Horse racing newsletter: Santa Anita shoots for May 15 re-opening
Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we are saddened by the passing of R.D. Hubbard but confident he squeezed everything he could out of life.
Another week in the books and the big news is Santa Anita is planning for a May 15 re-opening. On Wednesday, Santa Anita’s boss, Aidan Butler, sent a letter to the Thoroughbred Owners of California, California Thoroughbred Trainers and the Jockey Guild to prepare for the track to resume live spectator-less racing.
But there is a caveat, the track still needs approval from local authorities.
Off to the races
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“This coincides with the expiration of LA County’s current Safer-At-Home order and following California Governor Gavin Newsom’s comments on Tuesday that the state could begin to relax the current COVID-19 restrictions in the next few weeks.
“… Horse racing is unique as we cannot literally open the doors the moment orders are relaxed. Horsemen need time to plan, which is why the tentative date is being put forth.”
Butler went on to say, “this resumption would be subject to the stringent restrictions which were included in the plan and protocols currently under consideration” by the county commissioners and health department.
So, we’ll see how things go the next few weeks. A condition book was posted on Thursday.
This move forward does not include Golden Gate Fields, also owned by the Stronach Group and overseen by Butler.
And before we leave the topic of the new abnormal, PBS replayed a past American Experience (one of my favorite series) from 1998 on “Influenza 1918.” It’s worth a watch and comparing how things are different, and how they are the same with what we are experiencing today. Just click here to watch. Stay smart. Stay safe.
R.D. Hubbard, R.I.P.
On Wednesday, Dee Hubbard, one of racing’s biggest and boldest personalities died at his home in Palm Desert. He was 84. You can read the obit I did, just click here.
I first met Dee when I was covering quarter-horse races late on Saturday night at Los Alamitos for the Orange County Edition of The Times. One of the tricks of covering a late race in the print-only days is you had to have all but a few paragraphs of the story written before the race was run. Then when you knew the winner, you had five-to-10 minutes to file a story.
So, you would find the owners of the horse you thought was going to win and do a feature on the horse, owner, trainer or jockey. Many times, I sat with Dee while he chowed down on a steak early in a Los Al card figuring his horse was going to win. (Now, if his horse lost, about the fourth paragraph, you would add in a line: “But it wasn’t to be Saturday night.” Then you would list the winner and prices and go back to the feature you pre-wrote before the race.)
I got to know him even better when he started to mount a hostile takeover of Hollywood Park. I wrote a couple of investigatory pieces on both he and Marje Everett, as lawyers from both sides were throwing dirt at me daily, which I then had to sift through for the truth.
Despite some uncomplimentary stories, he was never rude, combative or held it against me. He would instead joke about it and poke fun at me.
On the first racing day with him as the boss at Hollywood Park, the great Bill Christine was assigned the big story and my job was to spend the day with Dee and write a sidebar. (You can read it here.) Once again, he gave me almost complete access as he walked through the crowd like a horse racing messiah. He let me in the back rooms and places I shouldn’t be allowed.
He loved to bet and went to the windows often. At one point, he was betting an exacta box on a horse he owned. As a reminder, he was betting that his horse could finish second.
“You can’t write I did this,” Hubbard said. “Owners aren’t allowed to bet against their own horse.”
Racing is full of charcters. He was certainly one of them. Anyone who knew him, will miss him. R.I.P.
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.
“Yes, there will be a Derby on the first Saturday in May this year. No, there will not be any mint juleps or the singing of ‘My Old Kentucky Home.’ And, sorry, the public is not invited to Saturday’s Derby.
“It’s the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park rather than the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs that horse racing fans will be watching and wagering on Saturday. But fans must view the Arkansas Derby from somewhere other than at Oaklawn due to racing being conducted sans spectators at that track these days because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This year’s 146th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby has been moved to Sept. 5. It’s the first time since 1945 that the Kentucky Derby has not been run on the first Saturday in May. In 1945, when the United States was in the throes of World War II, the Kentucky Derby was held on June 9.
“After Churchill Downs announced that this year’s Run for the Roses would be on Sept. 5, Oaklawn stepped up and shifted its Arkansas Derby from April 11 to Saturday.
