Horse racing newsletter: Santa Anita ready for signature season

The starting gate at Santa Anita.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we’re hoping everyone has a great Christmas or whatever holiday you were celebrating. They are all special.

We’re back. After an infinitely short break, we’re back for a new year of racing. The sport, as you know, starts its new year somewhere around the day after Christmas, and that’s today. Santa Anita, more than eight decades ago, opened on Christmas Day but now it’s settled in around the day after the holiday with a few unwanted disruptions through the years.

The Santa Anita card is so fantastic it’s worthy of the 11 a.m. start. There are six stakes, five of them graded and three Grade 1s. But, before we get to the stakes previews, there is some news you might want to hear about and few stories you might want to read.

--Los Alamitos is open for nighttime racing. For how long, we don’t know, but we expect it to be for a while. To replay what happened, Los Alamitos was applying for a year-long license a little more than a week before it was scheduled to start its new meeting. After discussion, Oscar Gonzales, California Horse Racing Board vice chairman, suggested, given the number of fatalities the track has had this year, that the license only be for six months. This caught everyone by surprise.

Los Alamitos owner Ed Allred said if that’s the case he is withdrawing his application for a license. This caught everyone by surprise. A couple of votes were taken which both ended in a tie because commissioner Alex Solis, who now works in Kentucky, was not present on the teleconference.

So, here’s where the Board could have moved on to the next item and there wouldn’t be an Orlando Gutierrez Los Alamitos preview lower in this newsletter. Another vote was taken and Gonzales’ proposal was accepted with a dissenting vote (no doubt symbolic) from chairman Greg Ferraro.

The ball was now in Allred’s court, who has asked for an appeal of the decision. In the meantime, Los Alamitos decided to draw entries and run. My email has been, oh let’s say, about 100% against the Board. It’s just worth pointing out that if the Board had not taken the third vote, obliging Allred in his decision to withdraw the application, there would be no racing.


So that’s where we are, and where we’ll probably be for a while.

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--Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act passes Congress. Congress knows so much about horse racing that it thinks it’s one word, not two. But, in the end, who cares? Well, the House and Senate passed the bill as part of the omnibus spending act to keep the government open and bring COVID relief. The reality is the bill was nothing more than the kid watching the family next door packing up to go to the beach waiting longingly for an invitation. They got one along with the many other bills.

But the overall bill is now on hold as President Trump wants to up the amount of stimulus checks. The House will introduce a bill on Monday, upping the stimulus check to $2,000. Will it pass and will the Senate also pass it? Everyone will be watching next week, but be assured whatever happens to the omnibus bill that it has nothing to do about horse racing. I wrote a story about the passage when it passed with some facts and figures you may not have heard. You can read it here.

--Santa Anita’s new general manager. I did a Q&A with Nate Newby, the fourth Santa Anita boss in four years. He was appropriately guarded with any state secrets but you can get a good sense of what he’s thinking and who he is. You can read it here.

--There is also a preview of the Santa Anita meeting which I did for our online and print editions. Bob Baffert is the centerpiece of the story as he talks about this past year and gives us his thoughts on today’s opening day. You can read it here.

On to today’s card.

Santa Anita preview


It’s a great opening weekend with Saturday’s 11-race card starting at 11 a.m. There are five turf races but only one using the new chute. Let’s check on each stakes race.

Grade 2 $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile: This is for 3-year-olds going, well, you guess the distance. Smooth Like Strait is the 8-5 favorite for trainer Mike McCarthy and jockey Umberto Rispoli. He has won five-of-11 lifetime and last out was second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. In the previous race he won the Grade 2 Twilight Derby at Santa Anita. Field Pass is the 5-2 second choice for Mike Maker and Ricardo Santana, Jr. He is six-for-15 lifetime and coming off a win in the Ontario Derby at Woodbine. (Where else would that be?) He was third in the Twilight Derby. Post is around 12:36 p.m.

Grade 2 $200,000 San Antonio Stakes: You’ve got a race for horses 3 and up going 1 1/16 miles. Mucho Gusto will easily be the favorite and might go off lower than 2-1 odds he’s at on the morning line. His fourth in the Saudi Cup and win the Pegasus World Cup might be to too much to resist. But, he’s been off since Feb. 19, so that will bring some hesitation. Bob Baffert trains and John Velazquez will be riding for the first time. Sharp Samurai is the 5-2 second choice for Mark Glatt and Flavien Prat. He is eight-of-23 lifetime and coming off a third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland. However, he hasn’t won since Oct. 6, 2018. Post is set for 2:09 p.m.

