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Horse racing newsletter: How’s this daily double: Flatter and White

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Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we see that Los Alamitos has a lot of full fields.

Another week is in the books and that puts us one week closer to finding some sense of normalcy. When will that be? It’s the same answer to just about every question: I don’t know. In fact, the whole concept about how little we know is wonderfully portrayed in this fun little video put together by Ray Paulick of The Paulick Report. It’s called “Ask Ray” and you can see it. Just click here.

Of course, the big question remains, when will Santa Anita reopen? Santa Anita, in a conference call with members of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said it had set a target day of April 18 to meet with the L.A. County Public Health Department to make an appeal as to why it should be allowed to conduct racing.

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Aidan Butler, acting executive director of California racing for The Stronach Group, told The Times Tania Ganguli that no meeting has been scheduled but they look forward to working with the health department to resolve this issue. Things such as quarantining jockeys will likely be brought up when they do discuss things.

If the track gets the go ahead soon, you can expect racing to start back up around the first weekend in May. You’ve heard all the arguments.

Now, if the track gets a no-go, one wonders if the track, citing the need to restore normalcy and an abundance of safety measures, decides to open regardless of the heath department order. I’m in no way suggesting this is their intent, just playing a game of hypotheticals.

If that were to be the case, then wouldn’t it be incumbent upon the California Horse Racing Board to take up the legality of this issue, especially because they meet Wednesday? But wait, it has to be posted for 10 days to be an agenda item at the meeting and there is no packet of materials.

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Now, they could do an off-schedule meeting after 10 days, right?

So, wouldn’t it prudent to call for a special meeting as soon as possible with a vague agenda item, something like, “Discussion and action on the resumption of racing at Santa Anita” and have the track submit the materials for a single-item meeting? Then, the teleconference meeting could be scheduled for the week of April 27.

Of course, if things were to be resolved or not even be an issue, the CHRB could just cancel the meeting.

Whenever I propose something the CHRB could or should do, I usually get an email from Rick Baedeker, the then executive director of the CHRB, explaining why it couldn’t be done given the regulatory handcuffs. But, I won’t be getting an email from Rick this time. (Check below.) Still, my casual question brought a very official response from the CHRB.

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“The CHRB is not going to speculate about hypotheticals. The board has the capability of scheduling special meetings (via teleconference at this time), when circumstances warrant it, provided the purpose of the meeting meets the criteria of Government Code Section 11125.4.”

It then sent me the verbiage of Section 11125.4.

Uh, I was just asking if my scenario works from a procedural standpoint. I even said I just wanted it for background.

Can’t help but think of that old line from Bill Shakespeare in Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.” Is there more to this hypothetical than appears. Probably not, but …

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All food for thought. And remember, stay smart, stay safe.

Now, on to your favorite features and some news.

New CHRB executive director

Scott Chaney has been appointed executive director of the CHRB, taking over for Baedeker, who retired on March 31. Here’s what the news release said about Chaney:

“Chaney has been a steward in California since 2005, serving initially on the Southern California thoroughbred circuit and most recently at the Los Alamitos quarter horse meet. A graduate of Dartmouth, cum laude, Chaney went on to graduate with honors from the University of Southern California Law School. He remains a member of the State Bar of California.

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“Chaney grew up in Maryland, where his parents owned a few horses running at the Maryland tracks. With that background, and prior to becoming a steward, he groomed horses during summer breaks from law school, and then after graduation he became an assistant to trainer Darrell Vienna and traveled the country and world with horses.

“CHRB commissioners and executives recognized Chaney’s talents early on when they assigned him to complicated legal cases, research, and analysis of matters beyond the normal duties of stewards. He has been one of the CHRB’s hearing officers since 2010.”

He’ll move to Sacramento when the time is appropriate given the pandemic. We’ll look to do a Q and A with him once racing gets going again.

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 Xpressbet.com.

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“A couple of ‘Baffert bullets’ were fired Wednesday morning at Santa Anita.

“Charlatan, who sits atop my Kentucky Derby Top 10, and Nadal, who occupies the No. 2 spot, both had sharp workouts Wednesday for trainer Bob Baffert. How sharp? Each undefeated 3-year-old colt posted a bullet workout, meaning they had the fastest clocking of the day at a particular distance.

