Horse racing newsletter: Jon White previews the Lecomte

Early morning training at Santa Anita.
Early morning training at Santa Anita.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter, as we get ready for a four-day racing week at Santa Anita.

Jon White is back with his Triple Crown rankings. Jon is one of the foremost historians on horse racing as well as being the morning-line maker at Santa Anita and Del Mar. He even has done stints as a steward, although we can’t remember ever publishing one of his rulings on a Monday. He does it all. So, let’s get right to it with his Kentucky Derby rankings, brought courtesy of

“This week’s rankings for the May 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs are the same as they were last week, but the status quo figures to change next week following Saturday’s Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

“The Lecomte, at 1 1/16 miles, has drawn a field of 11. Kentucky Derby qualifying points are up for grabs on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the first four finishers.


“Mandaloun, who is No. 10 in this newsletter’s Kentucky Derby rankings, is the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the Lecomte. Mandaloun is two for two. He won a six-furlong maiden race by a half-length Oct. 24 at Keeneland, then prevailed by 1 1/4 lengths in a first-level allowance Nov. 28 at Churchill.

Brad Cox trains Mandaloun, owned and bred by Juddmonte Farms. Juddmonte founder Prince Khalid bin Abdullah died Tuesday. He was 85, according to the Juddmonte website. Mandaloun’s sire is Into Mischief, whose son Authentic won the 2020 Kentucky Derby, one of trainer Bob Baffert’s record-tying six Kentucky Derby victories.

“Cox said he thinks Mandaloun is ‘one of the better 3-year-olds we’ve had,’ in a Daily Racing Form story written by Marcus Hersh.

“The Lecomte will be Mandaloun’s first race around two turns. Cox said he believes Mandaloun ‘will be a lot better around two turns. Since we started working with him, he was cut out and built to be a two-turn horse. This is what we’ve wanted to do with him, but he’s got to step it up again. He’s a green horse, still has a lot of growing up to do mentally.’

“These are the other Lecomte entrants with morning-line odds of under 10-1:

“Midnight Bourbon (7-2) makes his first start since finishing third in the Champagne Stakes last Oct. 10 at Belmont Park for trainer Steve Asmussen.

“Arabian Prince (6-1), trained by Dallas Stewart, ran third in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 28 at Churchill in his most recent start.

“Proxy (6-1), a two-time winner at the current Fair Grounds meet for trainer Mike Stidham, is making his stakes debut.

“Santa Cruiser (6-1) comes off a win in a one-mile maiden race at Churchill on Nov. 15. His trainer is Keith Desormeaux.

“Manor House (8-1), another Stidham trainee, registered a 12 1/4-length victory in a one-mile maiden race when unveiled Dec. 12 at Laurel. Though Manor House is entered in the Lecomte, he is expected to run instead in an allowance race earlier on the Fair Grounds card.

“Meanwhile, Essential Quality and Life Is Good, a combined five for five and the two 3-year-olds who occupy the top two spots in this newsletter’s Kentucky Derby rankings, both looked sharp in recent workouts.

“Essential Quality, who like Mandaloun is trained by Cox, completed a four-furlong Fair Grounds drill in :48.20 last Sunday. The Kentucky-bred Tapit colt, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland in his final start as a 2-year-old, is scheduled make his 3-year-old debut in either Fair Grounds’ 1 1/8-mile Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 13 or Oaklawn Park’s 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes on Feb. 15.


“Life Is Good, trained by Baffert, worked four furlongs in :47.00 at Santa Anita last Saturday. It’s a really a good sign that the Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt returned to the work tab nine days following his win in Santa Anita’s Sham Stakes on Jan. 2. The Baffert-trained Medina Spirit, No. 6 in these rankings, was a bang-up second in the Sham. Medina Spirit has not yet returned to the work tab since the Sham.

“It’s also a really good sign that Life Is Good was not asked for run at any point in his Monday workout, yet there was only one faster time among the 42 four-furlong works at Santa Anita that morning. ‘He did it easy,’ Baffert said to Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen. ‘He was pretty fresh. He was just galloping out there.’ Indeed, Life Is Good’s work received a rare ‘breezing’ rather than ‘handily’ designation from the clockers. At Southern California tracks, the only time a workout is listed as ‘breezing’ is when a horse does it easily while not being asked at all at any time.