Grade 1 $300,000 La Brea Stakes. This is the filly version of the Malibu as it’s for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs. Shipper Finite is the 7-2 favorite for Steve Asmussen and Ricardo Santana, Jr. She has won six-of-11 lifetime with three seconds. Last out she won a Grade 3 at Churchill on Nov. 21. She has never run at Santa Anita. The second choice is Merneith for Bob Baffert and John Velazquez. She has won three of eight and is coming off two straight wins, but has never run in a graded stakes. Post is about 2:43 p.m.

Grade 1 $300,000 American Oaks Stakes. This one for 3-year-old fillies starts partially up the downhill turf course with a distance 1 ¼ miles. The 3-1 favorite is Sharing for Graham Motion and John Velazquez. She has won five of eight and last out was fourth in the Matriarch at Del Mar. She won the Grade 2 Edgewood at Churchill race after a second in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot. Last year, she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita. Luck Money is the second choice for Arnaud Delacour and Ricardo Santana, Jr. She has won two in a row but neither were graded stakes. Post is listed as 3:17 p.m.

Grade 1 $300,000 Malibu Stakes. This is the big one on the card for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs. Nashville is the talk of racing after his sizzling performance on the undercard of the Breeders’ Cup. Undefeated in three races he’s the 6-5 favorite for Steve Asmussen and Ricardo Santana Jr. But you can expect a lot of action on 9-5 second choice Charlatan for Bob Baffert and Mike Smith. Charlatan has crossed the finish line first in his three races, including the Arkansas Derby. He was later disqualified in the Arkansas Derby for a medication positive. The case is on appeal. Post is around 3:51 p.m.

$75,000 Lady of Shamrock Stakes. This closes the card with this race for 3-year-old fillies going a mile on the turf. Warren’s Showtime is the 7-2 favorite for Craig Lewis and Juan Hernandez. She has won six-of-14 lifetime and has been running at a higher level than this race. She won the Grade 3 Autumn Miss two back. Miss Extra (Richard Mandella, Umberto Rispoli) and Counterparty Risk (Chad Brown, Joel Rosario) are second choices at 4-1. Last post is 4:25 p.m.

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day

THIRD RACE: No.9 Bam Bam Again (12-1)

Bam Bam Again is trained by the small stable of Reed Saldana who also owns the horse, an angle I like for value hunting. Jessica Pyfer rides for the first time and she has won two of three races for the trainer. Reed drops the horse in class on Saturday and moves back to a route, a move he wins 27% and is a big 55% in the money. He also wins with value plays when he does this with a big ROI. When you bet this angle with this trainer you get paid. We are getting 12-1 value or more with a big weight break. Bam ran second at this level here in September.

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

Big races preview

A look at thoroughbred graded stakes or races worth $100,000 or more on Saturday. All times PST.

9:25 Laurel (1): $100,000 Heft Stakes, 2-year-olds, 6 furlongs. Favorite: No Cents (7-5)

9:54 Laurel (2): $100,000 Gin Talking Stakes, fillies 2-years-old, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Street Lute (8-5)

10:23 Laurel (3): $100,000 Anne Arundel County Stakes, fillies 2-years-old, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: The Grass Is Blue (9-5)

10:53 Laurel (4): $100,000 Howard County Stakes, 2-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Shackqueenking (5-2)

11:23 Laurel (5): Willa On the Moves Stakes, fillies and mares 3 and up, 7 furlongs. Favorite: Dontletsweetfoolya (2-1)

11:53 Laurel (6): $100,000 Dave’s Friend Stakes, 3 and up, 7 furlongs. Favorite: Share the Ride (9-5)

12:23 Laurel (7): $100,000 Native Dancer Stakes, 3 and up 1 1/8 miles. Favorite: Harpers First Ride (3-5)

12:36 Santa Anita (4): Grade 2 $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile, 3-year-olds, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: Smooth Like Strait (8-5)

12:53 Laurel (8): Grade 3 $150,000 Allaire du Pont, fillies and mares 3 and up, 1 1/8 miles. Favorite: Eres Tu (2-1)

2:09 Santa Anita (7): Grade 2 $200,000 San Antonio Stakes, 3 and up, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Mucho Gusto (2-1)

2:43 Santa Anita (8): Grade 1 $300,000 La Brea Stakes, fillies 3-years-old, 7 furlongs. Favorite: Finite (7-2)

3:17 Santa Anita (9); Grade 1 $300,000 American Oaks, fillies 3-years-old, 1 ¼ miles on turf. Sharing (3-1)

3:51 Santa Anita (10): Grade 1 $300,000 Malibu Stakes, 3-year-olds, 7 furlongs. Favorite: Nashville (6-5).

