Newsletter: Racing! Jon White’s Kentucky Derby rankings are out

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome to our horse racing newsletter as we explain our thinking on Frank Stronach’s town hall.

We are back for another short week of three-day racing at Santa Anita. While we were away, the headline was the town hall held by Frank Stronach in Arcadia. We didn’t go to it, and we’ll explain why.

While Stronach is genuine in his desire to make racing better, the real purpose of the meeting was posturing in his suit against daughter Belinda Stronach for regaining control of the company. Think about his suggestion to turn the track over to the horsemen to run. Sounds interesting, but there is one problem — he doesn’t own the track anymore and wishing something to happen and it actually happening are different things.

The control of the Stronach Group will be litigated for a while, and the guess here is that it will remain in Belinda’s hands. But, that opinion means nothing. So, rather than breathlessly report on something that is little more than a staged event, we’re OK with this situation playing out in the courts. If it ever goes to trial.


Still, if you want to read about the meeting, check out Steve Andersen’s story in the Daily Racing Form. Just click here.

And here’s a version from the Bloodhorse.

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 are his Kentucky Derby rankings, brought courtesy of Jon, the floor is yours:


“Ever since Churchill Downs in 2013 introduced its points system to determine which horses get the opportunity to start in the Kentucky Derby, six straight betting favorites have been victorious: Orb in 2013, California Chrome in 2014, American Pharoah in 2015, Nyquist in 2016, American Pharaoh in 2017 and Justify in 2018.

“This raises a couple of questions. First, who is going to be the favorite this year? And second, will this year’s favorite keep the winning streak going?

“It is far from a certainty, but it appears to me that the favorite this year is going to be Omaha Beach. One person who disagrees with this assessment is Daily Racing Form national handicapper Mike Watchmaker. In Watchmaker’s Kentucky Derby odds this week, he lists Game Winner as his 5-1 Kentucky Derby favorite. Watchmaker then has both Omaha Beach and Roadster at 6-1.

“I will be surprised — not shocked, but surprised — if it turns out that Watchmaker is right in terms of Kentucky Derby favoritism. In my projected Kentucky Derby odds, I have Omaha Beach and Roadster both at lower odds than Game Winner. I have Omaha Beach as a 9-2 favorite, followed by Roadster at 5-1 and Game Winner at 6-1.

“Game Winner, trained by Bob Baffert, was voted a 2018 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. In Game Winner’s 2019 debut, he finished second in a division of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 16 while making his 2019 debut. Omaha Beach won that race by a nose.

“After Game Winner’s first career loss in the Rebel, he finished second, a half-length behind Roadster, in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 6. Baffert also trains Roadster.

“Following Omaha Beach’s narrow Rebel victory, he won the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 13 by one length for trainer Richard Mandella. The Arkansas Derby runner-up was Improbable, yet another 3-year-old trained by Baffert.

“I have Tacitus at 6-1 for the Kentucky Derby, followed by Improbable at 10-1 and Maximum Security at 12-1. I get the sense Tacitus is going to be a shorter price than Watchmaker’s 10-1. Watchmaker has Improbable at 8-1, Maximum Security at 10-1 and Tacitus at 10-1.


Mike Battaglia for many years has been the person responsible for making the official Kentucky Derby morning-line odds. Battaglia’s morning line for this year’s Kentucky Derby will be announced after post positions for the race are drawn Tuesday.

“Meanwhile, here are my projected 2019 Kentucky Derby odds for the 20 horses to have earned enough points and are listed as intended starters in the 1 1/4-mile classic :

9-2 Omaha Beach

5-1 Roadster

6-1 Game Winner

6-1 Tacitus

10-1 Improbable

12-1 Maximum Security


15-1 Code of Honor

15-1 Vekoma

20-1 By My Standards

20-1 Tax

20-1 War of Will

20-1 Win Win Win

30-1 Country House

30-1 Cutting Humor

30-1 Haikal

30-1 Long Range Toddy

30-1 Plus Que Parfait

30-1 Spinoff

50-1 Gray Magician

50-1 Master Fencer

“As for my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week, there are no changes from last week. As was the case last year, in next week’s final Kentucky Derby Top 10, I not only will rank them, I will have comments for each horse.