“In the case of Charlatan, he worked six furlongs in 1:12.20, fastest of 11 works at the distance.

“Nadal worked five furlongs in :59.80, fastest of 65 works at the distance.

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“Undefeated in three career starts, Nadal is a two-time stakes winner. The Kentucky-bred Blame colt took Santa Anita’s San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 9, then won Oaklawn Park’s Rebel Stakes on a sloppy track March 14.

“Nadal makes his next start in the $750,000 Arkansas Derby, a 1 1/8-mile event at Oaklawn that now will be run on May 2 rather than on its originally scheduled date of April 11. The $3 million Kentucky Derby, which initially was to have been held on May 2, has been shifted to Sept. 5 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Storm the Court, the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male of 2019, also had a workout Wednesday at Santa Anita in preparation for the Arkansas Derby. The Kentucky-bred Court Vision colt stepped five furlongs in 1:00.60. Peter Eurton trains Storm the Court, who is winless in two 2020 starts after winning last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“Nadal and Storm the Court have earned enough to assure that they will get into the Arkansas Derby in which ‘starting preference will be given to horses that have accumulated the highest earnings.’ Nadal has earned $753,000. Storm the Court boasts a bankroll of $1,232,951.

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“Baffert would like to also run Charlatan in the Arkansas Derby. Charlatan is undefeated in two starts, winning races at Santa Anita by 5 3/4 and 10 1/4 lengths. But with earnings of $67,200, Charlatan is in a precarious position as to whether he can get into the Arkansas Derby unless the race is split into two divisions.

“At this time, I put the chances of the Arkansas Derby drawing a sufficient number of entries to be split at less than 50%.

“Horseracingnation.com currently has a list of 16 possibilities for the Arkansas Derby. In all likelihood, it would take more than 16 for Oaklawn to split the race.

“In addition to it looking iffy that the Arkansas Derby will attract enough entries to be split, keep in mind that Oaklawn’s incentive to do so has been reduced because the track has taken a financial hit due to the coronavirus. If Oaklawn were to split the Arkansas Derby, the track would be put into the position of almost certainly needing to come up with more purse money for two divisions of the race than the $750,000 presently allocated. And don’t forget, the current Arkansas Derby purse of $750,000 is a reduction from an original $1 million.

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“Horseracingnation.com’s Jonathan Lintner reported that Baffert is training Nadal and Charlatan as if they both will run in the Arkansas Derby. ‘Right now, everything is speculation,’ Baffert was quoted as saying. ‘It’s day by day, hour by hour. All I know is they’re both being prepared for it.’

“Baffert, more than anyone, is fully aware that when it comes to the Arkansas Derby, Charlatan could be left on the outside looking in. ‘If he doesn’t get in, he doesn’t get in,’ Baffert said.

“Of the 16 possibilities for the Arkansas Derby on horseracingnation.com’s list, Charlatan’s earnings rank next-to-last, ahead of only Soros’ $52,215.

“The 16 possibilities for the Arkansas Derby, listed in order of earnings from highest to lowest, are Storm the Court, Wells Bayou, Nadal, Silver Prospector, Anneau d’Or, Excession, King Guillermo, Gouverneur Morris, Taishan, Blackberry Wine, Shooters Shoot, Pneumatic, Farmington Road, Attachment Rate, Charlatan and Soros.

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“Meanwhile, the big news last Saturday was the big upset by Mr. Big News in the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Stakes. He rallied from 11th in the field of 13 to win by a half-length on a sloppy track. He paid $95.60 for each $2 win ticket. Farmington Road finished second, while Taishan ended up third. The first three finishers automatically get into the Arkansas Derby.

“Additionally, by virtue of Mr. Big News’ victory last Saturday, he received a free spot in the starting gate for the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. This is the second straight year in which, thanks to cooperation between Oaklawn and Pimlico, the winner of the Oaklawn Stakes (formerly the Oaklawn Invitational) has been a win-and-you’re-in race for the Preakness.

