Newsletter: Racing! Santa Anita looking at three-day weeks

Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter, as we have another handicapping lesson from Rob Henie.

It should come as no surprise to anyone, but Santa Anita has canceled the next five Thursdays of racing because of a shortage of horses. The news was first reported by Steve Andersen of the Daily Racing Form. You can read his story here.

Steve quotes Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of the Stronach Group, in his story.

What’s interesting, however, is the track hasn’t announced it just yet. What that tells me is there is some wiggle room in that plan. It’s my guess that the decision was very close and no one wanted to shut all the doors.


In fact, as of late Friday night, the Santa Anita website still has racing set for next Thursday, eight races starting at 1 p.m.

There is no doubt that a lot of horses went back East, especially to Keeneland. Ben Hoffman, racing secretary at the Lexington track, told us that he thought at least 60 horses from Southern California were at his track.

Now, the question remains how many come home and how many go on to Churchill Downs.

If the cancellations become official — maybe they are waiting for the stewards who seem to take forever on photo finishes to make it official — there would be three more Thursdays left (June 6, 13 and 20) before the track is scheduled to end its meeting on June 23. No idea what happens there, although I’d take the under, as in three-day weeks.


All of this will become clear soon, say, by next Thursday.

Weekly handicapping lesson

It’s time for our weekly handicapping lesson from Rob Henie of the West Coast Handicapping Report and the East Coast Handicapping Report. The thinking is if you can know and understand the strategies, it will make you a better handicapper.

Today’s lesson is from the second at Santa Anita. Rob, take it away.

“Only a field of five, $25,000 claimers going a mile, but a lesson in here nonetheless. Top selection is DIAMOND BLITZ (#4). Whether looking at a sprint, or a route as we come across here, when a field looks to have multiple front-runners, it’s often a great time to find the winner. Many like to reason, ‘There’s too much early speed, it’ll set up for a closer,’ but the process needs to begin with: Is there a front-runner who’s simply quicker than the others? If the answer is yes, this is often an advantageous situation. Here’s why: When one front-runner can actually hit the front end without running eyeball to eyeball with other pace setters, they can turn the others in ‘chasers,’ forcing the others to do something they’re not accustomed to doing — race in behind another. When that’s the case, they’ll often spit the bit, just not comfortable, while back up top, our front-runner is finding an instant swagger, because horses are herd animals by nature, content to run alongside others. So, when able to hit the front end, they can gain an instant swagger ‘leading the pack.’ PALLADIUM (#2) is the stablemate to the top choice, and he offers an off-the-pace effort, sitting midpack before running on late, giving us contrary running styles to capture this event, always a nice angle to use. Also note, just because Kent Desormeaux rides this one for his brother, it doesn’t mean this is the more well meant of the two. Oftentimes an owner will make a request, and it has nothing to do with intentions of ability of the runners from the same barn.

“Hot/Cold Race Trends: none

“Win Contenders (order of preference): 4-2

“X Out Runners (eliminating on the win end): none


“Negative Notes: 5 Poppy C Note — Do not believe he’s quick enough early, nor late, certainly not the best combination to be backing.

“TOP PICK: DIAMOND BLITZ (#4 5-2 Bejarano)

“SECOND CHOICE: PALLADIUM (#2 9-5 Desormeaux)”

The West Coast Handicapping Report can be found at It has been endorsed by leading trainers, handicappers and industry sources.

Santa Anita review

We mentioned Friday morning that there really wasn’t much to look at on the eight-race card. And we haven’t changed our mind. Move along, nothing to see here.

Santa Anita preview

The impressive thing about Saturday’s card is the field size, especially considering how bad last weekend’s cards were. (Sunday’s card this week isn’t great but not the disaster of the previous Sunday.) There is one race Saturday with 11 starters and three with 10, one with nine and two with eight. Of course, it wouldn’t be Santa Anita if the stakes race didn’t have a tiny field.


The Grade 2 $200,000 Kona Gold Stakes is for horses going 6½ furlongs on the dirt. The slight favorite, at 9-5, is Dr. Dorr for trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Joe Talamo. The 6-year-old is five for 16 lifetime. His last race was on March 30 when he finished second in the San Carlos. Previously, he had been off since a fifth at the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

The 2-1 second choice is Kanthaka for Jerry Hollendorfer and Flavien Prat. He was third in the San Carlos last out. He gets Prat back in the saddle, who has won twice for. Kanthaka, at 4 years old, is three for nine lifetime.

