Horse racing newsletter: Has sports ever been this crazy?
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.
Off to the races
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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
“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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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.
7 Furlongs. Purse: $28,000. Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000.
|1||Time for Suzzie||Jorge Velez||117||Vladimir Cerin||6-1||20,000|
|2||Majestic Diva||Agapito Delgadillo||122||David Bernstein||3-1||20,000|
|3||Sheza Factor||Evin Roman||122||Victor L. Garcia||4-1||20,000|
|4||Donut Girl||Eswan Flores||124||Matthew Chew||7-2||20,000|
|5||Tiz Toffee||Assael Espinoza||124||Rosemary Trela||5-1||20,000|
|6||Senoradiablo||Edwin Maldonado||122||Manuel Ortiz, Sr.||15-1||20,000|
|7||Todos Santos||Edgar Payeras||122||Jeffrey Metz||8-1||20,000|
|8||Tiz a Master||Abel Cedillo||122||Richard Baltas||6-1||20,000|
6½ Furlongs. Purse: $57,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000. State bred.
|1||Foster Boi||Flavien Prat||126||Philip D'Amato||5-2|
|2||Rickey B||Edwin Maldonado||126||Manuel Ortiz, Sr.||6-1||20,000|
|3||Rick's Dream||Evin Roman||126||Reed Saldana||20-1||20,000|
|4||Minoso||Abel Cedillo||126||Hector O. Palma||12-1|
|5||Quick Finish||Umberto Rispoli||126||Dan Blacker||4-1|
|6||Black Storm||Eswan Flores||124||Gary Stute||3-1|
|7||Big Barrel||Ruben Fuentes||126||Anthony K. Saavedra||6-1|
|8||Silken Prince||Jose Valdivia, Jr.||126||Matthew Chew||5-1|
6 Furlongs. Purse: $55,000. Maiden Special Weight. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. State bred.
|1||Big Sweep||Flavien Prat||118||Mark Glatt||5-2|
|2||Approved for Flyby||Umberto Rispoli||118||Eddie Truman||3-1|
|3||Loud Loud Music||Abel Cedillo||118||Steven Miyadi||9-2|
|4||Pushing Sixty||Mario Gutierrez||118||Ben D. A. Cecil||8-1|
|5||Mountain Pass||Agapito Delgadillo||118||Jose Hernandez, Jr.||4-1|
|6||Lovely Finish||Mauro Donoe||116||Joe Herrick||3-1|
1 Mile. Purse: $33,000. Starter Optional Claiming. 3 year olds. Claiming Price $40,000.
|1||Arc Nation||Jose Valdivia, Jr.||120||Patrick Gallagher||8-1|
|2||Itsthattime||Ruben Fuentes||122||Jeff Bonde||5-2|
|3||Knifes Edge||Mario Gutierrez||122||George Papaprodromou||5-1|
|4||Leatherneck||Jorge Velez||115||Jeff Bonde||7-2|
|5||Kadesh||Abel Cedillo||122||Hector O. Palma||3-1|
|6||Big Hoof Dynamite||Flavien Prat||122||Eddie Truman||3-1||40,000|
6½ Furlongs. Purse: $57,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000. State bred.
|1||Adorably Sweet||Flavien Prat||126||Mike Puype||6-1|
|2||Li'l Grazen||Umberto Rispoli||126||Peter Miller||7-2||20,000|
|3||Stormin Ranger||Brice Blanc||126||Brian J. Koriner||15-1|
|4||Songofthedesert||Abel Cedillo||124||Jonathan Wong||8-1|
|5||Brahms Command||Edgar Payeras||126||Richard Rosales||20-1|
|6||Silk From Heaven||Eswan Flores||126||Hector O. Palma||5-1|
|7||D's Lovely Sophia||Mario Gutierrez||126||Hector O. Palma||3-1||20,000|
|8||Rstars and Stripes||Jorge Velez||111||Steve Knapp||12-1|
|9||Win Often||Assael Espinoza||116||Dean Pederson||10-1|
|10||Square Peggy||Edwin Maldonado||126||Vladimir Cerin||6-1||20,000|
1 Mile. Purse: $57,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. 3 year olds. Claiming Price $80,000.
|1||Rushie||Mike Smith||122||Michael W. McCarthy||6-1|
|2||Great Power||Flavien Prat||120||Simon Callaghan||5-2|
|3||Silent Fury||Aaron Gryder||120||Brian J. Koriner||5-1|
|4||Princeofthenorth||Eswan Flores||120||Hector O. Palma||20-1||80,000|
|5||Czechmight||Abel Cedillo||122||Richard Baltas||8-1|
|6||Charlatan||Drayden Van Dyke||120||Bob Baffert||4-5|
1 Mile. Purse: $400,000. 'Beholder Mile'. Stakes. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up.
|1||Hard Not to Love||Mike Smith||121||John A. Shirreffs||8-5|
|2||Der Lu||Abel Cedillo||121||Bob Baffert||5-1|
|3||Zusha||Umberto Rispoli||121||Gary Mandella||15-1|
|4||Kaydetre||Brice Blanc||121||David A. Randall||30-1|
|5||Mother Mother||Drayden Van Dyke||121||Bob Baffert||4-1|
|6||Ollie's Candy||Flavien Prat||125||John W. Sadler||3-1|
|7||Ce Ce||Victor Espinoza||121||Michael W. McCarthy||4-1|
6 Furlongs. Purse: $32,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $50,000. State bred.
|1||Casillalater||Henry Lopez||116||Felix L. Gonzalez||20-1||50,000|
|2||Blazing Charm||Flavien Prat||118||Leonard Powell||8-1||50,000|
|3||Durga||Umberto Rispoli||126||Leonard Powell||4-1||50,000|
|4||Keep It Classy||Eswan Flores||118||Joe Herrick||12-1||50,000|
|5||Flat Quick||Ruben Fuentes||118||Andrew Lerner||12-1||50,000|
|6||Our Romance||Abel Cedillo||126||Philip D'Amato||5-2||50,000|
|7||Galwalksintoabar||Drayden Van Dyke||118||Steven Miyadi||8-1||50,000|
|8||Flying Business||Jorge Velez||113||Matthew Chew||6-1||50,000|
|9||On the Verge||Edwin Maldonado||118||Kristin Mulhall||3-1||50,000|
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