Horse racing newsletter: Golden Gate Fields joins Santa Anita in closing for racing

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Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we stack up our best features of the week.

First, here’s hoping everyone is being smart and staying safe. I’ve never washed my hands so many times. I’ve tried to avoid hoarding, going to grocery store every three days. (I used to be a five-times-a-week guy.) I’m reading books I could never get to and, like most of America, jaw dropping watching “Tiger King” on Netflix.

As for the newsletter, we’ll come to you at least once a week on Friday as long as Santa Anita remains closed. It’ll be a long newsletter as we’ll have most of our regular features. So, thanks to all our contributors for staying with us. My editor, Houston Mitchell, is encouraging more, so we’ll see if we can make that happen.

The top news on Thursday was Golden Gate Fields was shut down by the Alameda County Health Department. Much like Santa Anita, the announcement came just before the first post on Thursday. In Santa Anita’s case, it learned about it on Wednesday and was trying to negotiate a reversal, which caused the late announcement.

As for racing at Santa Anita, it remains in limbo. The folks at Santa Anita argued that it is a closed ecosystem and it takes way fewer people to run races than it does training in the morning, which is allowed. It says that without purses, the backstretch workers can’t be paid and owners could flee to other states. And, if the industry collapses in California, there will not only be more homeless people, but horses could be abandoned as well.


Meanwhile, down the road, racing is allowed at Los Alamitos, which is in Orange County. Santa Anita is in Los Angeles County.

Now, if you are looking for something to do, you can go to the L.A. County Arboretum, which is directly across Baldwin Avenue, across from Santa Anita. It’s open. Apparently the L.A. County Health Dept. found the Arboretum to be an essential business. It found Santa Anita to be non-essential.

The Arboretum is owned by L.A. County (which is likely why it’s called the L.A. County Arboretum). Santa Anita is not.

If you think racing should be allowed at Santa Anita, then you’ve got to wonder how one business (owned by the body that makes the decisions on who gets to be open) that cares for people and plants is essential and the other, that cares for people and horses, is not.

If you think racing should remain stopped, then shouldn’t the Arboretum be shuttered, too?

If you have an opinion on this, either way, Kathryn Barger is the chair for the Fifth District of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, which includes Santa Anita and the Arboretum. I don’t know if she wants to hear from you, but just click here to get her email.


Either opinion is valid, because it’s your thoughts on what is right that really counts.

OK, now on to some of the regular features you’ve grown to know and love.

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 uncertain Kentucky Derby trail, and what a trail that has become. Jon makes the morning line at Santa Anita (when they are racing), 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

“Like father, like son.

“Constitution won the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby by a neck in 2014 at odds of 3-1. He would go on to sire Tiz the Law, who captured last Saturday’s Florida Derby in convincing fashion by 4 1/4 lengths as the 7-5 favorite.

“The Florida Derby was Tiz the Law’s fourth win in five lifetime starts. He is a perfect four for four when competing on a fast track. The only time he has lost, Tiz the Law finished third in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs last Nov. 30. Not only was the track sloppy that day, he did not have the best of trips and lost by three-quarters of a length.

“Sackatoga Stable owns and Barclay Tagg trains Tiz the Law. This is the same owner-trainer team that won the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with Funny Cide.

“A final time of 1:50.00 was one aspect of Tiz the Law’s Florida Derby triumph that was not impressive. Since Gulfstream enlarged the main track to 1 1/8 miles for its 2005 season, these have been the times posted by the Florida Derby winners, from fastest down to slowest:

1:47.47 Always Dreaming in 2017

“1:47.72 Quality Road in 2009

“1:48.16 Big Brown in 2008

“1:48.79 Take Charge Indy in 2012

“1:48.86 Maximum Security in 2019

“1:49.00 Scat Daddy in 2007

“1:49.01 Barbaro in 2006

“1:49.11 Nyquist in 2016 (wet track rated as good)

“1:49.17 Constitution in 2014

“1:49.19 Ice Box in 2010

“1:49.43 High Fly in 2005

“1:49.48 Audible in 2018

“1:50.00 Tiz the Law in 2020

“1:50.74 Dialed In in 2011

“1:50.87 Orb in 2013

“1:52.30 Materiality in 2015

“Tiz the Law now is two for two this year. In his 2020 debut, he won Gulfstream’s 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull Stakes by three lengths on Feb. 1.