There are four turf races Saturday, the first, fourth, sixth and eighth. The fourth is five furlongs, the rest are a mile.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 11, five, eight, 10 (four also eligible), five, nine, eight, 10, 10.

Big races preview

A look at graded stakes, or races worth more $100,000 or more Saturday. All times PDT.

12:12 Laurel (5): $100,000 Frank Whiteley Jr. Stakes, 3 and up, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Lewisfield (5-2)

12:42 Laurel (6): $100,000 King T. Leatherbury Stakes, 3 and up, 5½ furlongs on turf. Favorite: Bavaro (3-1)

12:55 Charles Town (8): $100,000 Robert Hilton Memorial, 3-year-olds, 7 furlongs. Favorite: Federal Case (9-5)

1:09 Aqueduct (6): $100,000 Woodhaven Stakes, 3-years-old, 1 1/16 miles on turf. Favorite: Forty Under (9-5)

1:12 Laurel (7): $100,000 Primonetta Stakes, fillies and mares 3 and up, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Ms Locust Point (2-1)

1:42 Laurel (8): $100,000 Dahlia Stakes, fillies and mares 3 and up, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: La Moneda (2-1)

1:51 Woodbine (8): Grade 3 $125,000 Whimsical Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Sly Beauty (9-5)

2:01 Charles Town (10): $100,000 Dance to Bristol Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 7 furlongs. Favorite: Lake Ponchatrain (2-1)

2:12 Laurel (9): $125,000 Weber City Miss Stakes, fillies 3-years-old, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Las Setas (7-5)

2:15 Aqueduct (8): $200,000 New York Stallion Stakes (Park Avenue Division), N.Y.-bred fillies 3-years-old, 6 ½ furlongs. Favorite: Newly Minted (8-5)

2:20 Oaklawn (7): $100,000 Rainbow Stakes, Ark-breds 3-years-old, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Tapit Star (8-5)

2:30 Keeneland (9): Grade 2 $250,000 Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes, 4 and up, 1½ miles on turf. Favorite: Zulu Alpha (8-5)

2:37 Charles Town (11): Grade 2 $1 million Charles Town Classic, 4 and up, 1 1/8 miles. Favorite: War Story (7-2)

2:42 Laurel (10): $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles Favorite: Alwaysmining (1-5)

2:48 Aqueduct (9): $200,000 New York Stallion Stakes (Times Square Division), N.Y.-breds 3-years-old, 6 ½ furlongs. Favorite: Blindwillie McTell (2-1)

3:12 Laurel (11): $100,000 Henry S. Clark Stakes, 3 and up, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: Cordmaker (9-5)

3:12 Santa Anita (5): Grade 2 $200,000 Kona Gold Stakes, 3 and up, 6½ furlongs. Favorite: Dr. Dorr (9-5)

3:25 Oaklawn (9): $100,000 Rainbow Miss Stakes, fillies 3-years-old, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Bye Bye J (1-2)

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day


One of my favorite handicapping angles is first time European debut runners on turf like we see Saturday, a 5-furlong turf race for maidens. These horses tend to have a lot of class and can offer great value when they race stateside for the first time. Fabiolla debuts for trainer Jack Carava with Tyler Baze riding. Tyler is winning 40% for Carava, going two of five at the meet. Carava is also winning 33% when shipping. First start since November of last year and the horse is 7/2 morning line and should drift higher in what looks to be a wide open race. My selections for this race for exotic bets are 10, 1, 12, 4.

Friday’s result: Vander Kelen did not use that early speed with Talamo sitting third most of the race. Turning into the stretch it looked like we may get a late run but the horse had nothing and finished dead last. Even without any bumping at the top of the stretch, the horse had nothing. Looked great on paper and that was about it! My other selections ran first, second, third.

Ciaran Thornton is the handicapper for, which offers daily full card picks, longshots of the day, best bets of the day.

Ed Burgart’s LA pick of the day

SIXTH RACE: No. 7 Fast Thinking (4-1)

This freshman gelding debuts in a fairly soft spot and worked better than his two moderate 12.8 gate drills indicates. He was under restraint during the final 1/16 of first drill when neck best over workmate and displayed a long stride under a hand ride when easily best over his company in second drill. He draws comfortable outside post. I suggest a win bet and a 4-7 exacta box with Secretary of Defense, the 2-1 morning-line favorite who was much improved in his second 12.5 work.

Final thought

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