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Horse racing newsletter: Golden Gate to re-open next week

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Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as Jon White gives us his thoughts after the Arkansas Derby and Ron Flatter talks about a Belmont Stakes from long ago.

The big news this week is that Golden Gate Fields got to go-ahead to resume live racing next week starting on Thursday. The question remains, though, if the Los Angeles Public Health Dept. will follow the lead of the Alameda County Public Health Dept.?

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As everyone probably knows, Santa Anita has announced it plans to resume live racing next Friday pending approval of local authorities. My guess is Santa Anita will re-open on Friday. Golden Gate getting the OK is a good sign for Santa Anita. So is the re-opening of golf courses. But, you need to realize how politicized this issue has become. That’s not good for anyone, regardless of which side you are on.

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In other news, a Baltimore television station reported that the Preakness has been rescheduled for Oct. 3. The Maryland Jockey Club, essentially the Stronach Group, denied it and said it is looking at several dates. Should that happen, it would make the Triple Crown order, perhaps, the Belmont Stakes, Kentucky Derby and then the Preakness. And the Belmont is a big maybe since racing hasn’t resumed in New York. There is also the issue of how horses train up to a 1 ½-mile race first. (More on that from Ron Flatter below.) But, I’m sure the trainers can figure that out.

If racing resumes at Santa Anita next Friday, it is the hope that the newsletter goes back to four days a week. But, like everything else in our lives, nothing is for sure right now.

On to the good stuff.

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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“There is a new 3-year-old at the top of this week’s Kentucky Derby Top 10. Charlatan has relinquished his No. 1 ranking.

“You might be wondering, ‘What? How is that possible? Charlatan still isn’t No. 1? What in the world has he done wrong?’

“Well, Charlatan has done absolutely nothing wrong. He’s still undefeated. The smooth-moving Kentucky-bred Speightstown colt, trained by Bob Baffert, is three for three. Charlatan won the first division of last Saturday’s Arkansas Derby by six emphatic lengths as the 2-5 favorite. That followed victories at Santa Anita by 5 1/2 and 10 1/4 lengths.

“So, who then is the new No. 1? It’s none other than Nadal, who likewise is a talented 3-year-old trained by Baffert. Nadal won the second division of the Arkansas Derby by three lengths as the 4-5 favorite to keep his unblemished record intact. The powerfully built Kentucky-bred Blame colt now is four for four.

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“My Top 10 is a list of 3-year-olds ranked in order of who has the best chance to win the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5. At the present time, I believe Nadal has a slightly better chance than Charlatan of winning the 1 1/4-mile Run for the Roses. Hence, I have elevated Nadal to the top spot.

“Not only did Nadal win the much stronger division of the Arkansas Derby, he posted a faster final time than Charlatan. Nadal completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.34. Charlatan’s clocking was 1:48.49.

“Nadal’s time of 1:48.34 was the fastest by an Arkansas Derby winner since Concern’s 1:48.00 back in 1994. Concern would go on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic that year. American Pharoah won the 2015 Arkansas Derby in 1:48.52 before sweeping the Triple Crown. American Pharoah, like Concern, completed his 3-year-old campaign by winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“Charlatan’s 1:48.49 Arkansas Derby clocking also was better than American Pharoah’s. That’s another indication of just how well Charlatan ran last Saturday, even though his final time was not as fast as Nadal’s.

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“Going back to 1994, the 1:48.34 clocking by Nadal also was faster than other Arkansas Derby winners such as Victory Gallop in 1998 (149.80), Smarty Jones in 2004 (1:49.41), Afleet Alex in 2005 (148.80), Lawyer Ron in 2006 (1:51.38), Curlin in 2007 (1:50.00), Bodemeister in 2012 (1:48.71) and Omaha Beach in 2019 (1:49.91).

“Another reason I made the decision to move Nadal into the top spot is he demonstrated last Saturday that he can win even when he does not get the early lead. That’s something Charlatan has yet to prove he can do.