Bret Calhoun trains Mr. Big News, a Kentucky-bred Giant’s Causeway colt. ‘We’re pretty excited about getting the berth to the Preakness,’ Calhoun said in a Wednesday press release issued by the Maryland Jockey Club Press Office. ‘That’s a great perk there. It would be a great race for us to point toward. Hopefully, we can find out soon when that’s going to be and where the points races (for the Kentucky Derby) are going to be and kind of set up a schedule for him. But I’d love to be pointing toward the Preakness.’

“The Preakness originally was scheduled for May 16, its traditional position two weeks after the Kentucky Derby. While the Kentucky Derby has been moved from May 2 to Sept. 5, no decision has yet been announced as to when the Preakness will be run. Racing in Maryland has been paused due to the coronavirus pandemic since the last live program at Laurel Park on March 15.

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“Regarding the Belmont Stakes, in a press release Thursday, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) said it ‘is continuing to assess various options in consultation with all appropriate parties. Currently scheduled for June 6, these options including shifting the race to a later date. The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution and American tradition. We are committed to running the race in 2020 and aim to deliver an announcement in the very near future.’

“Also in Thursday’s press release, NYRA announced that the opening of live racing at Belmont Park’s spring-summer meeting ‘will be delayed due to the continuing impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.’ The meet originally was slated to begin on April 24 and conclude on July 12. ‘We are working closely with the New York State Gaming Commission and public health officials to determine a timeline for the resumption of live racing at Belmont Park,’ said NYRA CEO and president Dave O’Rourke.

“As for my Kentucky Derby rankings, Louisiana Derby winner Wells Bayou debuts this week at No. 10. He edged out Mr. Big News for that spot. Dropping out of the Top 10 is Thousand Words, who was No. 9 last week.

“When Thousand Words and Taishan left the starting gate in last Saturday’s Oaklawn Stakes, they both were 5-2. Thousand Words, the actual betting favorite, stumbled badly at the start and went on to lose by nearly 30 lengths when he finished 11th.

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

1. Charlatan (1)

2. Nadal (2)

3. Tiz the Law (5)

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4. Honor A.P. (3)

5. Authentic (4)

6. Maxfield (6)

7. Sole Volante (7)

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8. Ete Indien (8)

9. King Guillermo (9)

10. Wells Bayou (NR)

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 memories about the great race you never got to see. Ron, you’re up.

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“My racing bucket list is ever-shrinking. Royal Ascot is at the top of it. Visits to a Japanese Grade 1 and Aintree and even those wild, summer days at the Palio di Siena are not far behind.

“But also right up there is Oaklawn Park, where I was supposed to be 10 years and eight days ago. If only that race had not been canceled.

“It was not called off like the Santa Anita Derby and the Wood Memorial and the Dubai World Cup, races that I have attended back when we could still get out and mix and do all those things that the coronavirus has taken from us.

“They still ran the Apple Blossom back in 2010, just as they will again Saturday, even though the gates will be locked in Arkansas this time. Zenyatta won it back then on her way to a 19-race winning streak that was snapped memorably by Blame before she was still voted Horse of the Year.

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“But it was the mare that did not show up that kept me from flying to Hot Springs. And that story made for a lot of drama in the winter of 2010.

“Rachel Alexandra was the reigning Horse of the Year, winning a contentious Eclipse Award vote from Zenyatta 130-99. Her victories over the boys in the Preakness and Woodward were deemed more worthy than Zenyatta’s ‘un-be-lieeev-a-ble’ home-track victory over the boys at Santa Anita’s fake dirt in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The fact that Zenyatta finished second to Serena Williams in that year’s vote for America’s top female athlete only added to the debate.

“Zenyatta was actually retired by owners Jerry and Ann Moss that winter. But that did not last. The owners changed their mind in mid-January, and it did not take long for trainer John Shirreffs to get her ready to race as a 6-year-old.

“There was never any doubt that Rachel would keep racing at age 4 for trainer Steve Asmussen. ‘Champions need to race against champions.’ That was the line – really a mantra – often repeated by the late owner Jess Jackson.

