Horse racing newsletter: Jon White’s Kentucky Derby rankings

Dynamic Duo makes a run from the back on the final stretch at Del Mar Race Track.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome to our horse racing newsletter as the Kentucky Derby is only a month away.

he road to the Kentucky Derby pretty much ends this weekend (there is a minor race at Monmouth next weekend) and who would have ever foreseen the day the Travers Stakes is a prep for the Derby. But this year is like no other. Jon White will have a comprehensive look in just a few paragraphs.

As for other news, Del Mar has announced it is adding a day of racing on Monday, Aug. 31, its penultimate week or racing. It will also have a four-day week on the last week, Sept. 4-7, the Labor Day weekend. There is also a race that weekend in Kentucky. I’ll think of it soon. If there were spectators at Del Mar that day, it would have no doubt led to a massive handle.

The added day on Aug. 31, is the second make-up day after three days were cancelled after 15 members of the jockey colony tested positive for the coronavirus. Del Mar says it is adding extra races to help offset the remaining lost day.

And finally, Del Mar has upped its number to four licensed owners who are allowed to attend live racing but only if their horse is running. They are segregated and spaced apart in the clubhouse box seat area. As they say, seating is limited.


Now, on to the good stuff.

Enjoying this newsletter?

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.

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

“While Honor A.P. retains the top spot in this week’s Kentucky Derby rankings despite being defeated last weekend in California, five of the horses on my Top 10 will run this weekend in New York and Kentucky.

“Honor A.P. was bet down to a 1-5 favorite in Saturday’s Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar. At the eighth pole, it appeared he was not responding and might even finish last in the field of four. He did come on approaching the finish, but he had to settle for second when finishing three-quarters of a length behind a rejuvenated Thousand Words trained by Bob Baffert.

“Back in early February, Thousand Words was No. 2, behind only Tiz the Law, in my Kentucky Derby rankings. Thousand Words won the 1 1/16-mile Los Alamitos Futurity in his final 2019 start, then took Santa Anita’s 1 1/16-mile Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 1 in his 2020 debut. He was three for three after the Lewis.

“But Thousand Words then got ‘sour’ after the Lewis, according to Baffert. He lost his next two races by 11 1/4 and 29 3/4 lengths. And now, following his victory in the Shared Belief, Thousand Words is back on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 at No. 5.


“Yes, Honor A.P. lost a race most people expected him to win. Immediately after the Shared Belief, I planned to lower him from No. 1 in my rankings. But the more I thought about it, I felt that Honor A.P.’s performance really wasn’t all that bad and, more importantly, I am of the belief there is a good chance he will run better in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Sept. 5.

“Why? The Aug. 1 Shared Belief was his first race since he won the Santa Anita Derby by 2 3/4 lengths on June 6. Remember, the Shared Belief was not an end in itself for Honor A.P., but rather a means to an end for a trainer, John Sherriffs, who is one of the very best ever at having a horse ready for a peak performance in a big race. It’s also quite possible that the 1 1/4 miles of the Kentucky Derby will be a better distance for the Kentucky-bred Honor Code ridgling than the 1 1/16 miles of the Shared Belief.

“I will admit that I would rather Honor A.P. was going into the Kentucky Derby off a race at 1 1/8 miles or longer. Who was the last horse to win the Kentucky Derby off a race shorter than 1 1/8 miles? It was Charismatic in 1999, who won the 1 1/16-mile Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in his final start before taking the Run for the Roses.

“Another reason I think Honor A.P. might win the Kentucky Derby, despite losing the Shared Belief, is history tells us that when a horse finishes second just prior to the Kentucky Derby, it’s not the end of the world. While 15 of the last 30 Kentucky Derby winners were coming off a victory, 10 came out of a race in which they finished second. And none, other than Sherriffs, trained one of the only five Kentucky Derby winners in the last 30 years to come off a race in which they finished worse than second.

“Those five horses were Unbridled in 1990, Sea Hero in 1993, Thunder Gulch in 1995, Giacomo in 2005 and Mine That Bird in 2009.

“In their final start before winning the Kentucky Derby, Sea Hero finished third in the Blue Grass Stakes, Sea Hero and Thunder Gulch both finished fourth in the Blue Grass, the Sherriffs-trained Giacomo finished fourth in the Santa Anita Derby and Mine That Bird finished fourth in the Sunland Derby.


