Horse racing newsletter: Santa Anita is still in a holding pattern

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Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we bring another action-packed newsletter with headliners Jon White and Ron Flatter, plus a Los Alamitos preview.

The wait continues to see if Santa Anita will reopen soon to live racing. Track executives made a new proposal to County Commissioner Kathryn Barger last Thursday and she was going to consult with the Department of Public Health to see if a re-opening is feasible. We’re still awaiting word as to what will happen.

Two ways to look at the lack of an answer depending on if you are a racing optimist or pessimist. The fact it hasn’t been shot down is a good thing, or the fact there is no response means it’s not going to happen.

On to another topic. Wednesday was the monthly meeting of the California Horse Racing Board. I can’t describe it any better than Mark Ratzky, a longtime figure in local racing, who put it in his weekly, mostly light-hearted, e-mail blast.

“As if things weren’t weird enough, meetings of the California Horse Racing Board have devolved into something with all the charm of a trip to the dentist,” Ratzky wrote.


A normal in-person meeting is tough to control but a teleconference, with all the inherent technical glitches, makes it a total nightmare. Wednesday’s meeting, though, seemed to be even more testy and fractured than usual as pro- and anti-racing factions squared off against each other. You could tell chairman Dr. Greg Ferraro was not a happy camper.

The fundamental issue is public comment, which is essential in government proceedings and makes for a stronger democracy. However, the comment needs to be tied to the agenda item being discussed. Talking about anything you want is left to the final public comment period, where you can act like a Senator in a filibuster. Just click here. Although, unlike a filibuster, you are restricted to two minutes.

The high/low point was when one well-known racing executive and one well-known animal-rights’ activist, went after each other for being off-point, while being off-point to the agenda item being discussed.

Here’s some of what I know about the members of the CHRB. They are paid $100 a month, so essentially they are donating their time. And, they do it to try and make a difference.

A corollary that can be made is I was once president of the Associated Press Sports Editors, a three-year stint, two as a VP and one as the top guy. For me, it was a wonderful experience representing an industry that I love to this day. I said it then and it still holds true. “The only thing better than being president of APSE, is being past-president of APSE.”

Somewhere Chuck Winner and David Israel, past CHRB chairmen, are smiling.

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

“Two-time graded stakes winner Nadal looked terrific Monday morning in a workout at Santa Anita as he continued preparing for the $750,000 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on May 2.


“Nadal worked in company with Eclair. Bob Baffert trains the pair.

“Undefeated in three career starts, Nadal won this year’s San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Feb. 9 and the Rebel Stakes on a sloppy track March 14 at Oaklawn. Eclair, a 3-year-old filly, has not raced since winning the Golden Gate Debutante last Nov. 29.

“In Monday’s drill that can be viewed on XBTV, Nadal relaxed beautifully early while traveling five to six lengths behind Eclair. At the top of the lane, Eclair was about seven lengths in front. From the eighth pole until near the finish line, Nadal came home with enthusiasm to close the sizable gap on his workmate.

“At the finish line, Eclair was about a head in front. Eclair’s workout ended at that point. Her clocking for five furlongs was 1:00.20. Meanwhile, Nadal continued on and completed a splendid six-furlong drill in 1:11.40.

“It appears to me that Nadal could not be coming up to the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby any better.

“Baffert has another Arkansas Derby candidate in Charlatan, who is two for two and yet to be tested. Charlatan ranks No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. Nadal is No. 2.

“In Charlatan’s unveiling, he registered a 5 3/4-length maiden win in a six-furlong race at Santa Anita on Feb. 16. He then was dazzling in a 10 1/4-length victory at one mile when facing winners at Santa Anita on March 14.

“Charlatan, like Nadal, had a sharp workout Monday at Santa Anita. Charlatan began and ended his drill in company with the Baffert-trained Gingham. A 3-year-old filly, Gingham is a two-time winner. In her most recent start, Gingham finished a distant second to the exciting Venetian Habor in Santa Anita’s Las Virgenes Stakes on Feb. 8.

“In the early part of Monday’s workout, Charlatan was a bit headstrong early when being restrained while Gingham was going along with a very slight advantage. As the duo came to the finish line, Charlatan put his head in front. At that point, Gingham’s workout was over. She was timed in 1:12.20 for six furlongs. Charlatan kept on going to complete seven furlongs in 1:25.60.