“In terms of my rankings for the Kentucky Derby that now will be run on Sept. 5, Tiz the Law was No. 6 last week. He moves up the ladder this week, but only one notch to No. 5.

“Still ranked higher than Tiz the Law on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week are No. 1 Charlatan, No. 2 Nadal, No. 3 Honor A.P. and No. 4 Authentic.

“Charlatan, Nadal and Authentic are undefeated colts trained by Bob Baffert. Charlatan is two for two, while both Nadal and Authentic are three for three.

“The Santa Anita Derby was supposed to have been run Saturday at Santa Anita Park. Santa Anita, like the vast majority of racetracks in the nation, currently is not able to conduct live racing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Santa Anita was shut down last week when deemed a non-essential operation by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The Arcadia track announced Tuesday that the Santa Anita Derby will be rescheduled for a date later in the season. The Santa Anita Derby offers 170 points to the first four finishers toward starting eligibility in the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby on a 100-40-20-10 scale.

“The next and final race originally scheduled to offer points toward the Kentucky Derby is the $750,000 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. The 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby has been moved from April 11 to May 2. The date of this year’s Kentucky Derby had been May 2 until it was switched to Sept. 5.

“The $200,000 Oaklawn Invitational (introduced in 2019) is slated to be run at Oaklawn Park on April 11. This 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds had been originally scheduled for May 2. This year’s edition of the Oaklawn Invitational now is ideally positioned to serve as a springboard to the Arkansas Derby.

“With the Kentucky Derby not being run until Sept. 5, Churchill Downs announced it will be adding more races offering Kentucky Derby points. But those races have yet to be revealed.

“At this point, Tiz the Law’s 122 tops the Kentucky Derby points list.

“While Tiz the Law moved up a notch on my Kentucky Derby rankings this week, one other Florida Derby starter, Ete Indien, slides down to No. 8 this week after being No. 7 last week. He finished third in the Florida Derby, five lengths behind Tiz the Law.

Andie Biancone, daughter of and assistant to her father, trainer Patrick Biancone, disclosed via Twitter that Ete Indien finished third in the Florida Derby despite ‘a cut up hind leg’ and ‘lost shoe.’ According to the tweet, Ete Indien also sustained an injury to one of his heels during the race.

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

1. Charlatan (1)

2. Nadal (2)

3. Honor A.P. (3)

4. Authentic (4)

5. Tiz the Law (6)

6. Maxfield (5)

7. Sole Volante (8)

8. Ete Indien (7)

9. Thousand Words (9)

10. King Guillermo (10)

NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”

Ron Flatter’s weekly insights

It’s time for our weekly contribution from Ron Flatter of the Vegas Stats and Information Network. He offers up some common sense advice about what we learned from the Florida Derby. Ron, what insights do you have?

“The postponement of the Kentucky Derby from spring to late summer has turned handicapping for Labor Day weekend into guesswork.

“So many of the trends that had been used to identify contenders will no longer apply to a class of horses that will be more like 3½ years old rather than 3. Florida Derby winner Tiz the Law, the current consensus betting favorite in futures markets, will be 11% older on the new Derby day, Sept. 5, than the original date, May 2.

“But while late bloomers catch up with their precocious rivals, one factor should remain as telling come Labor Day weekend as it would have been in the middle of spring. How will these horses handle the extra distance of the Derby?

“Presuming that none will have gone 1¼ miles by Sept. 5, horseplayers will continue looking to past performances to gauge how Derby candidates look at the end of their races. Were they gaining ground in the last furlong of their most recent race of at least 1⅛ miles? If so, it suggests that they should have something in the tank for that difference-making 10th furlong at Churchill Downs.