Los Alamitos weekend preview

Los Alamitos is back and to take us through a preview of the nighttime racing, we’ll turn things over to Los Alamitos marketing and media guru Orlando Gutierrez. Orlando, the floor is yours.

“Utah Futurity winner No Hesitation and Grade 1 Ed Burke Million Futurity finalist Strange Fellow will give trainer Jose Flores a strong 1-2 punch when they go to the starting gate for the running of the $20,000 Holiday Handicap on the first night of the new meet on Saturday. First post for the eight-race program is 6 p.m.

“With only three local starts under his belt, No Hesitation has impressed. After shining at Wyoming Downs, the Favorite Cartel gelding was great in his trial victory to the PCQHRA Breeders Futurity. He could not keep up with the outstanding Monopolist when fifth in the PCQHR Breeders final before returning with a solid third-place finish in his trial to the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity. He has been solid throughout and is the second choice on the morning line at 3-1. The 2-1 morning-line favorite is Candy Blood, who arrived at Los Alamitos for his local debut after running fourth in the $200,000 All American Juvenile Consolation.

“Eight juveniles will get together for the final stakes event of 2020 in the $15,000 Last Chance Dash at 110 yards on Sunday night. The field is headed by The Best Feeling, who gave his sire, Docs Best Card, his first ever stakes winner in the $60,000 Far West Futurity on Nov. 9. The Best Feeling was tremendous in his two starts at Grants Pass, winning his futurity trial there by two lengths before winning the 350-yard final by ¾ lengths. The Best Feeling has always been quick from the gate, so this distance should fit his strengths nicely. Oscar Peinado will ride the Lisa Anderson-bred runner.

“La Reina Del Sur 1 has blazing fast speed as part of her arsenal and should be a top contender as well. She finished ahead of the talented Monopolist in the California Breeders Freshman Stakes on July 25 but had a troubled trip when fifth in the Corona Chick Handicap in her last start. Adan Farias, a winner of 1,085 quarter-horse races at Los Alamitos, is back training at Los Alamitos with his first starter being La Reina Del Sur 1 in the Last Dash. Juan Pablo Leon, who rode La Reina Del Sur 1 to victory in the California Breeders Freshman Stakes, is back aboard.

Scott Willoughby won his first Los Alamitos quarter horse training title after saddling 55 winners from 287 starters during the 2019-20 meet.

“’This is my first leading trainer [award] ever anywhere.’ Willoughby said. ‘I’ve never been leading trainer. It’s special. Los Alamitos has been a great home for me. I came out here 22 years ago. I’ve trained for Doc (Ed Allred) 15 years now.’

“Willoughby is only the fifth trainer to win a meet since 1990. Jaime Gomez finished second with 46 wins and Jose Flores was third with 44. Jesus Rios Ayala won the quarter-horse riding title for the fourth consecutive year with 78 winners. Oscar Andrade, Jr. was second with 62 winners and Oscar Peinado finished third with 57 winners.

“In the thoroughbred rankings, Francisco Orduña Rojas won his first riding title with 69 wins followed by Ramon Guce (51) and Juan Sanchez (43). Sergio Morfin, an assistant trainer for John Cooper for many years, won his first training title after saddling 30 thoroughbred winners. Angela Aquino finished second with 25 wins and Brian Cunningham was third with 18. Edgar Payeras led the jockey standings with 52 wins and Jesus Uranga was the leading trainer with 14 wins.”

Chris Wade’s LA pick of the day

THIRD RACE: No. 2 Vidalia7-2)

She is as consistent as they come at this level of competition with 10 of her last 11 efforts resulting in an on-the-board finish and five of those either a first or second. The filly has been facing tougher as of late and in her most recent outing, this 4-year-old broke a tad slow at the start and was kind of one paced while wide throughout prior to leveling out nearing the wire versus quality rivals while earning a solid number for tonight’s endeavor. I see her a big player for all the top spots in this event with a typical performance on the quick turnaround for a barn that’s a solid 60% (three for five) with that move.

