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Horse racing newsletter: Has sports ever been this crazy?

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Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter and remember, the general public can’t watch races or bet simulcast at Santa Anita and Los Alamitos.

Before we get to the good stuff, it occurred to me that maybe horse racing could benefit from being the only sport going that you can bet on. So, I looked into it. The short answer is yes. You can read all about it. Just click here.

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If you want more on how it feels to have a sport without in person fans, here’s a couple of videos that somewhat address these issues. They come courtesy of Jennie Rees of the Thoroughbred News Service.

--Owner George Bolton on Nadal running in the Rebel in front of no fans. Just click here.

--Trainer Tom Amoss on No Parole, Serengeti Empress and no fans in stands. Just click here.

Ron Flatter on Derby preps

It’s time for our weekly contribution from Ron Flatter of the Vegas Stats and Information Network. He offers up a look at Steve Asmussen’s Derby prospects. Ron, what insights do you have?

“Since Bill Mott got off the schneid 22 minutes after last year’s race, and since Chad Brown rightly or wrongly is branded a turf specialist, does that make Steve Asmussen the best active trainer never to have won a Kentucky Derby?

“It is not for lack of trying. At 0-for-20 in 13 runnings since 2001, Asmussen has more misses than any two other trainers absent from the roll of Derby winners.

“He appears loaded again this year – presuming there is still a this year. At the very least Asmussen is loaded for this weekend with five colts racing in Saturday’s pair of points preps.

“His best chances both short and long term might be with two of his three entries in the $1 million Grade 2 Rebel Stakes. Grade 1 winner Basin (3-1 morning line) and two-time prep victor Silver Prospector (7-2) will try to knock off Bob Baffert’s unbeaten Nadal (5-2) and give Asmussen his fifth Rebel victory. The race is scheduled for 3:23 p.m. PDT over what is expected to be a wet 8½ furlongs at fan-less Oaklawn Park.

“Asmussen offered all the requisite, pre-race encomiums to the Oaklawn media team. He said that Basin “is training like a Grade 1 winner” coming off a six-month break to rehab a fetlock injury after finishing first in the Hopeful at Saratoga. He also said that Silver Prospector “has done very well” since finishing first at Oaklawn in last month’s Southwest Stakes.

“Futures bettors have been bullish on Basin. At 20-1, only 11 horses carry shorter odds than him in the William Hill book for the Derby. He closed at 38-1 in last weekend’s nationwide future wager through Churchill Downs.

“But Silver Prospector might have wider support. He is 24-1 at William Hill, the same odds that he carried in Churchill’s pari-mutuels. Holding 21 qualifying points going into a race worth 50 for first place, a Rebel win would clinch Silver Prospector a place in the Derby field. A second-place finish might also be enough to get him there.

“A distant eighth nearly two months ago in the Lecomte at the Fair Grounds, Halo Again (8-1) looks like Asmussen’s best chance Saturday in the Grade 3 $250,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks (yes, steaks – for the restaurant chain) over nine furlongs of Turfway’s Polytrack. But the race is worth only 20 points, and although the field has 12 entries, they do not stack up to the quality of the Rebel. Halo Again is 150-1 at William Hill, and race favorite Invader is not on any major futures board.

“Then there is Silver State, Asmussen’s maiden winner that finished in the money in two preps, getting him to 35-1 in the William Hill futures. But to get to Churchill Downs on May 2 (or whenever) he will need at least a second- or third-place finish next month in the Louisiana Derby, which is expected to be his last prep.

“So how is it that a Hall of Famer like Asmussen hasn’t had a single, triumphant rose to his name from Kentucky? One important reason is that he has never had the post-time favorite. Of his 20 Derby horses, 17 had double-digit win odds, and 11 of those were longer than 30-1. The closest that Asmussen came on the tote board before the race was in 2007 with Curlin (5-1), his eventual two-time Horse of the Year that finished a distant third to Street Sense.

“His other future Horse of the Year had not blossomed at age 3. Gun Runner (10-1) was left to finish third in 2016 to Nyquist.

“Asmussen has had two Derby runners-up – Nehro (8-1), losing in 2011 to Animal Kingdom, and Lookin At Lee (33-1) second in 2017 to Always Dreaming – that each missed by 2¾ lengths. But history does not regard them in the same breath as Curlin and Gun Runner.

“It is doubtful that Asmussen will have the Derby favorite this year, either. By Friday evening, San Felipe winner Authentic (9-2) and likely Florida Derby favorite Tiz The Law (5-1) were the shortest priced at William Hill.

