Newsletter: Racing! Checking on Derby horses, and congrats to a dominating performance by Paradise Woods

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter, as we look at few of the Kentucky Derby horses.

Let’s check in with what’s happening with a few of the horses in the Kentucky Derby. These facts and quotes are courtesy of the Churchill Downs notes team.

Omaha Beach: The Richard Mandella colt worked five furlongs in 59 seconds, second best at this distance to older horse McKinzie. He was accompanied on the work by Cowboy Karma, who was supposed to be just ahead of Omaha Beach but instead sprinted out to a four-length advantage. Jockey Julien Leparoux kept a light hold on Omaha Beach, who inched up to even at the top of the stretch. By the time Omaha Beach crossed the finish line he was five lengths in front.

“I just wanted him to have one more good work; that’s all he needed,” Mandella said. “He got it today. They were supposed to go off together, but it all worked out fine. He went and got him. I really liked that he settled right down after the work. He acts like a professional racehorse. I don’t think this work took much out of him at all. It couldn’t have gone better. It’s all working out just right.


“I’m glad to have [the work] done. You need to get past all the obstacles. This is one of the big ones. I’m glad it’s over. … I’ve never had a 3-year-old doing this well this early. He’s just special. Since the Rebel (win on March 16) he’s filled out and just gotten better. He’s pure class. And he’s a kind horse. A horse that’s easy to be around.”

Mandella plans to walk the colt on Sunday and then gallop him up to Saturday’s Derby.

Improbable: This Bob Baffert-trained colt had an easy gallop in advance of his final work Sunday. His stablemates Game Winner and Roadster arrived later Saturday afternoon.

“[Assistant trainer] Jimmy (Barnes) has been really happy with him,” Baffert said of Improbable. “He really likes this track. They’re coming from Santa Anita, where it has been pretty deep, they’ve made it really, really deep. He’ll work [Sunday] … but he’s really coming into this race pretty well.”


Improbable has almost the same ownership connection as Justify, last year’s Triple Crown winner.

“I do know that Bob feels like you do have to get out of the gate well, feels like you need to get into a rhythm,” said Elliott Walden, the president and chief executive of WinStar Farm. “And, you know, Improbable’s strength is his stride, so I think he does want him to get in a nice rhythm and not have too many obstacles in his path.

“It’s possible that he would show a little more speed, but he’s not a horse that’s going to drag you to the front end or you’re going to have to worry about slowing down. I see him somewhere in that first tier, probably four, five, six lengths off it.”

Gray Magician: This overlooked colt, qualifying with a second in the UAE Derby, worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 at San Luis Rey Downs. Drayden Van Dyke drove south to work the horse for Peter Miller.

“He worked super and came home really well,” Miller said. “I couldn’t be happier with how he did it. He came home [in his final quarter-mile] in 23 1/5 and that was very good. He galloped out another eighth [to get six furlongs] in 1:12 2/5. This is a fast race track here, but it was the way he did it.

“Drayden came and worked him and the horse really did it on his own. He just shook the reins at him once and he opened up on his workmate. He started out about three lengths behind him and finished about 12 lengths ahead. Drayden got along well with the horse and in all likelihood, unless the owners think otherwise, he would ride him [in the Derby].

“As long as he comes out of the work well tomorrow, he will ship on Monday.”

War Of Will: This colt for Mark Casse had a four-furlong breeze in 47.60 seconds. War On Will won the LeComte and Risen Star.


“What you got to see this morning, if you weren’t impressed with him this morning, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” Casse said. “But I’ve been seeing this for a long time. I had him up in Saratoga last summer and anybody that came by I took him out and showed him. And I remember talking to Jim Lawson, who is [the CEO] of Woodbine, and telling him, ‘I’m sending up a very, very special horse’ — and he reminded me of that recently.

“The [workmate] was only there for about an eighth of a mile. I don’t know how you could ask for a horse to work any better than he just did.”

Country House/Tacitus: Bill Mott’s Wood Memorial Winner (Tacitus) and Arkansas Derby third-place finisher (Country House) prepped for their final works Sunday.

“They both jogged [Saturday] and will work, perhaps, tomorrow,” Mott said. “They’re both doing well, look well and are eating well. We just have to get through this last work [Sunday]. Sometimes you like to do it a day earlier just to get it over with.”

Code Of Honor: Shug McGaughey’s colt jogged five furlongs and then galloped 1¼ miles. He is scheduled to work Sunday under exercise rider Brian Duggan. John Velazquez gets the Derby day mount.

“I am glad I brought him up early because it’s quiet and gives him time to settle in,” McGaughey said. “It also gives me time to settle in.”

Santa Anita review

The big featured stakes race was a testament to the talent of Paradise Woods, who won the Grade 2 $200,000 Santa Margarita Stakes for older fillies and mares going 1 1/8 miles, by 10½ lengths.


It really wasn’t much of a contest as jockey Mike Smith never asked Paradise Woods and she just used natural talent to smoke the field. She paid $3.20, $2.20 and $2.10. La Force was second and Exuberance was third.

“Sometimes the first ones are the best ones, I’d like to take some credit but honestly it was [trainer] John Shirreff and his crew, man they did a lot of work on this mare and they finally got her to a point where she will listen to you a little bit,” Smith said. “I left the gate and had a great post, I stayed as still as I could and just kind of let her get that big beautiful stride of hers going. Once she did that she had the race under control.

