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Horse racing newsletter: Derby preps continue with no Derby on horizon

Kentucky Derby
The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” has been postponed until September.
(Pattil Longmire / AP)

Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome to our horse racing newsletter as we try and navigate the ever-changing world of racing and beyond.

Time to start another racing week with the new abnormal. Since we were last with you, Fair Grounds stopped racing after the Louisiana Derby and Turfway shut down. In both cases the meeting was almost over. By my count, the only major thoroughbred tracks still running are Gulfstream and Tampa Bay in Florida, Oaklawn in Arkansas and Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields.

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In other news, top jockey Javier Castellano was diagnosed with the new coronavirus. The diagnosis was made after he returned to Gulfstream from both New York and Oaklawn but was not allowed on the premises until the results of his test were known. He was also off any mounts. The question remains if other jockeys at Oaklawn need to be tested.

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And finally, has horse racing benefited from being the only sport running? The answer, well, can be found in the story I did for The Times’ web and print editions. Just click here.

On 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, and what a trail that has become. 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’s his Kentucky Derby rankings, brought courtesy of Xpressbet.com.

“Wells Bayou led all the way in Saturday’s 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. Trained by Brad Cox, Wells Bayou has won three of five career starts. The Louisiana Derby was his first stakes victory.

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“Cox has indicated that a possible next start for the Kentucky-bred Lookin At Lucky colt is Oaklawn Park’s 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, which has been shifted to May 2. The Kentucky Derby originally had been slated for May 2, but it has been switched to Sept. 5 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I thought it was a fine performance on the part of Wells Bayou to win the Louisiana Derby by 1½ lengths while defeating 13 opponents as the 3-1 favorite. But I did not feel it was quite good enough to put him on my Top 10 this week.

“So, there were no changes to my Kentucky Derby rankings this week from last week. Movement is anticipated on my Top 10 next week. That’s because Tiz The Law and Ete Indien, two of the horses on this week’s Top 10, are entered in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Tiz The Law is No. 6. Ete Indien is No. 7.

“Sackatoga Stable owns and Barclay Tagg trains Tiz The Law, who has won three of four career starts. Tagg and Sackatoga collaborated to win the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with Funny Cide.

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“On my first 2020 Kentucky Derby Top 10 back on Jan. 10, Tiz The Law ranked No. 5. He rose to No. 1 on Feb. 7 following his victory in Gulfstream’s 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 1.

“Tiz the Law won the Holy Bull with authority by three lengths even though he had some early trouble when steadied in traffic. That performance by Tiz The Law was flattered when runner-up Ete Indien subsequently streaked home to an 8½-length victory in Gulfstream’s 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 29.

“After Tiz The Law climbed to No. 1 on my Feb. 7 rankings, he held onto the top spot for the next four weeks. The New York-bred colt dropped out of the top spot on March 13. The Florida Derby affords Tiz The Law a golden opportunity to rise again on my rankings next week from his current position at No. 6.

“Ete Indien has won three of five lifetime starts. Patrick Biancone trains the Kentucky-bred Summer Front colt. Biancone also conditions Sole Volante, who is No. 8 on my Top 10.

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“As mentioned, Ete Indien had to settle for second to Tiz The Law in the Holy Bull. Can Ete Indien turn the tables on Tiz The Law in the Florida Derby? Ete Indien’s chances of doing that were diminished to some extent when he had the misfortune of drawing post 12 for Saturday’s race. Winning a 1 1/8-mile race at Gulfstream from post 12 is a difficult task.

“At least Ete Indien demonstrated in the Fountain of Youth that he is quite capable of winning from an outside post. Despite breaking from the outside slot in a field of 10 on that occasion, he won in isolated splendor.

“Tiz The Law has been established as the 6-5 favorite on Jay Stone’s Florida Derby morning line. Ete Indien is the second choice at 4-1. Independence Hall is 9-2. Gouverneur Morris is 8-1. Everyone else is 12-1 or higher.