“Last Saturday, Nadal rated nicely for jockey Joel Rosario when racing just a bit off pacesetter Wells Bayou in the early stages. Nadal moved to the front approaching the quarter pole, drew clear to have a 1 1/2-length lead with a furlong to go, then came home strongly to increase his advantage in the final furlong. He ran the final eighth of a mile in an excellent :12.71. Even though Charlatan’s lead grew from 4 1/2 to six lengths in the last furlong of his race, his final-furlong clocking of :13.16 was slower than Nadal’s.

“Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman put it well when he wrote of Nadal that ‘his ability to press a strong pace and still finish makes him formidable.’

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“Nadal is the first 3-year-old male to win three graded stakes races this year. Prior to the Arkansas Derby, Nadal won Santa Anita’s Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs and Oaklawn’s Grade 2 Rebel Stakes on a sloppy track at 1 1/16 miles.

“In light of Nadal’s win last weekend, Marty McGee has him as the 7-2 favorite in Daily Racing Form’s odds for the Kentucky Derby. Charlatan and Florida Derby winner Tiz the Law are co-second choices at 4-1. Authentic, yet another undefeated 3-year-old trained by Baffert, is 6-1. Honor A.P. and Maxfiield are each 15-1. Everyone else is 20-1 or higher.

“Nadal, Charlatan and Authentic -- a combined 10 for 10 -- have been described as being ‘three pretty wicked amigos’ by Baffert, who also has said that they ‘all are superstar material.’

“Authentic worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 at Santa Anita last Saturday. Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen wrote that Baffert said Authentic’s workout was ‘fantastic’ and added, ‘He did that in a high gallop.’

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“Unbeaten in three career starts, Authentic won Santa Anita’s Sham Stakes by almost eight lengths on Jan. 4 and the San Felipe Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths on March 7. The Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt is being aimed for the Santa Anita Derby, which is for June 6.

“Honor A.P., trained by John Shirreffs, also is eyeing the Santa Anita Derby. The Kentucky-bred Honor Code ridgling finished second to Authentic in the San Felipe. Honor A.P. stepped five furlongs last Saturday morning at Santa Anita in 1:00.00, a workout termed excellent by Shirreffs.

“American Theorem had been a candidate for the Santa Anita Derby, but he will be forced to miss the race due to a ‘shin issue,’ Victor Ryan reported for horseracingnation.com. American Theorem worked five furlongs in a brisk :58.60 at Santa Anita on April 17, but the son of American Pharoah now will get some time off, according to trainer George Papaprodromou.

“Second in last year’s American Pharoah Stakes at Santa Anita, American Theorem finished seventh in Oaklawn’s Rebel in his only 2020 start. He was part of a spirited battle for the early lead in the Rebel with Nadal and No Parole. Nadal won the Rebel despite being involved in the hot pace, but American Theorem lost by 27 1/4 lengths and No Parole by 49 lengths. No Parole returned to win a six-furlong race at Oaklawn on April 24.

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“The Santa Anita Derby originally was scheduled for April 4 with a $1 million purse, but it was postponed when live racing was halted. The purse is now $400,000. Ever since Churchill Downs began its points system in 2013, the Santa Anita Derby has been worth 170 points toward starting eligibility in the Kentucky Derby on a 100-40-20-10 scale.

“Nadal is the current leader in Kentucky Derby points with 150. The others with 50 or more are Tiz the Law (122), Wells Bayou (104), Charlatan (100), King Guillermo (90), Ete Indien (74), Modernist (70), Authentic (60) and Mr. Monomoy (52).

“Meanwhile, it looks like undefeated Maxfield will make his long-awaited return in the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 23. The first four finishers in the 1 1/16-mile race will be rewarded with 10-4-2-1 points toward the $3 million Kentucky Derby.

“Trained by Brendan Walsh, Maxfield was two for two last year. He has not raced since his scintillating 5 1/2-length come-from-behind victory in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last Oct. 5. Maxfield was withdrawn from the Nov. 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita when all was not well, then underwent surgery on Nov. 18 for what was reported to be ‘a mildly displaced chip from an ankle.’