“Two other SoCal-based 3-year-olds with designs on the Arkansas Derby had workouts Monday at Santa Anita.

“Storm the Court, the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male of 2019, worked six furlongs in 1:13.60. Peter Eurton trains the Kentucky-bred Court Vision colt, who finished fourth in the San Vicente and third in Santa Anita’s San Felipe Stakes on March 7 won by the Baffert-trained Authentic.

“Fast Enough was clocked in an excellent 1:24.60 for his Monday drill. Trained by Rafael Becerra, Fast Enough won Santa Anita’s California Cup Derby on Jan. 18 before finishing third in the San Vicente.

“Conditions for the Arkansas Derby specify that ‘starting preference will be given to horses that have accumulated the highest earnings.’ Storm the Court ($1,232,951) and Nadal ($753,000) have no worries about getting into the race if it draws more than 14 entries. Fast Enough ($173,000) also appears okay in that regard. But if the Arkansas Derby does not draw enough entries to be split into two divisions, it’s iffy as to whether Charlatan can get into the starting gate.

“The post-position draw for the Arkansas Derby is scheduled to be held Sunday. Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reported that if the race is not split, there will be no also eligibles beyond the 14 in the main body of the race, according to Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope.

“As of Wednesday, among the 16 probable entrants listed Wednesday by the Daily Racing Form, Charlatan ranked 16th in earnings. Pope said he would only split the race if he gets at least 20 entrants. Pope also said if the race is split, each of the two divisions would have a purse of $500,000.

“Mr. Big News, Farmington Road and Taishan, the first three finishers in the April 11 Oaklawn Stakes, earned an automatic berth in the Arkansas Derby. According to Privman, trainer Bret Calhoun said Wednesday that Mr. Big News will not be entered in the Arkansas Derby. Farmington Road and Taishan are expected to be entered.

“In addition to Storm the Court, Nadal, Fast Enough, Farmington Road and Taishan, Daily Racing Form’s 16 probables for the Arkansas Derby, in order of earnings from highest to lowest, are Wells Bayou ($845,293), Silver Prospector ($719,718), Anneau d’Or ($403,000), Basin ($371,000), King Guillermo ($240,350), Gouverneur Morris ($197,500), American Theorem ($103,267), Crypto Cash ($100,840), Shooters Shoot ($94,880), My Friends Beer ($80,958) and Charlatan ($67,200).

“To complicate matters for Charlatan, his bankroll is smaller than two possible entrants. They are Finnick the Fierce ($131,490) and Blackberry Wine ($96,610).

“Another possibility for the Arkansas Derby is Winning Impression ($43,730). Meanwhile, Michael Stidham told Privman that Mystic Guide ($35,500) was ‘an outside possibility but probably not.’

“King Guillermo worked four furlongs in :48.18 on Wednesday at Gulfstream Park. Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsh reported that the Kentucky-bred Uncle Mo colt, trained by Juan Carlos Avila, completed his final quarter in an excellent :23.20. King Guillermo has not started since he won the Tampa Bay Derby by 4 3/4 lengths on March 7 in his 2020 debut. After Wednesday’s workout, Avila said he thinks King Guillermo is ‘doing even better now than before he won at Tampa,’ according to Welsch.

“Attachment Rate and Soros had been considered possible for the Arkansas Derby. But they are both entered in Saturday in Gulfstream’s $75,000 Unbridled Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race named in honor of the 1990 Kentucky Derby winner. The Unbridled has attracted a field of seven.

“Also on Saturday, Eight Rings is scheduled to run in Oaklawn’s $100,000 Bachelor Stakes at six furlongs. It will be his first start since he finished sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last Nov. 1.

“Eight Rings worked five furlongs from the starting gate in :59.00 last Friday at Oaklawn. It was the fastest of 29 works at the distance. The Baffert-trained Kentucky-bred Empire Maker colt won Santa Anita’s American Pharoah Stakes by six lengths last year on Sept. 27. Storm the Court finished third in the American Pharoah before pulling off a shocker when he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at odds of 45-1.