“Independence Hall, trained by Michael Trombetta, has won three of four career starts. After victories at Aqueduct in the Nashua Stakes and Jerome Stakes, the Kentucky-bred colt finished second as the 7-10 favorite to Sole Volante in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 8.

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“Gouverneur Morris, trained by Todd Pletcher, has won two of three so far. In his only defeat, he ran second to Maxfield in the 1 1/16-mile Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last Oct. 5. Maxfield ranks No. 5 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10.

“In Gouverneur Morris’ only 2020 start, he won by 1 1/4 lengths on Feb. 14 at Tampa Bay when his final time of 1:38.88 narrowly missed the track record of 1:38.86 for one mile and 40 yards set by the 3-year-old Jackson in 2019.

“Will Constitution be the sire of the 2020 Florida Derby winner? It looks like there is a very good chance of that happening. He’s the sire of Tiz The Law, Independence Hall and Gouverneur Morris. Constitution, trained by Pletcher, won the Florida Derby in 2014.

“In addition to Gouverneur Morris, Pletcher will be represented in this year’s Florida Derby by Candy Tycoon, who is 20-1 on the morning line. Candy Tycoon finished a distant second to Ete Indien in the Fountain of Youth.

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Javier Castellano had been named to ride Candy Tycoon in the Florida Derby. However, the four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a tweet posted Thursday by his agent, John Panagot. The tweet stated: ‘Because of Gulfstream Park’s strict COVID-19 protocol, Javier was required to take a physical since he had recently flown. Following his physical, he took the COVID-19 test on Tuesday. Javier is asymptomatic and feels fine and healthy. He jogged 3 miles Wednesday and had looked forward to riding this weekend at Gulfstream. He will self-isolate until he is medically cleared.’

“Castellano took to Twitter on Thursday to say: ‘After being in New York with my family last week, I was asked by Gulfstream to come early to Florida to get tested for the virus. I was asymptomatic all along. Unfortunately the test came back last night as positive. I am otherwise healthy.’

“Meanwhile, before presenting this week’s Kentucky Derby rankings, I did want to mention that it was 50 years ago this Monday that the winner of the 1973 Run for the Roses, the great Secretariat, was born at the Meadow Stud in Virginia. Secretariat ended a 25-year Triple Crown drought when he swept the three races for the team of owner Meadow Stable, trainer Lucien Laurin and jockey Ron Turcotte. To this day, no horse has won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in faster time than Secretariat.

“Here are this week’s rankings for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby, courtesy of Xpressbet:

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1. Charlatan (1)

2. Nadal (2)

3. Honor A.P. (3)

4. Authentic (4)

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5. Maxfield (5)

6. Tiz the Law (6)

7. Ete Indien (7)

8. Sole Volante (8)

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9. Thousand Words (9)

10. King Guillermo (10)

NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”

TV coverage of racing

In our last newsletter, I had an item that had a criticism of coverage on Fox. It was a badly written sentence, where you could have read it that there was no live coverage, and that couldn’t have been more wrong. Over three days, there were 17 races from Santa Anita in addition to races at Oaklawn, Gulfstream and Fair Grounds. Some Santa Anita races weren’t shown because they were run after the telecast was over. The criticism was that a phone interview with Bob Baffert was shown instead of a live race.

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Anyway, I had a conversation with an NYRA executive for another story, and the point was made that one of the goals of the telecast was to inform and entertain those who may be unfamiliar with the game. Call it an education component. This weekend you’ll also have coverage on NBCSN, but it will be produced by TVG.

Santa Anita preview

Santa Anita’s card Friday is eight races starting at 1 p.m. There’s really not a lot to say about it. There are three maiden specials and the rest are claimers. The maiden races are all worth $55,000 and go as the first, seventh and eighth. Half the races are turf races.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 8 (1 also eligible), 5, 5, 8, 7, 9, 7, 9 (4 ae).

