood and Circus Couture are listed as definite. Sunday’s two feature races are for California-bred 3-year-olds: the $100,000 Silky Sullivan and the $100,000 Campanile for fillies.”

Los Alamitos weekend preview

It’s time to turn things over to marketing and media guru Orlando Gutierrez, who will tell us about the upcoming weekend at Los Alamitos. Orlando, the floor is yours.

“The debut of 37 juveniles — 35 of them eligible to race in the trials to the Grade 2 Robert Adair Kindergarten Futurity on May 5 — will headline the eight-race program on Friday. First post is 6 p.m.

“With a carryover of $25,814, the total pool in Friday’s pick 6 could be close to $100,000. The card will have five races for 2-year-olds, all in the pick 6.  As always, Los Alamitos will broadcast each of these runner’s most recent gate works with analysis from track announcer Ed Burgart. Among the top prospects, the third race will be headed by Cartel Jess Rockin, out of the Grade 1 winning mare Feature Jess Rockin. Kid Around will headline the fourth race following her 12.2 second work on April 6. One Chick On First heads the fifth after posting the bullet work of 12.2 seconds on April 2. Spectacular Corona, a $43,000 purchase at the 2017 Los Alamitos Equine Sale, is one of the top contenders in the sixth, while Chickititas Corona, a half-brother of stakes winner Hard Headed Chick will head the seventh race.

“There’ll be two more races for 2-year-olds on Saturday night led by Wrong Impression, who has actually been making the right impression during his morning workouts. First post for Saturday’s eight-race program is 6:05 p.m.

“Wrong Impression has posted works of 12.40 on March 16 and 12.30 on March 30, both among the fastest those mornings. He’ll be leading a field of seven 2-year-olds in race seven at 300 yards on Saturday.

“There will be no live racing on Easter Sunday at Los Alamitos. Live racing will resume on April 26.”

Ed Burgart’s LA pick of the day

EIGHTH RACE: No. 6 Parsons Rocket (2-1)

He easily exits the best races and has excelled when drawn on the far outside. Trouble-prone gelding has two wins and one second from three starts on the extreme outside where his long-striding style is effective. He had inside post draws in last three tries and went strong past the wire in last fifth-place try vs. talented winner Powerful Favorite, who has captured two derbies this year.

Final thought

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Now, the star of the show, Friday’s entries.