“Among Eight Rings’ eight opponents Saturday is Ginobili, who is trying to rebound after finishing fifth as a 4-5 favorite in a six-furlong sprint at Oaklawn on April 5 for trainer Richard Baltas. Ginobili ran second to Nadal in the San Vicente at Santa Anita in his only previous 2020 start.

“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 (3)

4. Honor A.P. (4)

5. Authentic (5)

6. Maxfield (6)

7. Sole Volante (7)

8. Ete Indien (8)

9. King Guillermo (9)

10. Wells Bayou (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 thoughts about the upcoming Arkansas Derby. Ron, you’re up.

“The next two weeks of racing could not be more different for the 3-year-olds trying to show whether they belong in the Kentucky Derby.

“Where next Saturday’s Arkansas Derby feels like an ‘everybody is going to be there’ date, this week’s menu looks as scattered as it can be when tracks such as Santa Anita, Churchill Downs and Belmont Park are all closed.

“While we wait until next week to see Nadal and maybe Charlatan represent Bob Baffert against the likes of Wells Bayou, we still get to see Eight Rings on Saturday among 10 other horses listed in the Derby futures at William Hill Nevada. He is the 5-2 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s $100,000 Bachelor Stakes, a six-furlong sprint at Oaklawn Park.

“Eight Rings. Oh, yeah. Remember him? When he won the American Pharoah Stakes by six lengths last September at Santa Anita, he was the star of the Baffert’s barn, opening as a 10-1 co-favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. But last November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile his fuel gauge was on “E” when he faded to finish sixth at odds of 3-2. He has not had a start since.

“After a winter break, Baffert pointed Eight Rings to plenty of races, but he never found the right spot. All the while the $520,000 colt by Empire Maker has been prominent in the mornings at Santa Anita, putting up four bullet works since March 4 including Friday’s 59.0-second turn around five furlongs. Now Eight Rings is 22-1 in the Derby futures.

“With Joel Rosario riding him for the first time Saturday, Eight Rings will face a field overloaded for what is listed as a garden-variety, black-type stakes. Long Weekend (3-1), Little Menace (4-1), Echo Town (9-2) and Ginóbili (6-1) are all worthy contenders Saturday – and are all listed with triple-digit odds for the Derby.

“Less than an hour before the Bachelor, six more futures horses will race 8½ furlongs in the $75,000 Unbridled Stakes around two turns at Gulfstream Park. But the one horse unlisted in Las Vegas – Todd Pletcher’s maiden winner Dr Post – is the 8-5 morning-line favorite. The $400,000 Quality Road colt will be ridden by reigning two-time Eclipse Award winner Irad Ortiz Jr., who returns Saturday after taking a one-month break to avoid exposing himself to the coronavirus.

“Trained by Dale Romans, third-place Gotham Stakes finisher Attachment Rate (3-1) is the most respected challenger to Dr Post. His 50-1 futures odds also make him the most backed Derby candidate racing Saturday – other than Eight Rings.

“In the Derby context, Untitled got things going Thursday with his stroll around one turn at Gulfstream Park. Racing for the first time in nearly two months, trainer Mark Casse’s colt was geared down by Luís Sáez to a 3¾-length victory in a $41,000 allowance mile. But don’t get too giddy. At 28-1 in the Derby futures, Untitled scared off three other would-be starters before the race and then beat a leftover field of four that included a 10-year-old gelding.

“Even though it seems like an eternity before they run for the roses at the end of summer, these 3-year-olds already have a decent sample size. So horseplayers and horsemen are starting to have a good idea which of these colts and geldings have no shot at two turns let alone 1¼ miles.

“So, this week and next are a lot like the end of the second round in a golf tournament. We may not know who will win. But we should know who makes the cut.”

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. On the current episode Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano discusses his recovery from the coronavirus, and workout analyst Bruno De Julio talks about the difficulty in gauging Kentucky Derby prospects and the federal case against trainers drugging horses. To listen, just click here.