A final thought

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Any thoughts, you can reach me at You can also feed my ego by following me on Twitter @jcherwa.

And now the star of the show, Saturday’s entries.

Santa Anita Entries for Saturday, December 26.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 1st day of a 81-day meet.


1 1/8 Mile Turf. Purse: $63,000. Allowance. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Kookie GalFlavien Prat124Peter Miller6-1
2SassyserbRicardo Santana, Jr.122Richard Baltas8-1
3Aunt LubieVictor Espinoza124Richard E. Mandella7-2
4Avenue de France Drayden Van Dyke122Leonard Powell8-1
5Cover VersionGeovanni Franco122James M. Cassidy15-1
6Donut GirlEdwin Maldonado124Brian T. Cunningham12-1
7Go Big Blue NationTiago Pereira120Michael W. McCarthy15-1
8Rocking RedheadAbel Cedillo122Richard Baltas6-1
9Tizno's DilemmaJose Valdivia, Jr.122Andreas Psarras15-1
10Hermaphrodite Joel Rosario124John W. Sadler3-1
11Shanghai TrufflesUmberto Rispoli122Patrick Gallagher4-1


7 Furlongs. Purse: $61,000. Maiden Special Weight. 2 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1BarrazaJohn Velazquez122Bob Baffert7-2
2AffableFlavien Prat122Mark Glatt8-5
3Racing AceTyler Baze122Charles S. Treece20-1
4Sir FlatterJoel Rosario122Richard Baltas6-1
5DeservedlyRicardo Gonzalez122Mark Glatt6-1
6Wipe the SlateMario Gutierrez122Doug F. O'Neill5-2
7Man FridayAbel Cedillo122Bob Baffert12-1


1 Mile. Purse: $24,000. Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $16,000-$12,500.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Defense WinsAbel Cedillo122Doug F. O'Neill5-216,000
2Hapi HapiTiago Pereira122Peter Eurton3-116,000
3TromadorEdwin Maldonado122Richard Rosales15-112,500
4AlvaaroJuan Hernandez124Ryan Hanson7-216,000
5Next RevoltKent Desormeaux122J. Keith Desormeaux8-116,000
6BodegaAlexis Centeno115Derek Meredith20-116,000
7ZorichFlavien Prat124Andrew Lerner3-116,000
8Bam Bam AgainJessica Pyfer115Reed Saldana12-116,000


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $200,000. 'Mathis Brothers Mile'. Stakes. 3 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Whisper Not Joel Rosario120Richard Baltas5-1
2StrongconstitutionAbel Cedillo122Doug F. O'Neill12-1
3Storm the CourtJohn Velazquez120Peter Eurton8-1
4Heywoods BeachJuan Hernandez120John W. Sadler12-1
5Smooth Like StraitUmberto Rispoli124Michael W. McCarthy8-5
6Field PassRicardo Santana, Jr.122Michael J. Maker5-2
7ScartoFlavien Prat120Mike Puype4-1


6½ Furlongs. Purse: $35,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies. 2 year olds. Claiming Prices $50,000-$45,000. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Big ChickAbel Cedillo118Tim Yakteen8-145,000
2Military PrincessFrancisco Amparan122John Cisneros50-150,000
3Medusa's GazeRicardo Gonzalez122Kristin Mulhall20-150,000
4EsjaJessica Pyfer115Carla Gaines15-150,000
5Half HopingJose Valdivia, Jr.122Mike Puype4-150,000
6Miss Tater TotEdwin Maldonado122Jeff Bonde8-150,000
7Here Comes RalphieGeovanni Franco118Gary Stute12-145,000
8Watchful EyeJuan Hernandez118Isidro Tamayo8-145,000
9Ms MichelleTiago Pereira122Jose Hernandez, Jr.8-150,000
10Great CurvesTyler Baze122Rafael Becerra4-150,000
11Warren's MemorableAlexis Centeno115Craig Anthony Lewis7-250,000
12Grazen RoadSantos Rivera117Mark Rheinford20-150,000