“Also, don’t forget that Secretariat went into the Kentucky Derby off a third behind Angle Light and Sham in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. In those days, the Wood was run just two weeks before the Kentucky Derby. Secretariat rebounded from his loss in the Wood to not only break the track record when victorious in the Kentucky Derby, he won the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes (by 31 lengths) to end a 25-year Triple Crown drought.

“I thought Daily Racing Form’s Brad Free put it well when he said in Sunday’s Del Mar stable notes, ‘If you liked Honor A.P. as your [Kentucky] Derby horse before, it didn’t change anything.’

“Meanwhile, Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law heads a field of eight in Saturday’s 1 1/4-mile Runhappy Travers Stakes. The Travers attracted four horses in my Kentucky Derby rankings: No. 2 Tiz the Law, No. 4 Uncle Chuck, No. 8 Max Player and No. 10 Country Grammer.

“Saratoga oddsmaker David Aragona has established Tiz the Law as the Travers morning-line favorite at even money. Southern California-based Uncle Chuck is the 5-2 second choice.

“The eight horses entered in the Travers, in post-position order, are:

“1 - First Line (ML 30-1, Orlanda Noda the trainer, David Cohen the jockey, )

“2 - Country Grammer (6-1, Chad Brown, Irad Ortiz Jr.)

“3 - Uncle Chuck (5-2, Bob Baffert, Luis Saez)

“4 - Max Player (6-1, Linda Rice, Joel Rosario)

“5 - Shivaree (30-1, Ralph Nicks, Junior Alvarado)

“6 - Tiz the Law (1-1, Barclay Tagg, Manny Franco)

“7 - Caracaro (10-1, Gustavo Delgado, Javier Castellano)

“8 - South Bend (15-1, Bill Mott, Jose Ortiz)

“Tiz the Law is three for three this year. Prior to his 3 3/4-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile Belmont, he won Gulfstream Park’s 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull Stakes by three lengths and Gulfstream’s 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby by 4 1/4 lengths.

“Tiz the Law has never lost on a fast track. The only time the New York-bred Constitution colt has been defeated came in last year’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs when he had a troubled trip on a sloppy track.


“The only time Tiz the Law has raced at Saratoga, he won by 4 1/4 lengths at first asking last year with Junior Alvarado in the saddle. Manny Franco has ridden Tiz the Law in all five of his subsequent starts.

“Uncle Chuck is two for two. After a seven-length maiden win going one mile at Santa Anita on June 12, the Kentucky-bred Uncle Mo colt took the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby by four lengths on July 4.

“Thousand Words finished second in the Los Alamitos Derby when no match for Uncle Chuck. Uncle Chuck’s Los Al Derby victory looks even better now as a result of Thousand Words’ win in the Shared Belief.

“Baffert trains Uncle Chuck. Baffert has three Travers wins to his credit. The other seven trainers in this year’s Travers have never won it.

“Baffert won the Travers with Point Given in 2001, Arrogate in 2016 and West Coast in 2017. In 2015, the Baffert-trained Triple Crown winner American Pharoah finished second as an odds-on favorite.

“Baffert has said Uncle Chuck’s huge stride is similar to Arrogate’s. Uncle Chuck has ‘a tremendous stride,’ Baffert said after Wednesday’s post-position draw for the Travers. ‘That’s why I thought the mile and a quarter (of the Travers) would suit him well.’


“Max Player finished third behind Tiz the Law and Dr Post in the Belmont. Max Player might improve on his June 20 Belmont effort inasmuch as it was his first start since Feb. 1.

“Country Grammer goes into the Travers off a neck win in the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan Stakes at Saratoga on July 16.

“Caracaro did well to finish a close second in the Peter Pan when making his first start since Jan. 11.

“Adding to the importance of the Travers this year is the first four finishers will be rewarded with points toward a berth in the Kentucky Derby on a 100-40-20-10 scale.

“Tiz the Law is the points leader with 272. The other Kentucky Derby candidates with 70 or more points are Authentic (100), Honor A.P. (140), Ny Traffic (110), Art Collector (100), King Guillermo (90), Thousand Words (83), Dr Post (80), Ete Indien (74) and Modernist (74).

“Art Collector will try to earn more Kentucky Derby points when he heads Sunday’s Runhappy Ellis Park Derby. The 1 1/8-mile race has drawn 13, including one horse on the also-eligible list.


“Trained by Tom Drury Jr., Art Collector is three for three this year. He is coming off a sparkling 3 1/2-length win in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on July 11.