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“Maxfield, a Kentucky-bred Street Sense colt, worked six furlongs in 1:13.20 at Keeneland last Saturday. His sire won the 2007 Kentucky Derby.

Sole Volante, who is ranked No. 8 on my Top 10, and Ete Indien, who is No. 9, both had workouts Wednesday in Florida at Palm Meadows for trainer Patrick Biancone. Both colts were timed in :50.60 for four furlongs. Sole Volante won the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 8 before finishing second to King Guillermo in the Tampa Bay Derby. Ete Indien won the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 29 before finishing second to Tiz the Law in the Florida Derby.

“Tiz the Law worked five furlongs in 1:01.45 last Saturday at Palm Meadows. He currently is in a holding pattern while owner Sackatoga Stable and trainer Barclay Tagg patiently await a resumption of live racing in New York and the announcement of a Belmont Park stakes schedule. A Kentucky-bred Constitution colt, Tiz the Law won Gulfstream’s Holy Bull Stakes by three lengths on Feb. 1 prior to his 4 1/4-length Florida Derby triumph on March 28. Sackatoga and Tagg won the 2003 Kentucky Derby with Funny Cide.

“A newcomer to my Top 10 this week is a 3-year-old who has not even raced yet, Cezanne. Purchased by Coolmore and partners for $3.65 million at a 2-year-old sale in Florida last year, Cezanne has recorded some sharp recent workouts for Baffert at Santa Anita, such as four furlongs in :47.60 on April 22 and five furlongs in :59.80 on April 30. The Kentucky-bred Curlin colt had a five-furlong workout in 1:01.40 at Santa Anita on Wednesday.

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“Baffert, who has won the Kentucky Derby five times, has said he looks at Cezanne as a 3-year-old who has the potential to possibly have a strong second half of the year a la Arrogate in 2016 and West Coast in 2017. That’s primarily why I have gone ahead and added Cezanne to my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week.

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

1. Nadal (2)

2. Charlatan (1)

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3. Tiz the Law (3)

4. Authentic (5)

5. Honor A.P. (4)

6. Maxfield (6)

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7. King Guilleremo (9)

8. Sole Volante (7)

9. Ete Indien (8)

10. Cezanne (NR)

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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 Belmont Stakes from way back when. Ron, you’re up.

“John Shirreffs is not only an accomplished trainer, but he is clearly a student of racing history. At least he is to me.

“This first became clear last month, when I recounted in this newsletter my memories of Zenyatta’s unrequited duel with Rachel Alexandra. It was reinforced after a conversation with Shirreffs for a separate assignment this week.

“He replied each time with text messages that were keepers, and they are worth sharing if only to be sure history is not forgotten.

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“The first part of this tale is a postscript to Zenyatta vs. Rachel. The rivalry truly ended in March 2010, when trainer Steve Asmussen and the late owner Jess Jackson pulled the plug. They decided not to send Rachel Alexandra into the Apple Blossom Handicap that would be won by Zenyatta during her 19-race winning streak.

“The impetus for their decision was Rachel’s upset loss that month in the inaugural New Orleans Ladies Stakes to Zardana, a stable mate of Zenyatta.

“And that is where Shirreffs picked up the story.

“’I had Zenyatta, Life Is Sweet and Zardana,’ he wrote, ‘and that was how they ranked in the barn.’

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“In 2009 the top two provided Shirreffs with a Breeders’ Cup double at Santa Anita. Zenyatta won the Classic the day after Life Is Sweet had taken the Distaff, then known as the Ladies’ Classic. Only Bill Mott in 2011 with Drosselmeyer and Royal Delta may also lay claim to that achievement.

“That Friday when Life Is Sweet had her big moment, Zardana was on the undercard, finishing a forgettable seventh in the Grade 2 Las Palmas Handicap on the Santa Anita turf.