“Life Is Good’s four-length advantage at the eighth pole in the one-mile Sham shrank to three-quarters of a length at the finish. There were those who concluded he was running out of gas toward the end of the race. Others felt jockey Mike Smith was not riding Life Is Good aggressively in the lane and that the colt’s margin of victory was deceiving in that he was far from all out. The energy Life Is Good exhibited in his workout last Saturday seems to suggest that the Sham did not take a lot out of him and that he likely was not coming home on fumes in that race.

“Baffert has indicated that Santa Anita’s 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes on March 6 or Oaklawn’s Rebel Stakes at the same distance March 13 are under consideration for Life Is Good’s next start.

“Prime Factor had a five-furlong bullet workout in 1:01.33 last Saturday at Palm Beach Downs in Florida for trainer Todd Pletcher. The Kentucky-bred Quality Road colt kicked off his racing career with an 8 3/4-length win in a six-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 12.

“Hot Rod Charlie, runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, also fired a bullet last Saturday. He worked five furlongs in :59.40 at Santa Anita, best of 64 works at the distance that morning. Trained by Doug O’Neill, the Kentucky-bred Oxbow colt is slated to make his 2021 debut in Santa Anita’s 1 1/16-mile Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Jan. 30.


“I’ll Have Another won the Lewis in his first start at 3 and went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes for O’Neill in 2012. O’Neill also won the Run for the Roses in 2016 with Nyquist, whose first start at 3 came in Santa Anita’s seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes.

“Here are this week’s Kentucky Derby rankings, courtesy of Xpressbet:

1. Essential Quality (1)

2. Life Is Good (2)

3. Prime Factor (3)

4. Hot Rod Charlie (4)

5. Keepmeinmind (5)

6. Medina Spirit (6)

7. Senor Buscador (7)

8. Jackie’s Warrior (8)

9. Mutasaabeq (9)

10. Mandaloun (10)

NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”

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Santa Anita preview

Friday will be the first eight-race card since the meet started on Dec. 26. Half the races are on the turf, and two will be run from the new chute. Four of Friday’s races will have a first-time winner. This is a four-day racing week because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday. The feature is a one-mile turf allowance/optional claimer. Sombeyay is the 9-5 favorite for trainer Peter Miller and jockey Flavien Prat. He has won three-of-14 lifetime with three seconds. He was trained by Todd Pletcher two races back and this will be his first Southern California race.

Ohio, a 10-year-old gelding, is the 5-2 second choice for Michael McCarthy and Ricardo Gonzalez. This veteran has won 10-of-34 lifetime and two back won a stakes at Turf Paradise. He finished seventh last out in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile. Had been running at a high level in 2019, when he was 8. Post is scheduled for 3:34 p.m.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 7, 6, 10 (3 also eligible), 6, 5, 7, 6, 12.

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick

THIRD RACE: No. 6 Bang for Your Buck (15-1)

Bang for Your Buck could be just that at this great 15-1 morning-line price. Shipping down from Golden Gate Fields they finally try turf for the first time. Dam has three winners and all were on turf. ‘Bang has just missed in the last three starts coming late to lose by less than two lengths each time. Victor Espinoza rides Friday and there are sharp workouts. Trainer Jedd Josephson is 22% first-time grass and wins with value on this move. This race has been won by horses priced over 5-1 a large 42%.

Sunday’s result: Too Much Heaven tracked nicely in second place into deep stretch before getting swallowed up to run off the board. A cutback to 5-6 furlongs could be the key next out.


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 game in town at night. So, let’s turn things over to marketing and media guru Orlando Gutierrez. Orlando, the floor is yours.

“It took jockey Kellie McDaid just one race to return to the winner’s circle for the first time since winning at Ferndale in August 2019, after riding the Robert Lucas trainee Shake N Fries to victory in the sixth race last Saturday at Los Alamitos. It was McDaid’s first ride since Sept. 8, 2019, when she was in a race during the L.A. County Fair Meet at Los Alamitos. McDaid took time off to pursue her trained profession in nutrition while continuing to gallop racehorses for many top Southern California Thoroughbred barns.

“ ’It’s been two years,’ said McDaid of her last win at Los Alamitos. ‘I wasn’t expecting anything.  I just wanted to get back out there and do it again. That little horse right, he just gave me all the power he could. That was unreal. I am so happy. You have no idea. I won’t sleep tonight.’

“When asked what to expect from her in 2021, McDaid said, ‘I have no idea. Hopefully more winners. It’s great to be back.’

“McDaid, the meet’s leading thoroughbred rider at Los Alamitos in 2018, had four mounts last weekend. In addition to Shake N Fries, she had runner-up finishes with Charming Alexis and Arrivederci Amore.