“With 8,799 victories including three in the other two American classics, not to mention more than $328 million in earnings and two Eclipse Awards, there is no need to feel badly for Asmussen. It is the same as trying to make a long face for Coolmore or Godolphin, who also have long lists of Derby failures.

“But as we have learned this week, sports history has a way of being rewritten in ways that we never could have anticipated.”

Ron Flatter is a host and reporter who covers horse racing for the Vegas Stats & Information Network, which is available at SiriusXM 204 and to subscribers at VSiN.com. The current episode of the Ron Flatter Racing Pod includes National Thoroughbred Racing Association CEO Alex Waldrop talking about the issues facing the sport, Italian jockey Umberto Rispoli discussing his permanent move to Santa Anita and Rampart Sportsbook’s Duane Colucci handicapping Saturday’s Rebel and Jeff Ruby preps for the Kentucky Derby. Just click here.

Weekly handicapping lesson

It’s time for our weekly handicapping lesson from Rob Henie of the WCHR (West Coast Handicapping Report) and the ECHR (East Coast Handicapping Report). Today’s analysis comes from the fifth race at Santa Anita and incorporates some handicapping angles into the mix. Rob, take it away.

“An optional claimer at 6 ½ furlongs for 3 and up. It’s interesting, as a general rule, during the early part of the year, most handicappers like to play older runners vs. 3-year-olds, bigger stronger, more mature, but when’s the right time to back a 3-year-old? There really isn’t a right or wrong. On one end, the older runner is often bigger, stronger, more experienced, however, an up and coming 3-year-old has much to offer, as reflected in the placement by his or her connections. They will run against older runners, knowing their younger horse is improving leaps and bounds with each early outing. Top selection here in this one, is a 3-year-old in WIN OFTEN (#10). Since her debut win back in October (as our top pick at 7-2), Dean Pederson has protected her at the claim box, not eligible to be claimed in one of these optional races. He’s, so confident that he ran her on the turf going shorter last time despite the really strong main track efforts, validated with a strong second in that first turf try. Now, she’s back on the main track, stringing five races together to begin her career, telling us she’s withstanding the rigors of racing to begin her career. Again, in a nutshell, she has confident connections, healthy, protected from a claim, back on her preferred surface, with regular rider Assael Espinoza back once again. SONGOFTHEDESERT (#4) is facing better, but we’ve always liked backing the cheaper Northern California runner who’s in sharp current form, sent south for a reason. She’s also shown the ability tactically, to either hit the front end early, or, sit just off the speed before engaging the front runners, and when a sharp horse has already proven they can show some versatility in their running style, that’s a good sign, and never a bad thing to have on your side compared to one dimensional type of runners who’re limited to one style.

“Hot / Cold Race Trends: none

“Win Contenders (order of preference): 10-4

“X Out Runners (eliminating on the win end): 5

“Negative Notes:

“3 Stormin Ranger - Needs weaker than these.

“6 Silk From Heaven - Coming home in :25.2, isn’t gonna cut it here, likely equating to an effort which’ll find her flattening out late, going 5/16 here today.

“TOP PICK: WIN OFTEN (#10 10-1 A Espinoza)

“SECOND CHOICE: SONGOFTHEDESERT (#4 8-1 Cedillo)”

The West Coast Handicapping Report can be found at http://www.westcoasthorseracing.com It has been endorsed by leading trainers, handicappers and industry sources.

Santa Anita preview

Santa Anita is back racing, but remember it’s closed to the general public. If you have a California Horse Racing Board license, such as owners have, you will be admitted to the track. However, there will be no food and beverage or wagering stations. Saturday’s card starts at 1 p.m. with eight races. There is no turf racing.

The feature is the Grade 1 $400,000 Beholder Mile for fillies and mares. The favorite is Hard Not to Love, the one-eyed horse that runs for trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Mike Smith. She has won five-of-six lifetime including the Grade 1 La Brea and Grade 2 Santa Monica. Those were at seven furlongs, so she’ll have to stretch an extra furlong, which does not look to be a problem. She’s at 8-5 on the morning line.

The second favorite, at 3-1, is Ollie’s Candy for John Sadler and Flavien Prat. She is four-of-10 lifetime with three second-place finishes. She’s coming off a fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She won the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar last year.

Now, a Grade 1 is usually the big deal but there will be a lot of eyes, on TV, on the sixth race, an allowance/optional claimer for 3-year-olds going a mile. It’s where Bob Baffert put Charlatan for his second start. He won his first by 5 3/4 lengths and looked impressive doing it. He is drawing comparisons to Justify, if only because of a late start and a dominating performance.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 8, 8, 6, 6, 10, 6, 7, 9.

