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Horse racing newsletter: Santa Anita to close to fans because of coronavirus

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Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome to this special horse racing newsletter updating everything going on.

First up, there is no racing at Santa Anita on Friday. That was scheduled because of anticipated wet weather.

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Now, because of COVID-19, the track will be closed to fans for an indefinite period of time. People with valid California Horse Racing Board licenses or essential personnel will be allowed to attend. However, there will be no food and beverage or wagering. You can, of course, bet on your phone or tablet. Clockers’ Corner and the simulcast areas will also be closed to the general public.

On to the big news. Horse racing was rocked on Monday when federal authorities handed down 27 indictments for horse drugging including trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro. Servis was the trainer of Maximum Security, who just won the $20 million Saudi Cup. And, he was the first to cross the finish line in the Kentucky Derby but was disqualified. Maximum Security has since been moved to Bob Baffert’s barn at Santa Anita. You can find more details in this story we ran on Monday. Just click here.

And, on Tuesday, the CHRB came out with its long awaited report on the fatalities last year at Santa Anita. As expected it found pre-existing conditions in almost all the horses. It also suggested that over-training could be a factor. There were some interesting conclusions. Again, more details in the story we posted on Tuesday. Just click here.

OK, now we’ll get back to our regular Friday features.

Jon White’s Kentucky Derby Top 10

As always, we’re lucky to have top expert Jon White take a look at what’s happening on the Kentucky Derby trail. 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.

“Following last Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, there is a new No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week. But it is not, as you might think, sparkling 2 1/4-length San Felipe winner Authentic.

“Even though Honor A.P. finished second in the San Felipe, I saw enough that I like from him to elevate him to No. 1 this week after he was No. 4 last week.

“Authentic, who was No. 5 last week, climbs to No. 2 this week.

“I did come very close to moving the athletic Authentic into the top spot this week. Trained by Bob Baffert, Authentic now is three for three. In addition to the San Felipe, the Kentucky-bred son of Into Mischief won Santa Anita’s one-mile Sham Stakes by nearly eight lengths on Jan. 4.

“When far in front during the stretch run of the Sham, Authentic did not run a straight course while racing greenly. At one point in the final furlong, he ducked in and nearly hit the inside rail.

“Because of what had occurred in the Sham, Baffert understandably felt it would be prudent to have Authentic race with earplugs for the first time last Saturday. And this time the colt ran straight down the lane.

“Baffert, who has won the Kentucky Derby five times, now has a record seven San Felipe victories to his credit. He won the race for the first time in 1999 with Prime Timber, followed by Point Given in 2001, Preachinatthebar in 2004, Pioneerof the Nile in 2009, Dortmund in 2015, Mastery in 2017 and now Authentic in 2019.

“Thousand Words, who like Authentic hails from the powerful Baffert barn, finished fourth in the San Felipe. Prior to the San Felipe, Thousand Words had been three for three. He won the Los Alamitos Futurity last year and Santa Anita’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes earlier this year. Following his 11 1/4-length loss in the San Felipe, the Florida-bred Pioneerof the Nile colt tumbles to No. 9 on my Top 10 this week.

“Regarding Thousand Words’ San Felipe, Baffert said ‘that wasn’t him.’ When a guest Monday on Steve Byk’s SiriusXM radio program, Baffert noted that he felt that Thousand Words ‘was just too sharp, too strong early.’ Baffert talked about perhaps making a blinkers change and/or training Thousand Words ‘a bit differently’ going forward.

“Granted, Honor A.P. did not win the San Felipe. But I thought the Kentucky-bred Honor Code ridgling ran a terrific race under the circumstances. He gave a good account of himself despite being at a number of disadvantages vs. Authentic, such as:

“--The San Felipe pace situation certainly worked in Authentic’s favor. Authentic was able to roll along on an uncontested early lead when having it all his own way.

“--Authentic had raced twice since Honor A.P.'s win in his most recent start against maidens last Oct. 13.

“--John Shirreffs, who trains Honor A.P., is known for being among the best at having a horse peak for an important race. In other words, it would not be unusual for Shirreffs to regard the San Felipe as a means to an end. Keep in mind that in 2005, Giacomo finished second in the San Felipe and fourth in the Santa Anita Derby for Shirreffs before running a biggie to capture the Kentucky Derby at odds of 50-1.

“Trakus info illustrates just how praiseworthy Honor A.P.'s San Felipe effort was despite his disadvantages vis-a-vis Authentic. Honor A.P. traveled 24 feet farther than Authentic. Consequently, according to Trakus, Honor A.P. traveled approximately 2 1/2 lengths farther than Authentic. Honor A.P. lost the race by 2 1/4 lengths.

“Storm the Court finished third in the San Felipe, 5 3/4 lengths behind Authentic. After being No. 10 on my Kentucky Derby rankings last week, last year’s Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male exits my list this week.