“She is set to ride three horses on Friday night and six on Saturday night.

“Friday night’s program will include the running of the $20,000 Cypress Handicap at 350 yards. One of the standouts is Hes Sizzling Bb, who first showed his talents at Los Alamitos when he won his trial to the Grade 1 Golden State Million Futurity in 2019. After his Golden State Million trial win, the son of Hes Relentless came back with an OK effort in that year’s trials to the Grade1 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity. He flashed early speed before fading late to fifth. The New Mexico-bred qualified to the La Fiesta Derby at Albuquerque Downs last year before returning here for a pair of races under trainer Jaime Gomez, including a fourth-place finish to Grade 1 Charger Bar Handicap winner Kiss Thru Fire in a trial to the Southern California Derby.


“Terra Fire will also be in action in the Cypress after facing Kiss Thru Fire. She was sixth in the Charger Bar. Mr Bill is another one to watch as he looks to make amends after a fifth-place finish in a Southern California trial. He had posted two solid races before that outing. Newcomer Redneck Ryan, Fayvorite Chick, and Stolen Lives will complete the field.

“On Saturday night there are four 1,000 yard races on the eight-race program. The third and fourth races at this distance will close the early Pick Four, while the fifth and sixth will kick off the late Pick Four. The third race will also start the Pick Six, which has also seen its pool grow on Saturday nights. In fact, the average Pick Six pool on Saturdays has been more than $33,000 during this new meet.

“The third race will feature a meeting between Blue Butterfly, who is trained by Brian Cunningham and will have leading thoroughbred jockey Francisco Orduña Rojas, against Rickie Nine Toe’s, who won at this distance last November. Jorge Periban will saddle Rickie Nine Toes, who had a nice string of efforts at Santa Anita last year.

“The fifth race has an $19,000 purse and has Chollima, who won here during the daytime meet at 5 1/2 furlongs after first winning a maiden claimer at Del Mar. She will face a field that includes the gelding Tyrannical Rex, who returns at this distance after a wire-to-wire victory on Dec. 1. The sixth race will see the match-up between Ana Lisa, who has four wins in her last six starts, and CA Dreamer, who has won three of her last four and four of her last six.

“The American Quarter Horse Assn. announced its national champions with several local stars being recognized led by Martha Wells’ Tell Cartel, who was named champion 3-year-old and champion 3-year-old colt. Wells was named the champion owner. Apollitical Gold, the winner of the Golden State Million Futurity, was named the champion 2-year-old gelding, while Curls Happy Wagon, the winner of the Mildred Vessels Memorial Handicap, was honored as the champion aged mare. Eddie Willis, who trains Apollitical Gold, was named the champion trainer for the first time with James Flores named champion jockey for the second straight year. Bobby Cox was named the champion breeder. The Cox-bred Whistle Stop Café, winner of the All American Futurity, was named AQHA World Champion, which is quarter horse racing’s title for Horse of the Year. Whistle Stop Café was also the champion 2-year-old and champion 2-year-old filly.”

Chris Wade’s LA pick

SIXTH RACE: No. 3 Mighty Minnie T (7-2)

She finished a solid third against a quality and productive cast up at Grants Pass 73 nights ago while earning a solid number with all factored in, that is very competitive against this group Friday. In said event, this filly got rather rambunctious in the starting gate prior to hopping and getting bumped back at the start to lose almost two lengths of ground and her momentum. After the tough getaway, this runner showed a big turn of foot to garner a close up position midway down the lane prior to finishing well for third. She had a solid charting in her debut in the Great Northwest and I expect an improvement in her second career start. She should be a contender for all the board placings at a good price.

A final thought

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

Santa Anita Entries for Friday, January 15.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 10th day of a 81-day meet.


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $35,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $50,000-$45,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Nicole GraceRicardo Gonzalez120Patrick Gallagher30-145,000
2UnbreakableJose Valdivia, Jr.124Mike Puype5-150,000
3Let's Go NowTyler Baze120Eoin G. Harty8-145,000
4Olive You MoreJuan Hernandez124Vladimir Cerin5-150,000
5Amiko Chow Umberto Rispoli120Patrick Gallagher7-245,000
6Lookin So LuckyTiago Pereira124Alexis Barba3-150,000
7Acoustic ShadowFlavien Prat120Leonard Powell9-545,000


