Horse racing newsletter: No racing at Del Mar this week

Horses leave the gates during the opening race of Del Mar's summer meeting in 2012.
(Benoit Photo via Associated Press)

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome to our horse racing newsletter, as we get ready for a big Haskell in New Jersey this weekend.

Well, quite a week in racing, as it seems to be a lot of these weeks. The big headline is that Del Mar canceled racing this weekend amid an outbreak of the coronavirus in the jockey colony. Once the jockeys pass a 10-day quarantine, and pass another test, then racing may continue. Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune had a story on what happened. Just click here.

In other news:

— Here are rescheduled stakes races at Del Mar: Friday, July 24: Daisycutter Handicap; Saturday, July 25: San Diego Handicap, Smiling Tiger; Sunday, July 26: Eddie Read.

— Los Alamitos has had two more equine deaths since being placed on probation last week by the CHRB. The track has turned in a proposal to increase safety at the track. You can learn all about it in this story. Just click here.


— Trainer Bob Baffert was given a 15-day suspension by the Arkansas Racing Commission after Charlatan and Gamine tested positive on May 2. Both horses were disqualified. Baffert plans to appeal. Here’s the story. Just click here.

— The CHRB had a meeting by teleconference on Thursday and it was mostly uneventful as everything that was on the agenda was passed or sent forward for comment.

And, finally, this will be the only newsletter this week with no racing at Del Mar. So, Ron Flatter, Rob Henie, Bob Ike and Ciaran Thornton (sort of ) get a couple of days off. As do I. Back next Friday.

On to the good stuff.

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Jon White’s Kentucky Derby rankings

As always, we’re lucky to have top expert Jon White take a look at what’s happening on the Triple Crown trail. Jon makes the morning line at Santa Anita, he’s a licensed steward, and he’s the preeminent historian on racing. We’re lucky to have him. So, here are his Kentucky Derby rankings, brought courtesy of

“Trainers have been known to splurge on an extravagant dinner after winning a stakes race. When Art Collector took last Saturday’s Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes by 3½ lengths at Keeneland, it was the first win in a graded stakes contest for trainer Tom Drury Jr.

“And what did Drury decide to do for a celebratory dinner? He had a frozen pizza and a cold beer.

“Art Collector’s Blue Grass performance has established him as a major player for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Sept. 5. He vaults all the way up to No. 3 this week in my Kentucky Derby rankings after being No. 9 last week.

“Art Collector, at age 3, has blossomed into one serious racehorse. He’s three for three this year, winning by 2¾, 6½ and the Blue Grass — his stakes debut — by 3½ lengths. He collected 100 qualifying points toward a spot in the 20-stall starting gate in the 2020 Kentucky Derby.

“According to Drury, Art Collector will either train up to the Kentucky Derby or possibly run in the 1 1/8-mile Ellis Park Derby on Aug. 9.

“The Ellis Park Derby’s purse of $200,000 is considerably smaller than the $600,000 that was up for grabs in the Blue Grass. Considering the smaller purse, if Art Collector does win it, what will Drury do then for dinner? Perhaps he will feel that would deserve only a single slice of pizza and half a glass of beer.

“Swiss Skydiver finished second in last Saturday’s 96th running of the Blue Grass. The only other filly to have ever run in the Blue Grass was Hattie Sue, who finished fifth in 1944.

“Though Swiss Skydiver did not win, she gave it an admirable try. She finished well clear of all but the winner. SoCal-based Rushie came in third, 4¾ lengths behind Swiss Skydiver.

“Even though Swiss Skydiver earned 40 Kentucky Derby points for running second, the Sept. 4 Kentucky Oaks is now on the agenda for her, not the Kentucky Derby, according to trainer Kenny McPeek. Consequently, Swiss Skydiver exits my Kentucky Derby rankings this week after being No. 8 last week.

“King Guillermo returns to my Kentucky Derby rankings this week at No. 9. He has not raced since finishing second to Nadal in a division of the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on May 2. The Uncle Mo colt then did not have any recorded workouts until he zipped four furlongs in :47.11 July 4 at Gulfstream Park. It was the fastest of 118 works at the distance that morning. That was followed by a four-furlong drill in :48.03 on July 11 at Gulfstream. It was eighth-fastest of 101 works at the distance that day.

“According to Daily Racing Form’s Derby Watch, King Guillermo will make his next start in the Kentucky Derby. It will be quite an achievement if King Guillermo wins the 1¼-mile Run for the Roses without having raced since May 2.

“For four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, it was a case of bad news and good news Thursday.

“First, the bad news. It was revealed that Structor, winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita, will not race this year. Brown told Daily Racing Form’s David Grening that Structor ‘got hurt, he needs more time off,’ while not providing any details.

“Now the good news. On Thursday at Saratoga, Brown sent out Country Grammer to win the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan Stakes (a race named after the 1907 Belmont Stakes winner). Irad Ortiz Jr. rode Country Grammer, who paid $10.20 to win.