“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 (4)

5. Roadster (5)

6. Improbable (6)

7. Tacitus (7)

8. Vekoma (8)

9. Code of Honor (9)

10. Long Range Toddy (10)”

Santa Anita preview

Not a particularly good card at Santa Anita on Friday, with eight races starting at 1 p.m. Or as we call it, the new normal.

There are five maiden races, four of them claimers. With the shortage in the horse population, the racing office is faced with having to write races that fit the inventory. The fact that the downhill turf course is shut down for sprints makes things even more dicey.

Imagine having a recipe that requires three eggs and you have only two. That’s where the racing office is. And, if you are going to ship a horse back East, are you more likely to ship a good horse that has a chance of winning or a less talented one that has little chance of winning? Once again, that’s the horse population that the racing office must write races for.

The feature on Friday is interesting, an allowance/optional claimer for fillies and mares going five furlongs on the turf. These are horses that normally would be coming down the hill.

The favorite, at 9-5, is Moon Kitty for trainer Jack Carava and jockey Evin Roman. She was ninth in her last race, the Las Flores Stakes, but in her previous three races has a first, second and third in allowance races.

Both Gliding By, for Richard Baltas and Flavien Prat, and Ficanas, for John Sadler and Martin Pedroza, are at 2-1. Gliding By won an allowance two back and Ficanas won an allowance last out.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 7, 6, 5, 6, 8, 6, 6, 9.

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day

RACE FIVE: No. 5 Etterbay Ucklay (8/1)

Etterbay Ucklay is a first-time starter for trainer Ron Ellis and he legs up son-in-law Joe Talamo. I bet only Ellis-trained horses when he has Joe ride; after all it makes sense he would want to put bread in his daughter’s mouth if the horses are live! Ellis is a staggering 42% debuting in maiden claiming races like Friday and 30% in all claiming races. This type of race is where he’s shining this year, and the 8-1 or more price is too good to ignore.

Sunday’s result: We tried two approaches on Sunday. A 3-5 odds on favorite in Incredible Lucky that should have won by half the track based on paper stats. She lost to a first-time starter who was 6-1 morning line and went off as second favorite. Lucky could not even finish in the money and adds to a long line of bad favorites at this current meet. In Race 8, morning-line longshot at 8-1 Shanghai Truffles was bet down to 7-2 but was stuck four wide for the entire race before putting in a nice closing bid to run fourth. It was a very good effort and definitely a horse to watch for in the coming races. Look for her to route next start as the added distance with this closing speed will be perfect. She closed as we expected, but the front-runners, on this currently front-running-biased track, had the upper hand. While we have blanked so far, shopping for value over bad favorites remains the strategy.

Ciaran Thornton is the handicapper for, which offers daily full card picks, longshots 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.

“The inaugural Gold Rush Weekend is upon us. Saturday’s program has 13 races, led by the Grade 3 $250,000 San Francisco Mile on turf for 3-years-old and up going a mile on the grass. Five additional stakes are carded, including the $100,000 California Derby for 3-year-olds. There is a mandatory payout in the Golden pick 6 on Saturday, with the sequence going races 8-13. Heading into Friday’s card, the jackpot was more than $328,000. If there continue to be carryovers, track officials expect the pool to hit $2 million. There will also be a $100,000 late pick 4 guarantee (races 9-13).

“The San Francisco Mile has a strong field of 10, led by Grade I winner Bowie’s Hero (9-5 morning line) and River Boyne (5-2). Another interesting entry is Wentwood, with one of the most successful trainers in the world in Dermot Weld. Wentwood travels from Ireland after a mile and a quarter victory against a large handicap field. Wentwood’s travel companion, Jeff Byrnes, indicated that Wentwood shipped great and is very happy.