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day

RACE FOUR: No.3 C Dub (15-1)

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C Dub is an invader from Arizona, and with the Turfway Park closed, we are going to see a lot more of these horses here in California going forward. So far it has been a mixed bag with these imports as they tend to be of lower quality. However, that also means we will likely get better value than we normally would on some of them. This horse is one such value. ‘Dub cost $475,000 back in 2015 based on the breeding and had very sharp early speed in the fall winning three in a row before hitting the bench in December after a bad race. Trainer George Papaprodromou claimed him and he is 21% first off the claim. Rafael Bejarano gets the ride and he is one of two for the trainer on prices. Some very sharp workouts could indicate the horse is ready to get back on the winning side of things. The 15-1 morning line is a great value proposition for us for a horse with nice breeding and potential early speed.

Sunday’s result: Bedrock broke badly at the start and that was it for our chances as we needed a gate-to-wire move from this post. The horse did make a decent late move to run 4th. Make a note for the next race for this horse.

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

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.

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“The Golden Pick Six jackpot carryover of just over $333,000 is in place heading into Friday. The last race on Golden Gate Fields’ eight-race card is an allowance optional claimer for 3-year-old fillies going 5½ furlongs on the Tapeta.

“Bulletproof One was an easy winner at this condition on March 5, defeating five by five lengths while earning an 86 Beyer speed figure. Although she faces eight this time around, she doesn’t necessarily face a tougher field. Morning-line oddsmaker Steve Martinelli set the California-bred daughter of Idiot Proof at even money.

“Bulletproof One has a pair of runaway wins to kick off her career in Northern California for trainer Ellen Jackson. She was privately purchased by owners Gary and Cecil Barber, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Wachtel Stable, and immediately moved to the Southern California string of Peter Miller. She won the CTBA Stakes at Del Mar and is stakes-placed sprinting and routing on grass.

“The second favorite in Friday’s nightcap, 7-2 shot Cakewalk, makes her 3-year-old debut for trainer Blaine Wright and is worthy of a second look. A $110,000 sale purchase as a youngster, the daughter of Majesticperfection finished second behind eventual stake winner Been Studying Her in a maiden race at Pleasanton before returning to break her maiden in an Emerald Downs stakes race. Cakewalk posts a series of sharp drills leading up to her return with leading jockey Juan Hernandez set to ride.

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“The Saturday feature is the eighth, an allowance route race for 3-year-olds. Three of the seven entrants come out of the El Camino Real Derby: Indian Peak, Sacred Rider and Wine And Whisky. Well regarded California-bred colt Awesome Summer also enters while recent maiden special weight winner Fantasy Game and starter allowance winner Prince De Prince round out the field.

“Also on Saturday is a separate allowance for 3-year-old sprinters which goes as the third race. Impressive first-out maiden special weight winner Piston, a half sibling to graded stakes winner Mr. Bowling, faces winners for the first time and takes on Foreign Protocol and Smileforme, both with first-level allowance wins. Also entered is the Keith Desormeaux-trained Zimba Warrior and the Jonathan Wong-conditioned Jive Talkin.”

Los Alamitos weekend preview

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

“A seven-race card kicks off the racing weekend at Los Alamitos on Friday with a 6 p.m. post. The weekend has a pair of stakes for 3-year-olds — the Los Alamitos Oaks for fillies on Saturday and the El Primero Del Ano Derby on Sunday night.

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“Dreams Divine will headline the inaugural running of the $403,500 Los Alamitos Oaks, which is the nation’s richest race for fillies and mares. The filly has been great this year, winning the AB What A Runner Handicap on Jan. 25 before posting the fastest qualifying time to the Los Alamitos Oaks on March 7. She was superb in her trial victory, cruising to a length win in a time of 19.684 seconds for the 400-yard race. Oscar Peinado was the jockey for trainer Mike Robbins.