“’Zardana was a very nice filly,’ he said. ‘But just for perspective she couldn’t beat Life Is Sweet, who couldn’t beat Zenyatta.’

“But Zardana could win a Grade 2 race a month later on the old, synthetic track at Hollywood Park. After she started her 6-year-old season with a fourth-place finish in another Grade 2 at Santa Anita, Shirreffs decided to use her as a measuring stick in New Orleans.

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“’I sent Zardana to run against Rachel to get a gauge,’ he said.

“He got his answer. So did Asmussen and Jackson. And deep down, maybe Shirreffs had a little more proof in his mind that Zenyatta should have been the 2009 Horse of the Year and not Rachel – although he did not say that.

“Move ahead to this week, when Shirreffs was at Santa Anita, and I was on the other end of a telephone conversation about his current 3-year-olds. In a story that I wrote for Horse Racing Nation, he said that Honor A. P. would make his next start against Authentic on June 6 in the Santa Anita Derby.

“I also asked Shirreffs about the published but unconfirmed gossip that the Belmont Stakes might be pushed to late June and shortened from its traditional 1½ miles. If it were, say, 1⅛ miles, he said that he would want Honor A. P. to be there.

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“Then he got nostalgic.

“’Actually they should make it a mile-and-five-eighths,’ he said. ‘Do something different. That was the original distance.’

“Even if you added our ages together and stacked our lives end to end, neither Shirreffs nor I could say we saw that first Belmont in 1867, when the filly Ruthless won at Jerome Park in what is now the Bronx.

“I actually had to look up those details. But Shirreffs knew the distance off the top of his head.

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“About the only pertinent, old fact that I could offer about the Belmont Stakes was that in 1919, when Sir Barton won what would become known as the Triple Crown, it was a right-handed race. Page 121 of the current New York Racing Association media guide says that the race did not turn counterclockwise at Belmont Park until 1921. Based on his polite acknowledgment of that, I think Shirreffs already knew.

“A few hours after our conversation my telephone vibrated with what seemed to be a text. Instead, though, it was an MMS from Shirreffs. The image he sent was from the yellowed page of a ‘Belmont Park Official Souvenir.’ It was something from another era, again before either of us was born.

“Just underneath the heading that read ‘History of the Belmont Stakes from the beginning’ was a diagram of the track as it was laid out in 1867 at Jerome Park. It showed a half-mile chute with the slightest bend to the left before it met the main track at the top of the stretch. After that the first turn looked normal. So did the final turn.

“But the backstretch was a whole different story. It had a sweeping left turn followed by a big right turn, dividing the kidney-shaped infield virtually in two. It all seemed so arbitrary. But at the top of the page a handwritten note from Shirreffs explained it. ‘Clubhouse on the hill. The horses had to run around the hill.’

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“And in the middle of the page, next to a photograph of August Belmont himself, there was an arrow drawn in the direction of the pertinent condition. ‘One mile and five furlongs.’

“This is not to suggest that Honor A. P. will be going 13 furlongs next month. Instead, Shirreffs found himself someone who will happily gobble up every bit of history that he makes available.

“Who knows what he may have in his files about the 1893 and 1894 runnings of the Belmont? Those were the only times that the race went just 1⅛ miles – at least until this year.

“I am betting that Shirreffs already knew that.”

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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 Las Vegas handicapper Richard Eng discusses betting during the pandemic, trainer Ken McPeek talks about Kentucky Oaks favorite Swiss Skydiver, and Racing Post’s Scott Burton handicaps Monday’s resumption of racing in France. Just click here.

Ciaran Thornton’s Friday pick

RACE FOUR: No. 8 Jeeker Joe (10-1)

Too many of my weekend stakes picks have been scratching of late so Friday I am taking a different approach. With Santa Anita closed I have been playing the online horse player tournaments more. These require you to look for big value plays to win. Friday’s play is my value play from Gulfstream Park, race four. Jeeker Joe makes the 1st start since August for trainer Jose D’Angelo who is winning 29% on turf. This horse takes a tumble in class today and is risked for a claim. What jumps out is jockey Tyler Gaffalione is also enticed to ride for the first time for this trainer.The horse has the top class in here. Jeeker has a lot of early speed so today they take the blinkers off and that should ensure we get a nice tracking trip and a late surge for the win at 10-1. Jeeker went off as the favorite in the previous two starts so there were high expectations at higher levels last year.