“Of the 23 horses in this weekend’s Kentucky Derby Future Wager, 10 went at least 1⅛ miles in their last race, including Tiz the Law. His 1:50.00 time looks slow, but there were mixed signals from how he finished the race. According to Trakus he covered the final furlong in a very pedestrian 13.21 seconds and his final three furlongs in a so-so 38.02 seconds.

“It will be said that Manny Franco geared him down at the end of the race, but a telling trend is blind to that.

“Longtime turf writer-turned-publicist Jennie Rees was introduced years ago to what she calls the Final Fractions Theory, and it has stood the test of time for more than a generation. It says that 27 of the last 30 Derby winners finished their final 1⅛-mile prep with a final furlong of 13 seconds or less and/or a final three furlongs of no more than 38 seconds. Including Country House last year, 23 of the last 30 met both criteria.

“Trakus was around for the early part of those 30 years, margins were translated to 0.20 seconds per length, and fractions used to be rounded to the nearest tenth of a second. So using those leniencies, Tiz the Law’s final three furlongs at the Florida Derby might get in under the 38-second wire.

“How about the other nine KDFW horses that recently turned in preps of nine or more furlongs?

“Three finished up the track in the Florida Derby, and none got under the :13/:38 threshold. The 80-1 runner-up Shivaree got home in 13.68 and 38.80, third-place Été Indien in 13.77 and 39.01 and fourth-place Gouverneur Morris in 13.51 and 38.77.

“Off for more than two months, Max Player finished his win at Aqueduct in the Withers in a less than impressive 13.51 and 39.42.

“The final fractions for Wells Bayou, NyTraffic, Modernist, Major Fed and Enforceable, the top five finishers in the Louisiana Derby, were more difficult to figure since the race was run for the first time at 9½ furlongs. There is no Trakus at the Fair Grounds, and the closing furlong and three furlongs were not extracted cleanly from the final chart.

“But if mathematical extrapolations are applied without presuming acceleration or deceleration, the top five Louisiana Derby horses fell favorably inside the :13/:38 guideposts. The winner Wells Bayou presumably finished in 12.57 and 37.75 followed by Ny Traffic in 12.50 and 37.83, Modernist in 12.54 and a borderline 38.05, Major Fed in 12.34 and 37.27 and Enforceable in 12.47 and 37.83.

“All these fractions are really just place holders. Any horse going into this summer’s Derby presumably will have run sometime between now and then. Since 1929 no horse went more than six weeks between its last prep and a Derby win; Needles in 1956 and Animal Kingdom in 2011 stretched their breaks 42 days each.

“What all this boils down to is that Tiz the Law may need to improve on his Florida Derby finish to fall into the Final Fractions Theory that has had a 90% success rate for more than a generation.

“Horseplayers looking for clues to find the 2020 Derby winner five months before the race may grasp onto anything. Whether any of this, though, means a thing under the unique set of circumstances brought on by the coronavirus pandemic remains to be seen.

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 He also hosts the Ron Flatter Racing Pod. The longer road to the Kentucky Derby and betting on Group 1 racing in Australia are the focus of the current episode. XBTV’s Zoe Cadman handicaps this weekend’s Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Breeder Randy Gullatt discusses Florida Derby winner Tiz the Law. Nick Quinn from Sky Racing in Australia has his picks for The Championships at Royal Randwick in Sydney. Just click here. (It’s a little different display than normal, so bear with it.)

Ciaran Thornton’s weekend pick

Saturday at Oaklawn

RACE NINE: No. 6 Lexi On the Move (8-1)

There is only one stakes race on Saturday, the Purple Martin Stakes. Lexi On the Move is undefeated in two starts, both at Oaklawn this year. Trainer Robertino Diodoro is having a big meet, winning 29%. When he teams up with jockey David Cohen they win 32% and are in the money 65% for a profit. Diodoro is winning 25% of his sprint races and 27% when his horses win last out. There is one maintenance workout after that last win, the same thing they did after the debut win, possibly indicating the trainer is very happy with the horse. The 8-1 morning line is likely to creep higher given the other winners in this race. This horse has the top early speed and my bet here is that the strategy will be to blast to the front and use that speed to wire the field while all the closers look to play catchup.