“New on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week is King Guillermo, who got the nod over Mischevious Alex for that spot.

“King Guillermo won last Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby by 4 3/4 lengths at Tampa Bay Downs in a 49-1 stunner while making his 2020 debut. The Kentucky-bred Uncle Mo colt, trained by Juan Carlos Avila, now has won two of four career starts. Next for him is the $3 million Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2.

“Well, at least at this time the Kentucky Derby is still scheduled to be run on May 2. In a news release Thursday dealing with the status of this year’s Run for the Roses amid current public health concerns regarding the burgeoning coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, Churchill Downs stated: ‘Preparations to host Kentucky Derby 146 on the first Saturday in May are still moving forward. With the event still seven weeks away, a decision will be made closer to that day, with respect to postponing the event until later in the year, using the most recent information while working with and seeking guidance from public health experts and authorities.’

“Sole Volante, No. 9 on my Top 10, rallied to finish second in the Tampa Bay Derby after winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs last month. Patrick Biancone trains Sole Volante and Ete Indien. An 8 1/2-length winner of Gulfstream Park’s Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 29, Ete Indien is No. 5 on my Kentucky Derby rankings.

“Mischevious Alex proved a punctual favorite at slightly less than 9-5 when he took Aqueduct’s one-mile Gotham Stakes by two lengths. He has won four of seven career starts, but notably is three for three since adding blinkers. John Servis, who won the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with Smarty Jones, trains Mischevious Alex. The likely next start for the Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt is Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial at 1 1/8 miles on April 4.

“Looking ahead, Southern California shipper Nadal, who is two for two, heads a field of eight entered in Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The Baffert-trained Nadal, who is No. 4 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, has been installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite. Basin is 3-1, while Silver Prospector and Three Technique are each 7-2. Another SoCal-based runner, American Theorem, is 6-1. Listed at 8-1 is No Parole, who has won all three of his career starts by a combined 34 lengths in races restricted to Louisiana-breds.

“Nadal again will be ridden Saturday by Joel Rosario, who was aboard the Kentucky-bred Blame colt when he won Santa Anita’s seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 9. This will be Nadal’s first race around two turns. Can he win going 1 1/16 miles? ‘I don’t see why he wouldn’t do it,’ Baffert told Daily Racing Form’s Mary Rampellini. ‘He’s quick and he’s powerful. He’s just a powerful horse, and he’s got the pedigree [to be effective at the Rebel’s distance]. He’s always acted like a special horse.’

“Basin has not been seen under silks since he splashed his way to a 6 1/2-length victory in Saratoga’s seven-furlong Hopeful Stakes last Sept. 2. The Kentucky-bred Liam’s Map colt, trained by Steve Asmussen, went on the shelf after the Hopeful due to an injury. Reports have been bullish on Basin’s training leading up to the Rebel. Like Nadal, Basin will be racing around two turns for the first time Saturday.

“Silver Prospector, also trained by Asmussen, is coming off a win in Oaklawn’s 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes on Feb. 17. The Kentucky-bred Tapit colt also won the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on a sloppy track last fall at Churchill Downs when Tiz the Law finished third. Tiz the Law is headed to the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 28 after winning the Holy Bull Stakes at that track on Feb. 1.

“Three Technique ran second to Gold Street in Oaklawn’s one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes on a muddy track Jan. 24. Jeremiah Englehart trains the Kentucky-bred Mr Speaker colt for August Dawn Farm, stable name for Bill Parcells, who won two Super Bowl titles as coach of the New York Giants.

George Papaprodromou trains American Theorem. A Kentucky-bred son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, American Theorem is making his first start since finishing second to Eight Rings in the American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita last Sept. 27.

“The Rebel has 50-20-10-5 points up for grabs toward a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby. Authentic currently is the points leader with 60. Since the introduction of the points system in 2013, it has taken an average of 26 points to make the Kentucky Derby field of 20.

“The only other American race this week offering Kentucky Derby points is the Jeff Ruby Steaks, a 1 1/8-mile race on Saturday on Turfway Park’s synthetic surface. It doles out Kentucky Derby points to the first four finishers on a scale of 20-8-4-2. Heading the dozen entrants is 3-1 morning-line favorite Invader, who is two for two at Turfway. In Invader’s two starts on that track, the Kentucky-bred War Front colt won a maiden race by nearly 13 lengths and the John Battaglia Memorial for trainer Wesley Ward.

“Charlatan, who is No. 6 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, is entered in Santa Anita’s sixth race at one mile Saturday. Baffert unleashed the Kentucky-bred Speightstown colt on Feb. 16 at Santa Anita. Charlatan was a dazzling 5 3/4-length maiden winner at first asking that day when he completed six furlongs in a rapid 1:08.85. That sparked comparisons to the sensational 9 1/2-length career debut in a seven-furlong race at Santa Anita in 2018 by the Baffert-trained Justify. After Justify won his second start at one mile by 6 1/2 lengths, he took the Santa Anita Derby and then became America’s 13th Triple Crown winner.