“Fourth early Thursday, Country Grammer edged Caracaro by a neck. This was Country Grammer’s first stakes victory. In his only previous start in a stakes race, Country Grammer ran fifth in Gulfsrtream Park’s Fountain of Youth won by Ete Indien on Feb. 29.

“The first four finishers in the Peter Pan (Country Grammer, Caracaro, Mystic Guide and Celtic Striker) earned points toward the Kentucky Derby on a 50-20-10-5 scale.

“Brown has always held Country Grammer in high regard. The Peter Pan could indicate that Country Grammer is starting to put it all together. If that’s true, the timing is good because of the late Derby. The 1¼-mile Runhappy at Saratoga on Aug. 8 is likely next for Country Grammer, according to Brown.

“Country Grammer debuts in my rankings at No. 10.

“Caracoro had to settle for second in the Peter Pan, but he acquitted himself well in defeat. It was his first start since winning a one-mile maiden special weight race at Gulfstream on Jan. 11. The Peter Pan was his third lifetime start.

“Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P. retains the No. 1 spot in my Kentucky Derby rankings. The Honor Code ridgling is slated to make his next start in Del Mar’s 1 1/16-mile Shared Belief Stakes on Aug. 1.

“It appears the Shared Belief also will likely be the next start for Cezanne, who is No. 7 in my Kentucky Derby rankings. Cezanne, a $3.65-million auction purchase, is two for two. Bob Baffert trains the Curlin colt.

“Tiz the Law, No. 2 in my rankings, is headed for the Travers. Barclay Tagg trains the New York-bred Constitution colt. In three starts this year, Tiz the Law has won the Holy Bull Stakes in February, Florida Derby in March and Belmont Stakes in June.

“The Travers, likewise, probably is next for the Baffert-trained Uncle Chuck, who is No. 7 in the rankings. Uncle Chuck, like Cezanne, is two for two. An Uncle Mo colt, Uncle Chuck won the Los Alamitos Derby by four lengths on July 4.

“Uncle Chuck had an excellent workout Monday at Del Mar. With regard to that workout, Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman wrote that Uncle Chuck ‘glided around the Del Mar main track Monday morning with an effortless half-mile in :47.60, after which he galloped out an additional furlong. The work was faster than planned, but not because he was asked.’

“Baffert was especially impressed with Uncle Chuck’s long stride in Monday’s workout. ‘He looked like Arrogate, didn’t he?’ Baffert was quoted as saying to Privman. ‘He jumps a long ways. Arrogate was like that. He’s got that stride. And he’s fast.’

“The Baffert-trained Authentic, who is No. 4 in my Kentucky Derby rankings, and Dr Post, who is No. 5, meet in Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. The $1 million race has drawn a field of seven.

“Monmouth oddsmaker Brad Thomas has installed Authentic as the Haskell morning-line favorite at 4-5. Dr Post is 5-2. Ny Traffic is 7-2. The others are 15-1 or higher.

“Authentic is attempting to regain his winning form after being defeated for the first time in four career starts when he finished second to Honor A.P. in the Santa Anita Derby on June 6. An Into Mischief colt, Authentic earlier this year won Santa Anita’s Sham Stakes on Jan. 4 and San Felipe on March 7 (when Honor A.P. finished second).

“Baffert has won the Haskell a record eight times (Point Given in 2001, War Emblem in 2002, Roman Ruler in 2005, Lookin At Lucky in 2010, Coil in 2011, Paynter in 2012, Bayern in 2014 and American Pharoah in 2015).

“Dr Post won Gulfstream’s Unbridled Stakes on April 25 before finishing second to Tiz the Law in the June 20 Belmont. Todd Pletcher trains the Kentucky-bred Quality Road colt.

“Pletcher has won the Haskell three times (Bluegrass Cat in 2006, Any Given Saturday in 2006 and Verrazano in 2013).

“Ny Traffic has run well this year in a division of the Risen Star Stakes, Louisiana Derby and Matt Winn Stakes. He finished third (behind Modernist and Major Fed) in the Risen Star, second (behind Wells Bayou) in the Louisiana Derby, then second (behind Maxfield) in the Matt Winn. Saffie Joseph Jr. trains Ny Traffic, a New York-bred Cross Traffic colt.

“Ete Indien was supposed to have run in the Haskell, but Privman reported that trainer Patrick Biancone said Ete Indien suffered ‘a little setback’ and now will be trained straight into the Kentucky Derby. Ete Indien’s lone win in four 2020 starts came in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream in late February.

“The first four finishers in the Haskell will be rewarded with Kentucky Derby points on a 100-40-20-10 basis. After the Haskell, there are just four races offering Kentucky Derby points remaining.

“— Shared Belief Stakes (50-20-10-5) at Del Mar on Aug. 1.

“— Travers Stakes (100-40-20-10) at Saratoga on Aug. 8.

“— Ellis Park Derby (50-20-10-5) at Ellis Park on Aug. 9.

“— Pegasus Stakes (20-8-4-2) at Monmouth Park on Aug. 15.