Ciaran Thornton’s weekend pick

Saturday at Gulfstream

RACE NINE: No. 6 Soros (15-1)

This week’s stakes race play is the ninth race at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, the Unbridled Stakes. Soros ran fifth March 27 making the first start since November. Watch the race replay and you will see why I like this horse Saturday at this great 15-1 morning line. Asleep for most of the race, Soros woke up late on the inside post moving from seven lengths back. Past the finish line, the jockey had to pull up Soros as he surged and stop him from running into the winner on the gallop out. As you know the “after the line” gallop out is an angle I like to look for especially with horses coming off the bench and then racing longer next out. Soros gets extra distance Saturday to work with against a suspect favorite. Soros Dam has eight winners from nine starters including two stakes winners. Trainer Gustavo Delgada is winning 22% from his small stable this year and you know how I love value plays from small stables in big races.

Last week’s result: Get One More was never involved and looked to be an excuse for the owners to have a day at the races.

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 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.

“Three allowance events, including the track’s first race at 1,000 yards, will headline the nine-race program on Friday at Los Alamitos. First post is 6 p.m.

“The first of the allowances will be held in the third race, an eight-horse field at 870-yards for a purse of $18,000. The fourth race is a $14,000 allowance for quarter horses and thoroughbreds at 1,000 yards. Los Alamitos has carded 990-yard races for quarter horses in past years with Full Gage, an Oklahoma-bred gelding, setting the track record of 53.24 on Nov. 29, 1991. Ten horses will go in this race.

Ramon Guce, this track’s all-time leading thoroughbred rider, will ride Princess Ashlyn in the third race and Tromador in the fourth. The ‘Goose’ won nine races here last weekend including back-to-back four-win nights on Saturday and Sunday. He’s the meet’s overall leading rider with 45 wins.

“The third allowance event is for quarter horses in the ninth race. The $10,800 allowance will be 300 yards and will be headed by Victorio Jess JQM, who posted a half-length victory at this distance on March 27. Friday’s card will also include a race for juveniles making their debuts. Diva On Fire, a $210,000 purchase at the Ruidoso Sale, is one of the seven in this 300-yard race. She is a full sister to AQHA champion and Grade 1 winner Jess Walking Thru and a half-sister to AQHA champion and Grade 1 winner Sass Me Blue and stakes winner Jess Being Valiant.

“Saturday’s card kicks off with a nice sequence for the track’s early Pick Four with fields of 9, 10, 8 and 8 featured as part of the wager. The main event is the ninth race, as eight quarter horses going 330 yards for an $11,160 purse. Diamond Rock is among the headliners as the Parsons Rock gelding comes in after running fourth in the Grade 3, $213,300 El Primero Del Año Derby. The field has a couple of Grade 1 stakes winners including Tell Cartel, the top 3-year-old on the grounds. A multiple graded stakes finalist, Diamond Rock had a solid outing when running second in his El Primero trial two races ago. Others in the field include 2019 PCQHRA Breeders Futurity finalists One Sweet Change and Up For Speed and AQHA Juvenile Challenge winner Giving Freely.

“Racing continues at Los Alamitos on Sunday with first post around 5:05 p.m.”

Chris Wade’s LA pick for Friday

RACE EIGHT: No. 1 Hoodalum (9-2)

He comes from the hottest barns in quarter horse racing right now in Monty Arrossa, who is hitting at a 26% clip over the last 30 nights of racing. Hoodalum loves the inside post having won won out of his three victories from the rail. He was fifth in his last start when the 4-year-old broke slow and was bumped back to lose over a length at the start. He came to finish well while under light urging and came close to a superfecta placing. He should be able to get away from the gate a lot better now that he draws the inside slot and should give his backers nice value.

Chris Wade’s LA pick for Saturday

RACE SEVEN: No. 5 Prize in Excess (9-2)

He just finished a solid second versus Jsgstrokerslittlesis, who is the probable favorite in here, and he did it despite a typical less than stellar start throughout 36 nights ago. Prize In Excess got a tad rambunctious in the gate prior to bobbling inward at the start to lose about 3/4’s of a length putting himself behind the eight-ball right from the get-go. He showed a nice turn of foot to be right there near the front only to come up a head short of the win when drifting in slightly nearing the wire. A slight improvement on his getaway could land this solid runner on all the board placings and at a nice price.

A final thought

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That’s all for now, we’ll see you next Friday.