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“Talk that they would meet was first broached in the spring of 2009. Both owners said they welcomed such a race. But Moss and Shirreffs were reluctant to take Zenyatta out of her comfort zone of southern California, where nice purses and familiar competition made it tough to leave home. Jackson wanted no part of that, contemptuously calling California’s all-weather tracks “that plastic.”

“Leave it to the late Charlie Cella to step in. During Super Bowl week that year the third-generation owner of Oaklawn Park offered to raise the Apple Blossom purse from $500,000 to $5 million if both Rachel and Zenyatta showed up.

“’If she is in top form and it fits our schedule, we will be there,’ Jackson said.

“’It’s a race we’ve been thinking about going to no matter what happens,’ Shirreffs said.

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“Boom. Game on. April 3, 2010.

“Working then as the U.S. correspondent for an Australian sports radio station I was traveling to all corners of the globe, even covering this story while on assignment at the Super Bowl in Miami and then at the Vancouver Olympics. So why not Hot Springs? I booked the last room available at a hotel there – refundable, of course. I figured the flight could wait – non-refundable, of course.

“And that is when things started falling apart. Jackson waffled on his acceptance. ‘Everyone wants to see Rachel race against Zenyatta, including me,’ he said. ‘In fact, I want it to happen several times this year.’

“That’s right. While I was dashing between slopes and Sidney Crosby, Jackson proposed a three-race tour. Moss rejected that out of hand, saying ‘I have no idea what he’s even talking about.’

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“But then Cella called Jackson, talked him off that barnstorming ledge, and after more negotiations with Moss, the showdown was back on. The Apple Blossom would be pushed back to the day before the Arkansas Derby.

“Boom. Game on again. April 9, 2010. My 51st birthday. What a present. I changed the hotel reservation – no extra fees. But I still held fire on booking a flight – because of fees.

“Then came the first sign of bigger trouble. After a six-month break following her Woodward victory, Rachel did not look the least bit motivated in an ornery, six-furlong workout at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Jackson declared that she was only ‘about 85 percent’ ahead of her 6-year-old debut.

“That was the harbinger.

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“As a 1-20 favorite in her first race as a 4-year-old, Rachel stalked the early pace before being outrun down the stretch by 9-1 Zardana in the ungraded New Orleans Ladies Stakes. With that three-quarter-length loss, thoughts of a showdown with Zenyatta were over.

“’She is not in top form,’ Asmussen said the next day in a written statement. ‘Therefore I decided she will not be going to the (Apple Blossom).’

“Hotel canceled, free of charge. No refund was necessary for the never-booked flight.

“In four more starts, Rachel won two more races, but she was clearly not the same mare as she was the year before. But Zenyatta’s star kept rising. What little talk there was of a Breeders’ Cup Classic matchup at Churchill Downs was hollow.

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“Early that fall, Jackson made the inevitable announcement, saying, ‘I believe it’s time to retire our champion and reward her with a less stressful life.’

“After a loss in the Breeders’ Cup that actually may have been more impressive than any of her victories, Zenyatta would follow her into retirement – and to the Horse of the Year award that winter.

“A decade later I still have not been to Oaklawn Park. Who knows if I will ever get there? And who knows if there will ever again be as tantalizing and unrequited a rivalry as there was between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta?

“I do know this. For all the wrong reasons, refundable hotel reservations and airfare to Arkansas are now pretty cheap.”

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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. He also hosts the Ron Flatter Racing Pod. On the current episode race caller and handicapper Jason Beem discusses the strategies and nuances of horseplaying. Chris Kotulak of Fonner Park and John Lies of Will Rogers Downs talk about bettors discovering their tracks during the pandemic. There are also previews of weekend races in Arkansas and Japan with Chris Andrews and Kate Hunter.To listen, just click here.

Ciaran Thornton’s Friday pick

RACE FIVE: No. 7 Get One More (8-1)

This week’s stakes race play is the fifth race at Oaklawn Park on Friday, the Rainbow Miss Stakes. Get One More looks very interesting here at an attractive 8-1 morning line. She won her debut race at this distance in February despite a lot of trouble, being bumped at the start, and shuffled back to last, 13 lengths behind. Moving five wide into the turn she made a very nice late move to win. That race had a lot of early speed, similar to what we should see Friday. I am also looking to use the favorite Proud Victoria with Choctaw Charlie in my exoctics.