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day

RACE SIX: No.4 Princeofthenorth (20-1)

Princeofthenorth is unbeaten in two starts. In the debut in January under jockey Eswan Flores he hopped at the start, looked totally out of the race and flew late to win. That win triggered the Rainbow Pick 6 Jackpot of $700,000. Last out Feb. 24th Umberto Rispoli took the mount and the horse broke slow again, was sitting in Del Mar into the turn and rocketed late to win. This horse simply loves to fly late and pass horses. Watch the video replays, you will be impressed. Flores now jumps back on the horse and again we are getting a big morning line price of 20-1. They are raising the horse up in class and risking it for a claim but if they win and lose the horse for $80,000 they will be happy. Trainer Hector Palma also owns this horse. A Bob Baffert $700,000 “can’t lose” odds on horse races today so that is why we are getting this price. This race is loaded with early speed making the closing style of ‘Prince even more appealing. As a value player why not take a price on a horse that loves to fly from the clouds and loves to win. I am!

Sunday’s result: Coast of Roan went off at 8-1 and in a heartbreaker ran second after taking the lead briefly in the stretch but getting caught at the line. Roan paid $9.60.

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

Big races preview

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

12:13 Laurel (5): $100,000 Nellie Morse Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 1 mile. Favorite: Arrifana (9-5)

1:12 Laurel (7): $100,000 Beyond the Wire Stakes, fillies 3-years-old, 1 mile. Favorite: Naughty Thoughts (5-2)

1:14 Turfway Park (7): $100,000 Latonia Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 1 mile. Favorite: Speedy Solution (7-2)

1:45 Turfway Park (8): $100,000 Rushaway Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Something Natural (3-1)

2:01 Aqueduct (8): $100,000 Correction Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Bridlewood Cat (8-5)

2:12 Laurel (9): $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes, 4 and up, 1 1/8 miles. Favorite: Alwaysmining (2-1)

2:17 Oaklawn (8): $350,000 Essex Handicap, 4 and up, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Bankit (5-2)

2:17 Turfway Park (9): $150,000 Kentucky Cup Classic, 4 and up, 1 1/8 miles. Favorite: Somelikeithotbrown (2-1)

2:43 Laurel (10): $100,000 Private Terms Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Big City Bob (2-1)

2:50 Oaklawn (9): Grade 2 $350,000 Azeri Stakes, 4 and up, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Serengeti Empress (9-5)

2:52 Gulfstream (11): Grade 3 $150,000 Hurricane Bertie Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 7 furlongs. Favorite: Blamed (3-1)

2:55 Turfway Park (10): $150,000 Bourbonette Oaks, fillies 3-years-old, 1 mile. Favorite: Laura’s Light (9-5)

3:23 Oaklawn (10): Grade 2 $1 million Rebel Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Nadal (5-2)

3:42 Turfway Park (11): Grade 3 $250,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles. Favorite: Invader (3-1)

4:07 Santa Anita (7): Grade 1 $400,000 Beholder Stakes, fillies and mares 3 and up, 1 mile. Favorite: Hard Not to Love (8-5)

Chris Wade’s LA Pick of the Day

RACE SIX: No. 1 CM Smokin Ocean (4-1)

He went much better than looked when finishing out of the money in a much needed return effort on Feb. 14 after a long 103-night respite. Returning to Los Alamitos for that event, CM Smokin Ocean broke a length slow to be crossed by quicker early rivals and lose his racing path to the wire. After the tough getaway, he had a lot of run left in the tank on a night in which he was also facing tougher foes. With a better start from along the rail, this runner should be involved early on and could become a big-time player at a good price.

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.

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

Santa Anita Entries for Saturday, March 14.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 37th day of a 60-day meet.

FIRST RACE.

7 Furlongs. Purse: $28,000. Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Time for SuzzieJorge Velez117Vladimir Cerin6-120,000
2Majestic DivaAgapito Delgadillo122David Bernstein3-120,000
3Sheza FactorEvin Roman122Victor L. Garcia4-120,000
4Donut GirlEswan Flores124Matthew Chew7-220,000
5Tiz ToffeeAssael Espinoza124Rosemary Trela5-120,000
6SenoradiabloEdwin Maldonado122Manuel Ortiz, Sr.15-120,000
7Todos SantosEdgar Payeras122Jeffrey Metz8-120,000
8Tiz a MasterAbel Cedillo122Richard Baltas6-120,000

SECOND RACE.