6½ Furlongs Turf. Purse: $63,000. Allowance. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1TripoliUmberto Rispoli122John W. Sadler6-1
2RayrayFlavien Prat124Mark Glatt8-1
3The Rule of King'sGeovanni Franco122Ruben Gomez30-1
4Highly DistortedJuan Hernandez124Mike Puype8-1
5AppreciatedTiago Pereira124Rafael Becerra10-1
6Quick FinishJohn Velazquez124Dan Blacker6-1
7Club AspenAlexis Centeno115Craig Anthony Lewis12-1
8Preaching TrainerJoel Rosario124Carla Gaines5-1
9One Flew SouthAbel Cedillo124Doug F. O'Neill8-1
10Mecklenburg Mario Gutierrez122Mike Puype15-1
11Wayne ORicardo Gonzalez122Philip D'Amato15-1
12AnacondaDrayden Van Dyke122Richard E. Mandella4-1
Also Eligible
13City RageFlavien Prat124Mark Glatt12-1


1 1/16 Mile. Purse: $200,000. 'San Antonio Stakes'. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Take the One O OneJose Valdivia, Jr.121Brian J. Koriner15-1
2Kiss Today GoodbyeMike Smith119J. Eric Kruljac15-1
3Extra HopeJuan Hernandez123Richard E. Mandella5-1
4Sharp SamuraiFlavien Prat121Mark Glatt5-2
5CombatantRicardo Santana, Jr.123John W. Sadler12-1
6MidcourtVictor Espinoza123John A. Shirreffs5-1
7IdolGabriel Saez119Richard Baltas5-1
8Mucho GustoJohn Velazquez123Bob Baffert2-1


7 Furlongs. Purse: $300,000. 'La Brea Stakes'. Fillies. 3 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Princess MoGeovanni Franco120Ruben Gomez50-1
2MerneithJohn Velazquez120Bob Baffert4-1
3HimikoFlavien Prat120Bob Baffert8-1
4Secret KeeperAbel Cedillo120Clifford W. Sise, Jr.6-1
5FiniteRicardo Santana, Jr.122Steven M. Asmussen7-2
6Biddy DukeJuan Hernandez122Doug F. O'Neill12-1
7ProvocationJoel Rosario120Bob Baffert12-1
8Motivated SellerUmberto Rispoli120Chad C. Brown5-1
9Fair MaidenRicardo Gonzalez120Eoin G. Harty12-1
10Golden PrincipalMike Smith120Bob Baffert12-1
11Stellar SoundVictor Espinoza120Michael W. McCarthy5-1


About 1¼ Mile Turf. Purse: $300,000. 'American Oaks'. Stakes. Fillies. 3 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Red Lark Drayden Van Dyke124Patrick Gallagher10-1
2Miss Addie PrayMike Smith124Patrick Gallagher30-1
3Capital Structure Joel Rosario124Chad C. Brown4-1
4Going to VegasMario Gutierrez124Richard Baltas8-1
5Luck MoneyRicardo Santana, Jr.124Arnaud Delacour7-2
6Guitty Juan Hernandez124Leonard Powell20-1
7California KookRicardo Gonzalez124Peter Miller12-1
8DuopolyFlavien Prat124Chad C. Brown4-1
9SharingJohn Velazquez124H. Graham Motion3-1
10Neige Blanche Umberto Rispoli124Leonard Powell12-1


7 Furlongs. Purse: $300,000. 'The RUNHAPPY Malibu Stakes'. 3 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Collusion IllusionFlavien Prat124Mark Glatt8-1
2Thousand WordsJohn Velazquez122Bob Baffert8-1
3NashvilleRicardo Santana, Jr.120Steven M. Asmussen6-5
4CharlatanMike Smith120Bob Baffert9-5
5Express TrainJuan Hernandez120John A. Shirreffs15-1
6Independence HallJoel Rosario120Michael W. McCarthy4-1


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $75,000. 'Lady Of Shamrock Stakes'. Fillies. 3 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Applecross John Velazquez120Richard Baltas12-1
2Miss Extra Umberto Rispoli124Richard E. Mandella4-1
3BeguiledFlavien Prat122Philip D'Amato10-1
4On MarsMike Smith122Philip D'Amato6-1
5Moonhall Milly Ricardo Santana, Jr.120Leonard Powell12-1
6Last First KissTyler Baze120Gary Mandella20-1
7NastyRicardo Gonzalez122Richard Baltas6-1
8Counterparty Risk Joel Rosario120Chad C. Brown4-1
9Warren's ShowtimeJuan Hernandez124Craig Anthony Lewis7-2
10Annangel Abel Cedillo120Richard Baltas8-1