Last Saturday’s result: M G Warrior was scratched. Lord Guinness broke poorly and just did not like the mud. Improbable ran second almost winning the race in what was the most impressive ride we have seen. The outside post did Improbable no favors but impressive race nonetheless.

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Ciaran Thornton is the handicapper for Californiapick4.com, 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 preview the only racing in the state and for that we 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.

“Strong fields continue at Los Alamitos, as every race on the eight-race program will have eight horses or more. The fields for the early Pick Four sequence on Friday will see 10, 9, 8 and 9 horses in those races.

“The fifth race is the main event with eight fillies and mares going 870 yards for a $14,000 purse. Ladies Luv Munny is the one to beat after three strong efforts at Golden Gate. The 3-year-old filly by Can The Man has shown terrific gate quickness time and again for top Northern California trainer Jonathan Wong. The Last Ruler, a winner at Santa Anita on Feb. 23 is another top contender.

“Ten races are on tap for Saturday night beginning at 6 p.m. with the $20,000 Wheatland Handicap at 870 yards as the feature. Sokudo came flying late to win the Harbor Beach Handicap at the 870-yard distance on March 14 and he did so by taking advantage of a speed duel between the outstanding Ballast Point and the veteran stakes winning quarter horse Run Raging Rhino Run. His connections figure to try the same strategy on Saturday when Sokudo goes in the Wheatland. The eight-horse field will also include Run Raging Rhino Run and recent wire-to-wire winner Rule He Will.

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“Rule He Will was tremendous in his last outing. The 9-year-old opened an early one-length advantage and was in control from there on the way to a 1 ¾-length victory. The win came in his first start in over a year and it was the 12th of his racing career. Rule He Will figures to flash speed again and should challenge the likes of Run Raging Rhino Run, Biddy Duke and the George Papaprodromou-trained C Dub, a well-traveled runner who won three races at Turf Paradise in late fall last year and will now make his Los Alamitos debut.

“As for the late threats, Sokudo figures to be joined by Hardcore Troubador, who enters after running second to the quarter horse Ballast Point on Feb. 23 in what was the fastest 870-yard race at Los Alamitos in more than 10 years.

“Saturday’s program will also feature the anticipated debut of the 2-year-old filly Jess Lyndes Reason, who has posted some of the best gate drills by a juvenile so far this year. She’s the 8-5 favorite in race seven. Live racing will follow on Sunday night.

“Trainer Mike Robbins and jockey Oscar Peinado have dominated the races for 2-year-old quarter horses here so far. The duo combined to win four of the first five races already held for the division with Eagle Empire looking like the best of the winning quartet. Trials for the first futurity of the meet, the Grade 2 Robert Adair Kindergarten will be held on Sunday, May 3.”

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Chris Wade’s LA pick for Friday

RACE SIX: No. 5 Victorioso Dinastia (5-1)

She’s been her own worst enemy in her three career starts. In her last effort 28 nights ago, the filly broke slow when she bobbled at the start and was crossed by quicker rivals on either side to lose almost two lengths at the getaway. After the tough start, she angled out for a clear path and then flew for a much better than looked third-place finish. The talent is there for this filly and she figures to benefit from a solid jockey/trainer combo.

Chris Wade’s LA pick for Saturday

RACE EIGHT: No. 2 Apolitical Reason (10-1)

Let’s go with a longshot play on Saturday night with a well-bred juvenile who improved immensely in his second morning prep and did it with run left in the tank. Working on April 4 at 220 yards, this colt broke a tad slow and with his head high while still showing a good amount of speed away from the gate. After a decent getaway, Apollitical Reason showed a nice way of going under only slight pressure early and then finishing well late under a light hold at the wire followed by a solid gallop out past the wire. The grade for the work is a B and with another step of improvement, we’ll push this runner to be a contender for all the board placings at a nice price for a barn that does well with 2-year-olds first time starters.

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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.

Either way, send this along to a friend, and just have them click here to sign up. Remember, it’s free, and all we need is your email address, nothing more.

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 see you next Friday.


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