6½ Furlongs. Purse: $57,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Foster BoiFlavien Prat126Philip D'Amato5-2
2Rickey BEdwin Maldonado126Manuel Ortiz, Sr.6-120,000
3Rick's DreamEvin Roman126Reed Saldana20-120,000
4MinosoAbel Cedillo126Hector O. Palma12-1
5Quick FinishUmberto Rispoli126Dan Blacker4-1
6Black StormEswan Flores124Gary Stute3-1
7Big BarrelRuben Fuentes126Anthony K. Saavedra6-1
8Silken PrinceJose Valdivia, Jr.126Matthew Chew5-1

THIRD RACE.

6 Furlongs. Purse: $55,000. Maiden Special Weight. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Big SweepFlavien Prat118Mark Glatt5-2
2Approved for FlybyUmberto Rispoli118Eddie Truman3-1
3Loud Loud MusicAbel Cedillo118Steven Miyadi9-2
4Pushing SixtyMario Gutierrez118Ben D. A. Cecil8-1
5Mountain PassAgapito Delgadillo118Jose Hernandez, Jr.4-1
6Lovely FinishMauro Donoe116Joe Herrick3-1

FOURTH RACE.

1 Mile. Purse: $33,000. Starter Optional Claiming. 3 year olds. Claiming Price $40,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Arc NationJose Valdivia, Jr.120Patrick Gallagher8-1
2ItsthattimeRuben Fuentes122Jeff Bonde5-2
3Knifes EdgeMario Gutierrez122George Papaprodromou5-1
4LeatherneckJorge Velez115Jeff Bonde7-2
5KadeshAbel Cedillo122Hector O. Palma3-1
6Big Hoof DynamiteFlavien Prat122Eddie Truman3-140,000

FIFTH RACE.

6½ Furlongs. Purse: $57,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Adorably SweetFlavien Prat126Mike Puype6-1
2Li'l GrazenUmberto Rispoli126Peter Miller7-220,000
3Stormin RangerBrice Blanc126Brian J. Koriner15-1
4SongofthedesertAbel Cedillo124Jonathan Wong8-1
5Brahms CommandEdgar Payeras126Richard Rosales20-1
6Silk From HeavenEswan Flores126Hector O. Palma5-1
7D's Lovely SophiaMario Gutierrez126Hector O. Palma3-120,000
8Rstars and StripesJorge Velez111Steve Knapp12-1
9Win OftenAssael Espinoza116Dean Pederson10-1
10Square PeggyEdwin Maldonado126Vladimir Cerin6-120,000

SIXTH RACE.

1 Mile. Purse: $57,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. 3 year olds. Claiming Price $80,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1RushieMike Smith122Michael W. McCarthy6-1
2Great PowerFlavien Prat120Simon Callaghan5-2
3Silent FuryAaron Gryder120Brian J. Koriner5-1
4PrinceofthenorthEswan Flores120Hector O. Palma20-180,000
5CzechmightAbel Cedillo122Richard Baltas8-1
6CharlatanDrayden Van Dyke120Bob Baffert4-5

SEVENTH RACE.

1 Mile. Purse: $400,000. 'Beholder Mile'. Stakes. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Hard Not to LoveMike Smith121John A. Shirreffs8-5
2Der LuAbel Cedillo121Bob Baffert5-1
3ZushaUmberto Rispoli121Gary Mandella15-1
4KaydetreBrice Blanc121David A. Randall30-1
5Mother MotherDrayden Van Dyke121Bob Baffert4-1
6Ollie's CandyFlavien Prat125John W. Sadler3-1
7Ce CeVictor Espinoza121Michael W. McCarthy4-1

EIGHTH RACE.

6 Furlongs. Purse: $32,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $50,000. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1CasillalaterHenry Lopez116Felix L. Gonzalez20-150,000
2Blazing CharmFlavien Prat118Leonard Powell8-150,000
3DurgaUmberto Rispoli126Leonard Powell4-150,000
4Keep It ClassyEswan Flores118Joe Herrick12-150,000
5Flat QuickRuben Fuentes118Andrew Lerner12-150,000
6Our RomanceAbel Cedillo126Philip D'Amato5-250,000
7GalwalksintoabarDrayden Van Dyke118Steven Miyadi8-150,000
8Flying BusinessJorge Velez113Matthew Chew6-150,000
9On the VergeEdwin Maldonado118Kristin Mulhall3-150,000


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