1 Mile. Purse: $24,000. Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $20,000-$18,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Sky ConfidentialTyler Baze124Vann Belvoir15-120,000
2AlvaaroJuan Hernandez124Ryan Hanson2-120,000
3Stackin SilverJessica Pyfer115Richard Baltas5-118,000
4Polar WindKent Desormeaux122Clifford W. Sise, Jr.4-118,000
5CauseididitmywayEswan Flores124Sal Gonzalez5-220,000
6SignofthecrossFlavien Prat124Leonard Powell3-120,000


6 Furlongs Turf. Purse: $61,000. Maiden Special Weight. 4 year olds and up. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Mr. ClutchEswan Flores124Jorge Gutierrez50-1
2Zero DownMario Gutierrez124Doug F. O'Neill6-1
3Fly Buddy FlyAbel Cedillo124Peter Miller6-1
4LuvluvJoel Rosario124John W. Sadler4-1
5Fat StacksJuan Hernandez124Robert B. Hess, Jr.3-1
6Bang for Your BuckVictor Espinoza124Jedd B. Josephson15-1
7BeaudaciousFlavien Prat124Brian J. Koriner4-1
8August IndyAlexis Centeno117Ricardo S. Guillen50-1
9Squared StraightJessica Pyfer117Doug F. O'Neill12-1
10Lil Richards BelloUmberto Rispoli124Peter Eurton4-1
Also Eligible
11Arrivederci RomaJose Valdivia, Jr.124Sally Rivera30-1
12PeedieMario Gutierrez124Ben D. A. Cecil12-1
13CrankinAlexis Centeno117Doug F. O'Neill12-1


6 Furlongs. Purse: $61,000. Maiden Special Weight. 3 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1TarviJuan Hernandez123Richard Baltas15-1
2Space OdesseyRicardo Gonzalez123Simon Callaghan20-1
3SensemakerEdwin Maldonado123Manuel Ortiz, Sr.12-1
4Concert TourJoel Rosario123Bob Baffert7-5
5HozierFlavien Prat123Bob Baffert6-5
6Mr. ImpossibleUmberto Rispoli123Simon Callaghan3-1


6 Furlongs Turf. Purse: $42,000. Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $40,000-$35,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Devils DanceAlexis Centeno115Craig Anthony Lewis4-140,000
2Mischiffie Geovanni Franco122John F. Martin8-540,000
3PositKent Desormeaux122Vladimir Cerin5-2
4Sapphire KidTiago Pereira122Steve Knapp6-140,000
5Savvy GalHeriberto Figueroa122Richard Baltas3-140,000


1 Mile. Purse: $22,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Keep DancingKent Desormeaux124Michael S. Wilson3-120,000
2NaansenseJoel Rosario124Doug F. O'Neill5-220,000
3Gotta Be LuckyAbel Cedillo124Carla Gaines4-120,000
4MoreavinoJuan Hernandez124Gary Mandella12-120,000
5Our Bonnie LassJessica Pyfer117Thomas Ray Bell, II5-120,000
6Keep It ClassyJose Valdivia, Jr.124Joe Herrick5-120,000
7BlazinonbayouFrancisco Amparan124Alberto Amparan5-120,000


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $70,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $100,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Musawaat Jose Valdivia, Jr.122Mike Puype4-1
2Tiz PlusJoel Rosario124Mike Puype5-1
3Manhattan UpTiago Pereira120Philip A. Oviedo10-1
4The Black Album Kent Desormeaux124Peter Miller4-1100,000
5Ohio Ricardo Gonzalez124Michael W. McCarthy5-2
6SombeyayFlavien Prat124Peter Miller9-5


1 1/16 Mile. Purse: $22,000. Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $10,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1MaxinamillionTyler Baze122John F. Martin6-110,000
2Vodka TwistAbel Cedillo122Steve Knapp15-110,000
3Blame It On KittyEdwin Maldonado122Dean Pederson5-110,000
4Ocean FuryRuben Fuentes122Jesus Ramos15-110,000
5GryffindorJuan Hernandez124Ryan Hanson6-110,000
6RideoGeovanni Franco122John F. Martin6-110,000
7Will DancerTiago Pereira122Eddie Truman12-110,000
8Bitter Ring HomeEswan Flores122Cesar DeAlba20-110,000
9R Cha ChaAlexis Centeno115George Papaprodromou12-110,000
10Debt MongerHeriberto Figueroa122Marcia Stortz20-110,000
11Six Point RackKent Desormeaux122Aggie Ordonez6-110,000
12Shane ZainJessica Pyfer115Doug F. O'Neill7-210,000