“The California Derby came up with nine runners. Baffert sends Kingly back to Golden Gate after a second-place finish to Anothertwistafate in the El Camino Real Derby while Sparkyville, who was last seen winning the Grade 2 San Vicente, makes his first start since then in the California Derby for trainer Jeff Bonde. Other 3-year-olds figuring to get betting support are El Camino Real Derby third-place finisher More Ice and recent Aqueduct maiden special weight winner Erlich, making his first start for the Blaine Wright barn.

“Other stakes include the $75,000 California Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, the $75,000 Golden Poppy Stakes for filly and mare turf routers, the $75,000 Lost in the Fog Stakes for sprinters on the Tapeta and the $75,000 Camilla Urso Stakes for filly and mare sprinters going 5 furlongs on the turf.

“The Sunday program has 12 races, including the $100,000 Silky Sullivan Stakes for California-bred or California sired 3-year-olds and the $100,000 Campanile Stakes for California-bred or California-sired 3-year-old fillies. Both races are one mile on the grass and drew 12 runners. The likely favorites in the Campanile are stakes performers Apache Princess, Dr. Wysong and Lippy, while the Silky Sullivan main contenders include Echo Eddie Stakes winner Lieutenant Dan and the well-regarded Our Silver Oak. Both stakes are part of the pick 4 sequence, which attracts field sizes of 10, 12, 12, 12. There is a $100,000 guaranteed pool.”

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.

“A pair of allowance races featuring stakes winners and major graded stakes finalists will highlight the eight-race program on Friday night at Los Alamitos. First post is 6 p.m. Teller Hez Famous leads a talented field of sophomores in an allowance in Friday’s seventh at 330 yards. The gelding by One Dashing Eagle enters this race after facing a strong cast when eighth in the Grade 3 El Primero Del Año Derby final on March 31. His rivals on Friday include stablemate I Like My Chances, who was seventh in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby earlier this year. Cavuto, who was the runner-up in the Los Alamitos Maiden Stakes on Feb. 17, is the 7-5 favorite.

“Friday’s card will also have an allowance for older horses headed by Twisted Sifter, an eight-time winner and four-time stakes winner in 2018. The Roman Figueroa-trained gelding will be joined in this 330-yard race by Grade 2 stakes winner One Proud Eagle and Grade 1 finalist Scoopie Jess. The latter took on a field of Grade 1 caliber older horses when running a troubled fifth in the Moonist Handicap on March 29.

“There are no stakes races this weekend, but next week is the Grade 3 Kaweah Bar Handicap on Saturday night and the trials to the Grade 2 Robert Adair Kindergarten Futurity on Sunday night. Eight to 10 trials are expected for the Kindergarten with recent winner Diamond Rock looking like one of the top juveniles. Diamond Rock posted a brilliant 2 ¾ length win on April 20, while covering the distance in 15.563 seconds, the fastest by a 2-year-old this season.

“The son of Parsons Rock posted the third fastest of 38 works with 12.40 second clocking on March 19 and then followed it up by posting the fastest of 20 drills on April 2, going in 12.20 seconds. Dreams Divine, Chickitatas Favorite and Kid Around are among the other top young runners to watch in next Sunday’s Kindergarten trials.”

Ed Burgart’s LA pick of the day

FIFTH RACE: No. 1 Jazzy Icon (9-5)

Trainer Matt Fales is winning at a solid 25% ratio this meet and he spots this gelding nicely at the $10,000 claiming level. Exiting a fourth-place finish at 100 yards in last outing, he figures to show plenty of gate speed while his main foes, Big Time Wild and L Bar D Classic Trip, have been trouble prone early. Jazzy Icon was third in a stakes last September and won at a similar class level last June. Key in the Pick 6, Pick 4 and Pick 3.

Final thought

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

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