“Grade 1 stakes winners Flokie and Tell Cartel will be joined by Grade 2 stakes winner Sass Go Blue, talented stakes-placed runner You Can Run and six other sophomores in the Grade 3, $213,300 El Primero Del Ano Derby at 400 yards on Sunday.

“Flokie gets top billing in the El Primero following an impressive 2020 debut when winning his derby trial by a length on March 8. The son of Favorite Cartel dazzled on trial night, as he flew out of the gate and was never challenged on the way to posting the fastest qualifying time of 19.726 while posting a strong final 220-yard time of 9.53. Jesus Rios Ayala will ride the gelding for trainer Lindolfo Diaz.

“Flokie won the Grade 1 Ed Burke Million Futurity last year over Los Alamitos Oaks favorite Dreams Divine. He also finished third in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity on Dec. 15.

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“Tell Cartel won the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby as a 17-1 longshot but should be a major player in the El Primero final. He was very impressive in the trials, facing early trouble but rallying from fifth to win by a length. He had the most trouble out of any of the trials winners but posted the biggest margin of victory. Ruben Lozano will ride for trainer Matt Fales.

“A couple of notable quarter horses were retired this week. Bill Hoburg, the owner-breeder-trainer of six-time Grade 1 winner BH Lisas Boy, told TRACK Magazine he has retired the 8-year-old gelding.

“BH Lisas Boy retires as one of only 11 quarter horses with 11 or more stakes wins at Los Alamitos.

“In addition, trainer John Cooper announced the retirement of Cartel Jess Rockin, the 2019 AQHA champion filly. Cartel Jess Rockin will head to Firth Ranch in Hemet this weekend to begin the next phase of her life.”

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Chris Wade’s LA pick of the day

RACE SEVEN: No. 3 Blaze Thru Fire (6-1)

He has a tendency to find trouble but he has shown a stack of ability and a good amount of heart to win two of six troubled career starts. The sky could be the limit if this runner is able to develop the ability to exit the gate while avoiding trouble. In his last start on Feb. 9, the 4-year-old broke slow and was bumped on both sides and trailed early by over a length. The gelding picked up his momentum during the second half of the race and flew home to win by a nose. He’s a nice price on the morning line and I have to give this runner a shot at all the board placings after such a strong come-from-behind victory.

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, Friday’s entries.

Santa Anita Entries for Friday, March 27.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 42nd day of a 60-day meet.

FIRST RACE.

5½ Furlongs Turf. Purse: $55,000. Maiden Special Weight. 3 year olds and up. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1BrixJorge Velez126Richard Baltas9-5
2BetitoAbel Cedillo118Kristin Mulhall6-1
3Happy Boi LuckyGeovanni Franco126David Bernstein12-1
4Cali CalienteEfrain Hernandez126J. Eric Kruljac6-1
5CaeruleanMario Gutierrez118Ben D. A. Cecil5-1
6Handsome CatJose Valdivia, Jr.118Matthew Chew8-1
7FoothillAaron Gryder118Sean McCarthy4-1
8BodegaRafael Bejarano118Val Brinkerhoff8-1
Also Eligible
9Desert SwarmTiago Pereira118Brian J. Koriner3-1

SECOND RACE.

1 Mile. Purse: $20,000. Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $10,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Boy HowdyRamon Guce122Jack Carava5-110,000
2Top of the GameJorge Velez124Reid France8-510,000
3Camino de EstrellaRafael Bejarano124Jeffrey Metz9-510,000
4RockandahardplaceAgapito Delgadillo124Jeffrey Metz5-110,000
5Play Hard to GetGeovanni Franco122Ian Kruljac4-110,000

THIRD RACE.

1 Mile. Purse: $35,000. Claiming. Fillies. 3 year olds. Claiming Price $32,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1K P WhirlwindUmberto Rispoli122Jeff Mullins5-232,000
2Destiny's JourneyAssael Espinoza122Steve Knapp9-532,000
3K P Cats WildAbel Cedillo122Robert B. Hess, Jr.6-132,000
4TrafficiskillingmeJorge Velez124Jeffrey Metz5-132,000
5Billy KRuben Fuentes122Ryan Hanson2-132,000

FOURTH RACE.