“A rich race for 3-year-olds not offering any Kentucky Derby points has been canceled. The $500,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer had been scheduled for Aug. 1. The track’s general manager, Jason Pugh, cited the health and welfare of all involved during the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for not running the West Virginia Derby this year. Most of the horses expected to run in the West Virginia Derby would have been shipping in to Mountaineer.

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

1. Honor A.P. (1)

2. Tiz the Law (2)

3. Art Director (9)

4. Authentic (3)

5. Dr Post (4)

6. Uncle Chuck (5)

7. Cezanne (6)

8. Max Player (7)

9. King Guillermo (NR)

10. Country Grammer (NR)

NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”

Ciaran Thornton’s Saratoga pick

(Cherwa note: I told Ciaran he could take some time off, but he wanted to give you a Saratoga pick in the newsletter and more online. So here you go.)

SARATOGA RACE THREE: No.7 Fried Rice King (10-1)

Fried Race King jumps up in class Friday after a dominating win last out for trainer Todd Pletcher. He is protecting the horse on the class jump and gives us a sharp work a week ago. Pletcher is 25% maiden winner last race. This trainer with this jockey on a big maiden win last out at 10-1? I’ll take that value every day of the week!

With no Del Mar this weekend, I will be doing Saratoga and making it free for all L.A. Times readers. My free card will be on my Del Mar page at this link.

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

Del Mar may be closed this weekend, but Los Alamitos remains open. So, let’s turn things over to marketing and media guru Orlando Gutierrez, who will tell us about things going on at Los Alamitos. Orlando, the floor is yours.

“Cunningham Stables, one of the meet’s leading owners, will look to keep on rolling when the Brian Cunningham-led racing operation sends out the stakes placed thoroughbred Ridgefield Rocket in Friday’s featured $9,600 event at 870 yards. First post is 6:40 p.m.

“The ownership ranks third overall with 12 victories this season with Ridgefield Rocket getting an 870-yard win earlier this year. The gelding will enter Friday’s race after running fourth to Sokudo in a five-furlong race in the summer daytime meet at Los Alamitos. Ridgefield Rocket finished 2019 with a third-place finish to the outstanding Ballast Point in a division to the Snowbound Superstar Handicap. His main rival on Friday night figures to be Unobtainable, who has won seven of his last 10 starts.

“Sokudo is a stakes winner during the nighttime and, as mentioned, a winner during the recently concluded daytime meet. He will face seven strong rivals in the $23,000 allowance feature at 1,000 yards on Saturday night. First post is 6 p.m.

“Sokudo beat top distance quarter-horse Ballast Point in the Harbor Beach Handicap on March 14 before finishing out of the money in his next two outings. He has since won his last two starts — a two-length win at this distance on May 29 and then that five-furlong day race on June 27.

“His top rivals will include the Rosemary Trela-trained Short Of Ez, who also won during the daytime, and Bounty Hunter, a winner in his last two nighttime outings. As for the quarter-horse portion of the program, Ed Burke Million Futurity trial winner Copauinos Best will headline the seventh race, while the eye-catching morning worker Reason To Fly MV will make her career debut in the fourth.

“Last Sunday night, Ed Allred’s Nomadic, who was the fastest qualifier to the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity last year, posted the fastest qualifying time to the $185,000 Governor’s Cup Derby. The Scott Willoughby-trainee dominated from the start, leading early by 1½ lengths on the way to posting a ¾-length victory in the second of two derby trials. The Favorite Cartel gelding covered the 400 yards in :19.59, which was 13/100ths of second faster than both Cattail Cove and Runforyourlife, who finished in a dead heat in this trial while tying for the second-fastest qualifying time. The Governor’s Cup Derby final is scheduled for July 25.

“’He ran big,’ Willoughby said of Nomadic. ‘When he posted the fastest time to the Two Million last year, I honestly did not think anybody could beat him. Obviously, there were some great horses in the Two Million final. He just did not get away from the gates in the Two Million as well as he usually does. It cost him the race.’”

Chris Wade’s Friday LA pick

RACE TWO: No. 2 Shared (4-1)

He ran a better-than-looked fifth against much tougher 21 nights ago while earning a figure in my tallies that tops this event. This gelding broke slow and then got bumped back harshly to lose multiple lengths and his early racing momentum. After the tough getaway, the 4-year-old kept up with the pace until taking up in close quarters entering the turn prior to finishing well on his own down the lane and then galloping out well past the wire. With my top figure in hand and some class relief, he figures to contend if he runs his typical race.

Chris Wade’s Saturday LA pick

RACE SIX: No. 5 Up For Kids

She leaned back at the gate opening to lose her best chance when crossed by quicker rivals in her last start 21 nights ago. After the tough start, this runner finished well on her own under a slight hold nearing the wire. She’s a long striding filly with the ability to make up ground in the second half of races, but she will need a clean beginning in order to deliver at a nice price.

A final thought

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That’s it for this week, see you next Friday, and we’ll be back on a normal schedule, we think.