“Saturday’s sixth race at Santa Anita also has attracted the highly regarded Great Power from the Simon Callaghan barn. The Kentucky-bred Blame colt has not started since an impressive 3 1/4-length debut victory at Santa Anita last Sept. 29.

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

1. Honor A.P. (4)

2. Authentic (5)

3. Tiz the Law (1)

4. Nadal (2)

5. Ete Indien (6)

6. Charlatan (7)

7. Maxfield (8)

8. Sole Volante (9)

9. Thousand Words (3)

10. King Guillermo (NR)

NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”

Golden Gate weekend preview

Here’s our weekly look at the best racing going on at Golden Gate Fields. 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.

“Live racing continues this Friday-Sunday with first post on Friday at 1:15 p.m. and 12:45 on the weekend. And remember, because of the coronavirus, you must have a valid CHRB license (owners, trainers, media members, etc.) to attend the races. This rule began Thursday and will be in effect until further notice.

“Leg D of the Stronach 5 wager goes as the third race Friday. No. 4 Beer Thirst, a first-time starter for Tim Yakteen, is the 9-5 morning-line favorite. The son of Stay Thirsty has been working regularly at Santa Anita and has a trio of half-mile gate drills. Leading Golden Gate jockey Juan Hernandez has the call and Yakteen hits at 21% with first-time starters.

“Another first-time starter, Speedy Trip, figures to go off at a higher price and comes from the Bill Delia barn, an outfit which wins at a high 26% with debut maiden claimers. No. 7 Oasis drops in class from trainer Gloria Haley while Never Think Twice, another class dropper, figures to get bet for trainer Manny Badilla. I give the nod to Oasis, who didn’t run all that bad first out sprinting against California-bred maiden special weight company. He now cuts back from a route to a sprint after a poor run last time over two-turns. This is his third lifetime start.

“Saturday’s feature is the ninth race and the second leg of the Golden Hour Double. A field of 11 goes in the is allowance for filly and mare sprinters. The morning line favorite is No. 3 Morning Cynn, coming off a nose loss to 2019 Bear Fan Stakes winner Princess Vivian. Two races ago, Morning Cynn was beaten as the favorite behind Meet Miss Kitty, but Meet Miss Kitty received a perfect trip while ‘Cynn suffered traffic issues down the lane. Morning Cynn certainly looks like the one to beat. A trip play in the race is No. 11 Rebalation, who broke her maiden two starts ago. Most recently, she finished a length behind Morning Cynn after missing the break, rushing up wide on the far turn and flattening out late in what really was a better than looked run.

“Nine races on Sunday afternoon, including a pair of maiden special weights and an allowance that are part of the late Pick 4. Southern California trainer Doug O’Neill sends four runners to compete Sunday, including allowance (race 8) contender Julius.

“Final updates for Friday’s racing: jockey Abel Cedillo has three live mounts. There is also a Golden Pick Six jackpot carryover of $226,493, beginning race three.

Los Alamitos weekend preview

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

“There’s no racing at Los Alamitos Race Course on Friday night due to heavy rains. Los Alamitos has an eight-race program on Saturday night featuring the $15,000 Harbor Beach Handicap at 870 yards with a first post is 6 p.m. Sunday’s program will feature eight races with the first four around the turn and the last four quarter horses in straightaway races.

“After posting the fastest 870 yard time in move than 13 years, Paul Jones’ Ballast Point is the horse to beat in the Harbor Beach. The 4-year-old gelding by Favorite Cartel led every step en route to covering the distance in :44.20. The clocking was the fastest at Los Alamitos since two-time AQHA distance champion Snowbound Superstar won the Pat Hyland Handicap in a time of :44.147 in 2006. The track record at this distance is by three-time AQHA distance champion Griswold of :43.99.

“Ballast Point will be facing a strong field in the Harbor Beach led by multiple stakes winner Raging Rhino run, who won at 870 yards in :44.15 on March 1, and Sokud0, who finished second in an allowance in :44.88 on Feb. 8.

“Last weekend in the $403,500 Los Alamitos Oaks trials, Dreams Divine was dominant winning her trial convincingly over a field that included champion filly Cartel Jess Rockin. She had the fastest qualifying time of :19.682. Flokie, the winner of the Grade 1 Ed Burke Million Futurity, posted the fastest qualifying time to the Grade 3, $213,300 El Primero Del Ano Derby and will be joined in the final by Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby winner Tell Cartel and Winter Derby runner-up You Can Run. The Oaks final will be held on March 28 and the El Primero final will be on March 29.”

A final thought
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Any thoughts, you can reach me at john.cherwa@latimes.com. You can also feed my ego by following me on Twitter @jcherwa.

We’ll be back with another newsletter Saturday.


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