5½ Furlongs Turf. Purse: $35,000. Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $32,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Spanish HombreEdwin Maldonado122Craig Dollase5-132,000
2Restless RamblerDrayden Van Dyke124Mark Glatt7-232,000
3C DubRafael Bejarano122George Papaprodromou15-132,000
4ItalianoFlavien Prat122Vann Belvoir4-132,000
5Blackout Umberto Rispoli124Peter Miller5-232,000
6PortandoAbel Cedillo122Jack Carava12-132,000
7AppreciatedTiago Pereira122Rafael Becerra10-132,000
8Morgan S.Ruben Fuentes122Jeff Mullins4-132,000

FIFTH RACE.

5½ Furlongs. Purse: $18,000. Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $12,500.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Golden ImageMauro Donoe114Daniel Dunham15-112,500
2MinosoFlavien Prat124Hector O. Palma9-512,500
3SatrapaEvin Roman124Mark Glatt3-112,500
4Ultimate ShiloFrancisco Orduna-Rojas124Brian T. Cunningham12-112,500
5TromadorJorge Velez124Ryan Hanson5-212,500
6Red ValorAbel Cedillo124Val Brinkerhoff4-112,500
7Irish BalladGeovanni Franco124Ruben Gomez12-112,500

SIXTH RACE.

1 Mile Turf. Purse: $33,000. Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $35,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Tig Tog Abel Cedillo124Vladimir Cerin5-235,000
2EncountressEdgar Payeras124Kelly Castaneda20-135,000
3Untouched EleganceFlavien Prat124Richard Baltas6-135,000
4Wind Tartare Jose Valdivia, Jr.124Vann Belvoir8-135,000
5Kittyhawk LassUmberto Rispoli124Mike Puype7-235,000
6Smiling RoseGeovanni Franco124George Papaprodromou8-135,000
7Point Hope Drayden Van Dyke124Blaine D. Wright4-135,000
8BuybackJorge Velez124Matthew Chew12-135,000
9Flying to the LineEdwin Maldonado124Adam Kitchingman8-135,000

SEVENTH RACE.

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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1As Time Goes ByDrayden Van Dyke118Bob Baffert3-1
2Little RachelAgapito Delgadillo118Victor L. Garcia15-1
3Lil Miss MoppetAbel Cedillo126Peter Miller12-1
4Saving SophieJose Valdivia, Jr.126Ronald W. Ellis4-1
5Last First KissJorge Velez118Gary Mandella8-1
6River GirlFlavien Prat118Hector O. Palma6-1
7MerneithMike Smith118Bob Baffert6-5

EIGHTH RACE.

1 Mile Turf. Purse: $55,000. Maiden Special Weight. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1I'm Leaving YouVictor Espinoza118Vann Belvoir15-1
2Eastern OceanUmberto Rispoli118Mark Glatt5-1
3Much More HaloDrayden Van Dyke118Bob Baffert5-2
4Port Saint JoeAgapito Delgadillo118Doug F. O'Neill12-1
5Our Boy JetRuben Fuentes118Vladimir Cerin15-1
6Absolute UnitFlavien Prat118Peter Eurton2-1
7Capital CallEdwin Maldonado118Neil D. Drysdale6-1
8Dominant SoulTiago Pereira118Paula S. Capestro12-1
9RailsplitterAbel Cedillo118Doug F. O'Neill8-1
Also Eligible
10CosmoGeovanni Franco118Neil D. Drysdale4-1
11Heywoods BeachUmberto Rispoli118John W. Sadler7-2
12Cardiff CayGeovanni Franco126Don Chatlos6-1
13LeprinoJorge Velez118Richard E. Mandella8-1
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