“Bob Baffert holds a strong hand in this year’s Arkansas Derby, which will be run in two divisions. He is sending out the morning-line favorite in each division.
“Charlatan, undefeated and untested in two career starts, is the even-money morning-line favorite in the first division. Victorious in two races at Santa Anita by a combined 16 lengths, the Kentucky-bred Speightstown colt is making his stakes debut Saturday.
“Nadal, undefeated in three lifetime starts, is the 5-2 favorite in the second division. The Kentucky-bred Blame colt is a two-time stakes winner. He won Santa Anita’s San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 9, then took Oaklawn’s Rebel Stakes on a sloppy track March 14.
“Charlatan ranks No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. Nadal is No. 2. The Arkansas Derby also has lured two others on my Top 10: King Guillermo (No. 9) and Wells Bayou (No. 10).
“Two of the 22 Arkansas Derby entrants reportedly will not start. Trainer Peter Eurton said Tuesday that he would be scratching Shooters Shoot -- entered in the first division -- because the colt had developed a fever. Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reported Tuesday that Fast Enough -- entered in the second division -- would miss the Arkansas Derby after emerging from a four-furlong workout in :47.00 last Sunday at Santa Anita with a shin injuiry.
“Considered the main threats to Charlatan in the first division are Gouverneur Morris (9-2 morning line), Anneau d’Or (6-1) and Basin (8-1).
“After Gouverneur Morris just barely missed a track record by .02 seconds at Tampa Bay Downs in his 2020 debut on Feb. 14, he finished fourth in the Florida Derby on March 28. Anneau d’Or, who was narrowly beaten last year in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Los Alamitos Futurity, needs to rebound after finishing ninth in a division of the Risen Star Stakes in Louisiana on Feb. 15. Basin, winner of Saratoga’s Hopeful Stakes last year, is winless in two starts this year.
“Prominent among Nadal’s foes in the second and seemingly much stronger division are King Guillermo (3-1), Wells Bayou (7-2) and Storm the Court (6-1).
“King Guillermo won the Tampa Bay Derby by 4 3/4 lengths at odds of 49-1 in his first 2020 start on March 7. Storm the Court, who resides at Eurton’s Santa Anita barn, won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year in a 45-1 shocker. In his two starts this year, however, Storm the Court finished fourth in the San Vicente and third in Santa Anita’s San Felipe Stakes on March 7. Wells Bayou led from start to finish when he took the Louisiana Derby by 1 1/2 lengths on March 21.
“Each division of the Arkansas Derby has a purse of $500,000. Additionally, each division has 170 points up for grabs to the first four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 scale toward securing a spot in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby starting gate.
“The Arkansas Derby is especially important for Charlatan in that he’s going into the race with zero Kentucky Derby points.
“Florida Derby winner Tiz the Law is the current leader in Kentucky Derby points with 122. The other horses with 50 or more points, listed in order of how they rank in terms of starting preference, are Wells Bayou (104), Ete Indien (74), Modernist (70), Authentic (60), Mr. Monomoy (52), Nadal (50), Mischievious Alex (50), Ny Traffic (50) and King Guillermo (50). If two or more horses have the same number of points, the tiebreaker is earnings in non-restricted stakes races.
“The Arkansas Derby is the last of the originally scheduled races offering points toward the 2020 Kentucky Derby. Churchill Downs will be adding more races worth Kentucky Derby points, but the additional races have yet to be announced.
“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 new road to the Kentucky Derby. Ron, you’re up.
“Presuming there are any horses left to race in them, Saturday’s split runnings of the Arkansas Derby will be the last of the scheduled points preps for the Kentucky Derby.
“With four of the original 22 entries scratched, Charlatan and Nadal have fewer obstacles between them and a Bob Baffert sweep of this weekend’s twin features at Oaklawn Park. Nadal will still have it tougher in his race, but both will be favored. With victories they should have the points necessary to get into the Sept. 5 renewal of the Kentucky Derby.
“So what happens the next four months? Well, really the next three months, since there is no chance of a Derby prep after Aug. 8. How will the remapped prep season look?