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 for a few more days is the only game in California. Orlando, the floor is yours.

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“Friday’s eight-race card gets started at 6 p.m. and will be headed by a Pick Six carryover of $20,764. The Pick Six begins in the third race – a 10-horse field of quarter horses going 300 yards – with a post time around 6:56 p.m. With the new money expected to be wagered the total Pick Six pool could be more than $100,000.

“The main event is the eighth, an allowance with a $13,100 purse. Bad Likker, who won a trial in the Los Alamitos Maiden Stakes but was scratched in the final, is back for the second time since that trial win. This field will include Come Forth, a Governor’s Cup Futurity finalist last year, and Sounds Good, who ran third to Up And Coming in the James Smith Memorial Handicap on April 5.

“Friday’s card will also have nine-horse fields in each of the three races for juvenile runners. Here are the field sizes for each of the eighth races on Friday night: 8,8,10,9,9,7,9 and 7.

“Four of the top six finishers in the $403,500 Los Alamitos Oaks will meet again in the La Pacifica Handicap for 3-year-old fillies on Saturday night.

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“The field will be headed by Oaks runner-up Southern Wagon, a daughter of PYC Paint Your Wagon who was bumped twice during the early stages of the Oaks before flying late to finish second. Jose Nicasio returns aboard Southern Wagon for the red-hot barn of Monty Arrossa.

“Suite Expectations was third in the Oaks after flashing terrific speed early on. Prior to her top three finish in the Oaks final, the Apollitical Jess filly ran huge in the trials when coming back from fifth to win her heat. Javelina Cantina finished fourth in the Oaks and while still a maiden, she has never finished out of the money in back-to-back races. Terra Fire, who was sixth in the Oaks, All Prettied Up, One Sweet Change and Fashin Icon completed the field.

“The early Pick Four on Sunday, which is the first four races on card, will feature fields of 8, 8, 9 and 10 horses. The main event is the ninth race, a $15,000 allowance at 350 yards. This field will include 2018 Grade I futurity finalist Deceiver and 2019 Grade II derby finalist Galloping Goddess.

“The purse for the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby at 1 1/8th miles will now have a $150,000 purse – up $50,000 from the stakes scheduled announced for the Summer thoroughbred meet that begins Friday, June 26. The Los Alamitos Derby will be held on Saturday, July 4. The Grade 2, $200,000 Great Lady M Stakes will also be a part of the holiday card.”

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Chris Wade’s LA pick for Friday

RACE SIX: No. 3 Talayo (4-1)

He is an improving runner from the barn of Jesus Mendoza, who is building a solid stable of quarter horses. Talayo broke through the gate before the start of his last race and once reloaded, he finished a strong second against repeat winner She Runs By You. He also posted a nice effort two outings ago and fits nicely against this group. If he can mind his gate manners Friday, he could return a nice reward to his backers.

Chris Wade’s LA pick for Saturday


RACE NINE: No. 1 All Prettied Up (10-1)

She is sharp as a tack as we speak and has earned strong numbers on my charts in three straight efforts. She now faces high-caliber fillies in the La Pacifica Handicap yet her early speed should hold and she will represent a top-notch owner/trainer combo. In her most recent start 14 nights ago, this filly broke on the lead and looked to be on her way to her second consecutive win before the classy male Diamond Rock caught her right on the wire. A clean getaway and a typical effort from this filly should put her in contention at a nice 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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Any thoughts, you can reach me at john.cherwa@latimes.com. You can also feed my ego by following me on Twitter @jcherwa.
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That’s all for now, we’ll see you next Friday.


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