Ciaran Thornton is the handicapper for, which offers daily full card picks, longshots of the day, best bets of the day. (Of course, that’s when there is racing.)

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, which is currently the only game in California. Orlando, the floor is yours.

“A seven-race program is scheduled for Friday night starting at 6 p.m. A Pick 6 carryover of $10,717 will highlight the card with the sequence set to begin in the second race. On Saturday night, the eight-race card will include a pair of allowances at 870 yards.

“One of those will have impressive recent maiden winner Truth Prevails in the sixth race. Charles Treece, the track’s all-time leading thoroughbred trainer, will saddle Truth Prevails as she takes on a field that includes Queen Carmelita, a runner-up in a $12,500 claiming race across town, and the speedster Tim’s Buddy, who arrives here from Golden Gate Fields. Ramon Guce, the all-time leading thoroughbred rider at Los Alamitos, gets the call on Truth Prevails.

“The fourth race is another 870-yard allowance with several solid runners. The Andrew Lerner-trained Biddy Duke, who was second against $40,000 optional claimers at Santa Anita on March 15, is the 2-1 favorite, while Perfect Promise and Uncle Goyle, a pair of newcomers from Turf Paradise, are among the top contenders. Portando, who has earned $310,177 in his 31-race career will also run.

“Up And Coming, who qualified to the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity last year, is among the seven sophomores that will race in the $25,000 James Smith Handicap on Sunday night.

“The Two Million is not the only futurity that Up And Coming was a part of last year. The son of Kiddy Up also qualified to the Grade 2 PCQHRA Breeders Futurity in early October. Up And Coming was not lights out in either final, but he was outstanding in the trials for each of those futurities. He won his PCQHRA Breeders trial by lengths and then posted an equally impressive length victory in his Two Million trial. In that 400-yard trial, Up And Coming defeated Tell Cartel, who so far this year has been the premier sophomore on the grounds with wins in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby and the Grade 3 El Primero Del Ano Derby.

“Up And Coming is out of Hits Keep Coming, an unraced sister to stakes winners Hot Hitter and Streak Hitter. This is also the family of champion Freaky and stakes winners Hard Hitting, Lassen County and Freaking. Eduardo Nicasio will ride Up And Coming for 2019 AQHA champion trainer Chris O’Dell.

“The James Smith Memorial Handicap is named in honor of the long time vice-president and general manager of the Horsemen’s Quarter Horse Racing Assn. that conducted a winter meeting at Los Alamitos during the 1980s and early 90s. Smith was an integral figure in bringing nighttime thoroughbred racing to Los Alamitos in the mid-90s.”

Chris Wade’s LA pick of the day for Friday

RACE SEVEN: No. 6 L Bar D Genuine Red (4-1)

He has finished fourth in his two efforts over the local racing surface and each with trouble along the way. He competed at 110 yards in his most recent outing 35 nights ago when runner broke over a length and a half slow at the gate before quickly picking up speed to grab the superfecta placing again followed by a solid gallop out past the wire. Now draws what I feel is a perfect outside post for his style of racing so we’ll push this runner for a top-notch jockey/trainer combo that wins at a 34% clip.

Chris Wade’s LA pick of the day for Saturday

RACE THREE: No. 5 Mergie Troid (8-1)

She will always make a mid-race run in her outings, highlighted this year by her head victory on Feb. 16. The mare does tend to get into trouble, but you can count on her making a move around the turn for home. In her last start 13 nights ago, the mare broke slow to lose almost two lengths of ground right from the start but she still put forth a solid, albeit wide run through the turn to finish with a better than looked fourth place finish. Tonight, she’ll face a field that includes four horses that need the lead so we’ll push this runner to sit and wait for the turn and maybe she’ll fly past the leaders at the 1/16th pole at a good price.

A final thought

I love getting new readers of this newsletter, and you certainly can’t beat the price. If you like it, tell someone. If you don’t like it, you’re probably not reading this.

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We’ll see you next Friday.