“With the blessing of the government in Kentucky, Churchill Downs has quickly cobbled together plans to get its delayed spring meet started Saturday, May 16, the day normally set aside for the Preakness in Baltimore.
“With Santa Anita setting Friday, May 15, for its reopening and presumed blessing from Los Angeles County, and with the New York Racing Association making noise about getting started soon at Belmont Park, is it too early to think about makeshift Derby preps? Here are some races that are bound to be on the calendar:
“Matt Wynn Stakes. It is at Churchill Downs. It is an 8½-furlong Grade 3. Presuming it is run Saturday, May 30, why not? Would it be worth 100 points to the winner? That is a whole nuther question.
“Santa Anita Derby. This is a slam-dunk. It has been rescheduled for Saturday, June 6, which would have been the day of the Belmont Stakes. (Even though NYRA has not formally postponed it, does anyone really believe that the Triple Crown will open with a 1½-mile race before any 3-year-old has gone 1¼ miles?) The purse for the Santa Anita Derby has been reduced from $1 million to $400,000, but Churchill Downs has already set a precedent this year with the Arkansas Derby by not cutting its prep points. So it should be a win-and-you’re-in for the Kentucky Derby.
“Los Alamitos Derby. Dare to dream, right, Doc Allred? The race is already set for July 4. The only question may be whether Churchill Downs gives a Grade 3 race worth only $100,000 the full 100-40-20-10 points treatment. With two months left in the reconfigured prep season, maybe it would be a 50-pointer.
“The race to be named. The only 3-year-old stakes that is usually on the Del Mar calendar is the Shared Belief in late August. When the Derby was pushed back to Labor Day weekend, it was quickly suggested that a special stakes could be written and run in late July or early August. Remember, it does not have to be graded to get Churchill’s blessing. Just look at the Springboard Mile, the Jerome and the El Camino Real Derby. Again, the question would be how many points to hang on it.
“Haskell Invitational. Right now the race is scheduled for Saturday, July 18. But that date was set before opening day of the Monmouth Park summer meet was pushed back from May 23 to the weekend of July 4. Just as important, it was also set before the Kentucky Derby was postponed. Whenever it is scheduled, it is should be a 100-pointer, even if the $1 million purse gets a shave. Even if the bosses at Monmouth do not want to say it out loud, they would have to work around Saratoga. Speaking of which ...
“Jim Dandy Stakes and Travers Stakes. This is where the calendar and conditions get tricky. The Aug. 29 date for the Travers would have to be moved up to Aug. 1 or 8. The $1.25 million purse might be cut, but what about the 1¼-mile distance of the race? And what would that in turn do to the 1⅛-mile Jim Dandy, which is penciled in for Aug. 1? Moving it back into July might allow Saratoga to host two Derby preps.
“This list does not take into account races such as the Iowa Derby on July 5, the Indiana Derby on July 11 and an unwritten stakes on the synthetic track at Churchill Downs-operated Arlington Park. This presumes they all open this summer and run schedules close to what they have in the past.
“Of course, the racing leaders in Kentucky have already thought of all this. It is just a matter now of putting it all on paper – and hoping that nothing else happens to alter their plans. One big derailment, after all, is quite enough for one lifetime.
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 trainer Bob Baffert discusses the Arkansas Derby and his own future in California, quantitative stock analyst and horseplayer Tony Zhou talks about computer handicapping, and Vinny Magliulo and Kate Hunter handicap this weekend’s Arkansas Derby and Tennō Shō. To listen, just click here.
Ciaran Thornton’s weekend pick
Saturday at Oaklawn Park
Race 11: No. 7 Wrecking Crew (20-1)
We head to Oaklawn Park on Saturday for this week’s value play to the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. Twenty-two horses were entered so the race has been split into two divisions. We all know about the Bob Baffert horses but we want to make some money if we can on some value horses. Wrecking Crew is a Peter Miller horse that ships in and brings Flavien Prat to ride and that is significant to me. He has not ridden since the lockdown and flies to Oaklawn Friday to ride. The only career win for Wrecking Crew was the debut race when Prat rode. We see some very nice workouts in preparation for a trainer who fires off some very big wins when he heads out of California. 20-1 is a great price. Charlatan is going to be very tough in this race with Martin Garcia riding for Baffert. This tandem is five for five and Baffert is 55% at the meet. Use both in exotics along with Winning Impression and My Friends Beer. Wrecking Crew, Charlatan, Winning Impression and My Friends Beer in trifecta and exacta boxes looking for the favorite to be beat.