“Anneau d’Or was scratched from last Saturday’s Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar to run in the Ellis Park Derby. Trained by Blaine Wright, the Kentucky-bred Medaglia d’Oro colt has not raced since he finished fourth in the June 6 Santa Anita Derby. Anneau d’Or finished second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita when he narrowly lost at odds of 28-1.

“There is no such thing as a sure thing, as Honor A.P. demonstrated last Saturday when he got beat as an overwhelming favorite. Nevertheless, 4-5 morning-line favorite Art Collector looks formidable Sunday, as rival trainer Amoss articulated after the post positions draw. ‘It’s Art Collector and all the rest,’ Amoss said. ‘You’ve got a really strong favorite in this race [in Art Collector], and I think everyone will measure the quality of their horse with how they perform against him.’

“The Ellis Park Derby is worth 50-20-10-5 Kentucky Derby points.

“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 (3)

4. Uncle Chuck (4)

5. Thousand Words (NR)

6. Authentic (5)

7. Dr Post (6)

8. Max Player (8)

9. King Guillermo (9)

10. Country Grammer (10)

NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”

Del Mar preview

Friday’s card is down to nine races, starting at 2 p.m. Four of the races are on the turf and there is actually a graded stakes race. How often do you see that on a Friday card in Southern California? But, most of the races are of the claiming variety.

The feature is the Grade 2 $150,000 Sorrento Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going six furlongs. The favorite is September Secret, at 2-1, for trainer Peter Miller and jockey Abel Cedillo. After a ninth-place finish at Los Alamitos on July 2, she came back on July 24 to win by 7 ¾ lengths in maiden claimer at Del Mar.


The second favorite, at 3-1, My Girl Red for Keith Desormeaux and Flavien Prat. She won her first race by 4 ¼ lengths under a hand ride by Prat, who got off of September Secret to ride this filly. My Girl Red is out of the first crop by Texas Red, who was also trained by Desormeaux. Post is around 5:30 p.m.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 6, 9, 9, 8, 10, 10, 10, 6, 8.

Bob Ike’s DM pick of the day

FIFTH RACE: No. 6 He’s Like Violence (12-1)

Taking a shot in a wide-open $40,000 turf sprint with this comebacker from the Mark Glatt stable. Been away nearly a year as he makes his first start for new barn off the claim and lands Abel Cedillo. The work tab looks okay and he could make some noise in here if the distance isn’t too short and this is more than just a prep for a two-turn race next time out.

Sunday’s result: Hollywood Hellraisr (8-1) sat behind the leaders, moved to challenge on far turn, drifted out slightly into lane, made lead in mid-stretch, then was overtaken by the winner in final 50 yards and nipped for second on the line.

Bob Ike is a Partner/VP of (here’s a video) and the proprietor of (full-card picks, 3 Best Plays and betting strategy).

Ciaran Thornton’s DMr pick

RACE ONE: No. 1 Scarto (8-1)

Scarto is 8-1 with Umberto Rispoli riding and first-time routing. The inside post at this distance on turf is winning 27% at the meet and we see a sharp work for a horse racing protected Frtiday.


Sunday’s result: Black Storm broke nicely and that was it finishing off the board in a race the odds on favorite won. That is Del Mar this season.

Ciaran Thornton is the handicapper for, which offers daily full card picks, longshots of the day, best bets of the day.

Los Alamitos weekend preview

Los Alamitos is the only track in California racing at night. 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.

“Longtime quarter-horse racing owner and breeder Howard Nichols has campaigned some outstanding runners over the past 10 years at Los Alamitos. It includes Grade 1 stakes placed stallion Jess Being Valiant, Grade 1 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity finalists We Like Corona and Dexxter and the stakes winners Vivid and La Rusa. Nichols was also part of the ownership that won the richest race ever here -- the $2,236,300 Los Alamitos Two Million with I Like The Odds in 2011.

“Nichols remains a major part of racing at the Orange County oval and several of his horses have recently reached the Los Alamitos winner’s circle. They include Long Time Favorite, who qualified to the August 16 Golden State Derby after winning his trial last Sunday night, and Thin Lizzey, who scored her maiden victory on July 26.

“Nichols hopes for another good effort on Friday, as the 5-2 choice Watch Over Bella is among the top contenders in the featured $11,325 allowance for 2-year-olds in the sixth of seven races on Friday. First post is 6:40 p.m.