“I wanted to engage her against Just A Smidge, but when you engage horses they are taught to fight. They will get after each other so the pace would have been quicker, I might be losing a little bit of ground, but I got her to do it relaxed. If I can get them to relax, I’d rather do that. Once I came into the far turn and engaged her, you saw what she did, she took off and she might have done that earlier. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

In the lesser of the two stakes, The Hunted won the $100,000 Crystal Water Stakes for Cal-breds going a mile on the turf. The gelding was about three lengths off entering the far turn and by the top of the stretch had closed the gap. That’s when he stretched out and was able to win by one length.

He paid $7.80, $4.80 and $3.00 for trainer Richard Baltas and jockey Tiago Pereira. Tule Fog was second, followed by favorite Brandothebartender in third.

“The horse has been training good,” Baltas said. “He was a little unlucky, he was too far back last time. This is stakes company, against Cal-breds. … It was a good race and a great ride by [Tiago Pereira]. I’m very happy for all the connections. He was nice and relaxed down the backside. I think the rider did a really good job on him.”

Santa Anita preview

Sunday’s nine-race card has some short fields (two fives and three sixes). There is one stakes races and four allowance/optional claimers. There are three Cal-bred races and three turf races.

The stakes is the $100,000 Singletary Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going a mile on the turf. There were high hopes for the 3-1 as King Of Speed ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, but finished 12th. He’s also coming off a disappointing 10th in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. He is two of nine lifetime for trainer Jeff Bonde and jockey Victor Espinoza. His biggest win has been in the Zuma Beach Stakes at Santa Anita.

Rijeka is the 7-2 second choice for Baltas and Kent Desormeaux. He is two of eight lifetime and won an allowance last out. He was third in the Zuma Beach. Post is around 3 p.m.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 6, 5, 6, 5, 7, 6, 8, 7, 9 (1 also eligible).

Big Races review

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

Parx (7): $100,000 Lyman Handicap, Penn-breds 3 and up, 7 furlongs. Winner: Midnightcharly ($4.80)

Parx (8): $100,000 Foxy J.G. Stakes, Penn-bred fillies and mares 3 and up, 7 furlongs. Winner: Zipper’s Hero ($19.60)

Woodbine (8): $100,000 Woodstock Stakes, 3-year-olds, 6 furlongs. Winner: Souper Success ($34.80)

Belmont (9): $125,000 Elusive Quality Stakes, 4 and up, 7 furlongs on turf. Winner: Therapist ($7.70)

Santa Anita (5): $100,000 Crystal Water Stakes, Cal-breds 3 and up, 1 mile on turf. Winner: The Hunted ($7.00)

Oaklawn (9): $150,000 Bachelor Stakes, 3-year-olds, 6 furlongs. Winner: Nitrous ($12.60)

Golden Gate (9): $100,000 California Derby, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Winner: Kingly ($5.40)

Santa Anita (8): Grade 2 $200,000 Santa Margarita Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 1 1/18 miles. Winner: Paradise Woods ($3.20)

Golden Gate (10): Grade 3 $250,000 San Francisco Mile, 3 and up, 1 mile. Winner: Blitzkrieg ($8.00)

Churchill Downs (6): Allowance optional claiming, 3 and up, 1 1/16 miles. Winner: Firey Speech ($19.80)

Churchill (8): $100,000 William Walker Stakes, 3-year-olds, 5 furlongs on turf. Winner: Jo Jo Air ($30.40)

Big races preview

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

1:22 Woodbine (7): $100,000 Wando Stakes, 3-year-olds 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Skywire (8-5)

2:40 Lone Star (7): Grade 3 $300,000 Steve Sexton Mile Stakes, 3 and up, 1 mile. Favorite: Title Ready (5-2)

2:51 Belmont (9): $125,000 License Fee Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Fire Key (8-5)

3:03 Santa Anita (5); $100,000 Singletary Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: King Of Speed (3-1)

4:48 Golden Gate (9): $100,000 Campanile Stakes, Cal-bred fillies 3-years-old, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: Lakerball (9-5)

5:18 Golden Gate (10): $100,000 Silky Sullivan Stakes, Cal-bred 3-year-olds, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: Listing (5-2)

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day

RACE EIGHT: No. 6 Lord Guinness (10-1)

Lord Guinness, and no I am not using this horse because I like Guinness (well, maybe). First start since January for trainer Tim Yakteen, who is a solid 24% (7 of 29) off a layoff like Sunday. We have a sharp work last week that adds to the appeal. On paper there looks to be a lot of early speed in this race, speed that tends to fade late, setting the race up for a closer like this horse. Ran second at this distance last year. If he runs to last year’s ability, we have a big chance at high odds. Also note this horse is not risked for a claim today, another sign of confidence off the three-month layoff. Horses are not cheap to stable, so there are bills to pay, and Sunday may be paycheck day. This is a wide-open race in a tough late pick 4 so I am looking for a price. My selections in here for exotic bets are 2,6,7,3.

Saturday’s result: Jockey Joe Talamo got half of our daily double home with Rocky Policy winning in the third race but Ciao Luna in the second race, who went off as the 6-5 favorite, choked as we have seen so many other favorites do of late. Rocky Policy actually went off at 7-2 beating the 6-5 favorite in that race. Looking for value versus betting on bad favorite continues to be the best approach for the current Santa Anita cards.

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

Ed Burgart’s Los Alamitos pick of the day

SEVENTH RACE: No. 6 Genuine Version (4-1)

This 5-year-old gelding has fired fresh before and has the early gate quickness that suits this 100-yard dash. He broke super when winning the California Derby Challenge on this oval in 2017 and was well in hand after a quick start in sharp 12.2 solo gate drill at 220 yards for return. He must beat Jess Bet Me, who has captured three of his last five. I suggest a win bet and a 5-6 exacta box

Final thoughts

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

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