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 media 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.
“Eight races are on tap for the Friday night card starting at 6 p.m. Cole Man 47, a Grade 2 stakes winner with more than $245,438 in career earnings, will make his first start since September, 2019, when he heads the $11,825 eighth race.
“Cole Man 47 won the Grade 2 PCQHRA Breeders Futurity and John Deere California Juvenile Challenge during his outstanding 2-year-old campaign in 2018. He had a solid sophomore season in which he posted a runner-up effort in the Governor’s Cup Derby and qualified to the Los Alamitos Winter Derby. He was a winner in his last start of 2019 when held off the stakes winning filly Wicked Affair in a trial to the PCHRA Breeders Derby. He has been on the sidelines since that race. Carlos Huerta will ride Cole Man 47 for trainer Paul Jones. He will face a group that includes 2019 Winter Derby finalist John Carter Cash and Delta Down’s Firecracker Derby winner Santander.
“Saturday’s nine-race program will be headed by the Grade 3 Kaweah Bar Handicap at 350 yards. Seven top older horses will be in action with four of them boasting a stakes victory at Los Alamitos. The field will be headed by Tac Me Up, the winner of the Cypress Handicap on Jan. 17 and most recently the third-place finisher in the Mr Jet Moore Handicap on March 21. He was also second in the Grade 2, $169,000 Southern California Derby last year. Eduardo Nicasio will ride for AQHA champion trainer Chris O’Dell.
“Chocolatito won the Dillingham Handicap last year and was a top performer in many derbies here last year. He was fourth in the Southern California Derby when making a big late run after leaving the gate in ninth place. He was second by a nose in the PCQHRA Breeders Derby and fifth in the Grade 2 Golden State Derby. To be ridden by Vinnie Bednar for trainer Scott Willoughby, Chocolatito will start from the one. The other recent stakes winners in this event are Alamode and Rite Quick, a stakes winner at 110-yards but also a three-time runner-up at 350 yards.
“The trials to the Grade 2 Robert Adair Kindergarten Futurity will headline the Sunday program. Sixty-four juveniles will be in action in the 300-yard trials with the horses with the 10 fastest times returning for the final on Sunday, May 17. Maiden winners Oreeo, All Thats Considered, Jet Wings One and Unstoppable One are among those entered in the trials. First post time is about 5:05 p.m.
“Los Alamitos had a record handle last Saturday. The handle for the nine-race card was $2,843,573 eclipsing the previous mark of $2,466,567 wagered a night earlier on Friday. Saturday’s card included a record early Pick Four pool of $442,781.”
Chris Wade’s LA pick for Friday
RACE SIX: No. 4 The Best Feeling (5-1)
She has shown a good amount of ability in a pair of “better than looked” morning preps. In her most recent daylight spin 15 days ago, she broke a little slow and then was brushed inward to lose about a length of ground right from the start. After a less than stellar start, this runner put forth a big run midway down the lane to garner the front end and showed that she had much run left in the tank. She earned a solid B+ grade from our workout analysis and that compares favorably in this affair. In a closely matched full field of baby firsters, we have a feeling that this improving sort should be a contender for all the board placings for a solid jockey/trainer combo.
Chris Wade’s LA pick for Saturday
RACE SEVEN: No. 3 Walk Around (6-1)
She has earned many a competitive figure for this endeavor and the hard knocker just put up a career best number on my charts for new connections. In said affair 29 nights ago, this filly got slightly fractious prior to breaking slow and outward to lose a length and a half right from the get go. After the tough getaway, the good looker put forth a big run past the gap to reach a semblance of contention to the perfect tripped victor and then finished well under light pressure for a better than looked runner-up placing. With a competitive number in tow and an expected better start Saturday, I’ll push this runner steadily to be a contender at a medium mutual for a solid jockey/trainer (24%) combo.
A final thought
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That’s all for now, we’ll see you next Friday.
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