“Purchased for $93,000, Watch Over Bella was outstanding in morning gate works at Los Alamitos and has put together three solid starts to begin his career. He was third in his trial to the Grade 1 Ed Burke Million Futurity and was a half-length winner against maidens in his last start. He will be ridden by Oscar Andrade Jr. for trainer Jose Flores.

“Sweetie Cartel is the 2-1 favorite in this race after breaking his maiden by two lengths in her last start. If Sweetie Cartel can repeat that start, everyone will be watching her back Friday.

“Nichols will be a part of the feature on Saturday as well, as part of the group that owns Captin Obvious, who will make his debut in the eighth race. First post on Saturday is 7:35 p.m. Captin Obvious is a colt by Favorite Cartel out of the top broodmare Summertime Quickie, the dam of 2008 AQHA champion 2-year-old Foose.

“Nichols will have another top quarter horse in next Sunday’s Grade II Golden State Derby with Long Time Favorite. He will face a field headed by Grade 1 winner Tell Cartel and fastest qualifier Circle City.”

Chris Wade’s Friday LA pick

RACE FOUR: No. 1 Lethal Assault (6-1)

This nice-sized long strider will make his first start since being gelded. He prepped strongly with a B grade workout in the morning hours before making three troubled filled journeys. Lethal Assault has improved in each of those starts and in his last outing 48 nights ago, he broke slow when hopping, was bumped back to lose multiple lengths before finishing well to complete the superfecta. Lethal Assault regained his racing momentum after the tough getaway, and he finished well on his own to complete the superfecta. With an expected better start this evening and another step of improvement in his fourth career start, we’ll give this gelding a big look for all the board placings at a nice mutual.

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 You can also feed my ego by following me on Twitter @jcherwa.

Now, the star of the show, Friday’s entries.

Del Mar Entries for Friday, August 7.

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Del Mar, California. $2 Win, Place and Show; $1 Exacta, $2 Quinella, 50-cent Trifecta, $2 Rolling Double, 50-cent rolling Pick 3; 10-cent Superfecta; 50-cent Pick 4 last 4 races; 50-cent Players Pick 5 first 5 races; $2 Pick 6 last 6 races; $1 Place Pick All; $1 Super High Five last race. Trifecta needs 4 betting interests; Superfecta needs 6. 11th day of a 28-day meet.


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $41,000. Starter Allowance. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1ScartoUmberto Rispoli120Mike Puype8-1
2Dr. TroutmanBrice Blanc123George Papaprodromou7-2
3Worthy TurkFlavien Prat125Peter Miller3-1
4Liberal Drayden Van Dyke125Patrick Gallagher9-2
5ShadrackAbel Cedillo123Tim McCanna5-1
6AvalancheJuan Hernandez123Michael W. McCarthy5-2
7Suances SecretVictor Flores116Santos R. Perez20-1


6 Furlongs. Purse: $25,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $40,000-$35,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1California CoolAgapito Delgadillo121Luis Mendez15-140,000
2Quiet SecretaryAbel Cedillo121Ian Kruljac15-140,000
3Kaely's CandyRicardo Gonzalez121Peter Miller5-240,000
4Queen StormbornMario Gutierrez121George Papaprodromou20-140,000
5Lady On IceHeriberto Figueroa121Richard Baltas6-140,000
6Saving SophieDrayden Van Dyke124Ronald W. Ellis3-140,000
7Tiz a UnicornFlavien Prat121Richard Baltas9-240,000
8Miss AlegriaJuan Hernandez124Victor L. Garcia5-140,000
9KatsarosEdwin Maldonado124Jeff Bonde12-140,000


6 Furlongs. Purse: $25,000. Maiden Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $40,000-$35,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Colt FictionTiago Pereira124William Spawr3-140,000
2Lucky Ryan SevenAlexis Centeno112George Papaprodromou20-135,000
3Hoop DreamAssael Espinoza124David Bernstein15-140,000
4Papa's HoneyEswan Flores121Hector O. Palma20-140,000
5Full DrawFlavien Prat124John W. Sadler6-140,000
6Awesome ScoreJuan Hernandez124Kristin Mulhall5-140,000
7VeteranAbel Cedillo121Richard E. Mandella4-140,000
8BabaelDrayden Van Dyke124Ronald W. Ellis9-240,000
9Candy ShopperUmberto Rispoli121Mike Puype6-140,000


6 Furlongs. Purse: $26,000. Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $16,000-$14,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Twirling DevonEswan Flores120Manuel Ortiz, Sr.12-116,000
2Madame BarbarianFlavien Prat120Jeff Mullins4-116,000
3Sturdy OneTiago Pereira120Neil French3-116,000
4Tinsel Town QueenJuan Hernandez122Kristin Mulhall6-116,000
5Uno Trouble MakerUmberto Rispoli120William Spawr6-116,000
6Crown KittenEvin Roman120Bill McLean12-116,000
7Sweet RafaelaRicardo Gonzalez120Rene Amescua7-216,000
8Busy PaynterAbel Cedillo120Mark Glatt6-116,000


5 Furlongs Turf. Purse: $37,000. Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $40,000-$35,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1ItalianoFlavien Prat121Vann Belvoir5-140,000
2Seven ScentsJorge Velez123Mike Puype5-140,000
3Smokin BlackjackJuan Hernandez121Mark Glatt6-140,000
4Blackout Alexis Centeno112Peter Miller7-235,000
5Honeymoonz OverEswan Flores121D. Wayne Baker6-140,000
6He's Like ViolenceAbel Cedillo121Mark Glatt12-140,000
7ReedleyEdwin Maldonado121Reed Saldana15-140,000
8PortandoEvin Roman121Jack Carava15-140,000
9Truth SeekerRicardo Gonzalez121Steven Miyadi15-140,000
10NeroUmberto Rispoli121John W. Sadler9-240,000


5 Furlongs. Purse: $25,000. Maiden Claiming. 2 year olds. Claiming Prices $40,000-$35,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1By MoonlightRicardo Gonzalez118Steven Miyadi10-135,000
2Give Em Heck BeckEswan Flores120Molly J. Pearson15-140,000
3FoxboroughJuan Hernandez118Ryan Hanson5-135,000
4Bordeaux RedUmberto Rispoli120J. Keith Desormeaux4-140,000
5Mr. PicklesFlavien Prat120John W. Sadler3-140,000
6DoghouseHeriberto Figueroa120Doug F. O'Neill5-140,000
7Tactical AttackAlexis Centeno113Molly J. Pearson12-140,000
8Falcons FuryAssael Espinoza120Reed Saldana20-140,000
9FreerunningEdwin Maldonado120Luis Mendez12-140,000
10Tripple ShakeVictor Flores113Luis Mendez6-140,000
Also Eligible
11ExhaltingAbel Cedillo120Doug F. O'Neill5-140,000
12Rise Up MoscowTiago Pereira120Dan Blacker12-140,000


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $34,000. Starter Allowance. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Mela JonesAbel Cedillo123Jack Carava6-1
2Lavender Tiago Pereira123Matthew Chew7-2
3DanceformunnyFlavien Prat122Richard Baltas6-1
4GoodtingscominpinkVictor Flores118Vladimir Cerin6-1
5SolitaireVictor Espinoza120J. Keith Desormeaux20-1
6QueensbeccaandjaneAssael Espinoza120Gary Stute10-1
7Y Not SizzleUmberto Rispoli123Jeff Mullins12-1
8Blazing CharmJuan Hernandez120Thomas Ray Bell, II20-1
9Freedom LassMario Gutierrez122Mike Puype4-1
10ZuccheraDrayden Van Dyke123Richard Baltas5-1


6 Furlongs. Purse: $150,000. 'Sorrento Stakes'. Fillies. 2 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Get On the BusMario Gutierrez118Doug F. O'Neill5-1
2September SecretAbel Cedillo118Peter Miller2-1
3Exchange VowsAssael Espinoza118Sal Gonzalez12-1
4My Girl RedFlavien Prat120J. Keith Desormeaux3-1
5Trip to SeoulEdwin Maldonado118James K. Chapman8-1
6ScaterraUmberto Rispoli118James K. Chapman4-1
7Scat's ChoiceJ.C. Diaz, Jr.118James K. Chapman8-1


5 Furlongs Turf. Purse: $55,000. Maiden Special Weight. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1KetchupEdwin Maldonado120Brian T. Cunningham15-1
2Lets Get WildUmberto Rispoli120J. Eric Kruljac5-2
3Big MinxEvin Roman120Daniel Dunham15-1
4Va Va VoomJuan Hernandez122Antonio Garcia4-1
5Miss CarouselMario Gutierrez120Edward R. Freeman8-1
6Leggs GaloreAbel Cedillo120Philip D'Amato6-1
7Alice MarbleRicardo Gonzalez120Steven Miyadi6-1
8That's AmareFlavien Prat120Philip D'Amato3-1