Horse racing newsletter: Jon White is back with Kentucky Derby rankings

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 an open mic makes the CHRB meeting more interesting than most.

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. He does it all. So, let’s get right to it with his Kentucky Derby rankings, brought courtesy of

“Last Saturday’s Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds turned out well for trainer Steve Asmussen when Midnight Bourbon led past every pole and registered a one-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile Lecomte Stakes. The Lecomte offered Kentucky Derby points to the first four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale.

“For trainer Brad Cox, the Lecomte did not turn out as hoped when Mandaloun, the 4-5 favorite, finished third in the field of eight.

“Following Midnight Bourbon’s Lecomte triumph, the Kentucky-bred Tiznow colt is a newcomer to the Kentucky Derby rankings this week at No. 10. Mandaloun, who was ranked No. 10 last week, drops off the list, as does Mutasaabeq. After being No. 9 last week, Mutasaabeq comes off the list this week in order to make room for Concert Tour.


“Earlier on last Saturday’s Lecomte card, the Cox-trained Sun Path finished fourth as the 7-10 favorite in the Silverbulletday Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. While Cox no doubt was disappointed when both Sun Path and Mandaloun lost, you will not find him wallowing in sorrow. After those two losses, Cox still has much to look forward to, beginning with Friday’s one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes.

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“The Smarty Jones, named for the 2004 Arkansas Derby winner who went on to capture the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, has attracted a field of seven and heads Friday’s opening-day card at Oaklawn Park. Like the Lecomte, the Smarty Jones has 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby points up for grabs.

“Cox sends out Caddo River in the Smarty Jones. The Kentucky-bred Hard Spun colt is coming off a 9 1/2-length win in a one-mile maiden race Nov. 15 at Churchill Downs in his third career start. Caddo River is the pick here to win the Smarty Jones as the 5-2 second choice on the morning line.

“The Smarty Jones’ 9-5 morning-line favorite is the Asmussen-trained Cowan. After finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, Cowan likewise ran second in the Springboard Mile on the dirt at Remington Park. The Springboard Mile winner, Senor Buscador, is No. 8 in this newsletter’s Kentucky Derby rankings.

“On Saturday, Cox sends out 5-2 morning-line favorite Knicks Go in Saturday $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park.


“And then next Thursday, Cox might receive the Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer of 2020. The other two finalists are Bob Baffert and Asmussen. Cox is widely considered the favorite. One reason for that was Cox’s remarkable feat of winning four 2020 Breeders’ Cup races.

“Two Cox trainees are expected to get 2020 Eclipse Awards. Monomoy Girl is considered a slam-dunk to get the 2020 Eclipse Award as champion older female to go with her 2018 Eclipse as champion 3-year-old filly. Essential Quality is seen to be a lock to get the 2020 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male.

“Speaking of Essential Quality, he remains No. 1 in this week’s Kentucky Derby rankings. Undefeated in three career starts, Essential Quality won last year’s Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a pair of races contested at Keeneland.

“Cox still has not made a definite announcement regarding Essential Quality’s 2021 debut. The 40-year-old trainer continues to say the Kentucky-bred Tapit colt will return in either Fair Grounds’ 1 1/8-mile Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 13 or Oaklawn’s 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes on Feb. 15.

“On the one hand, the Risen Star has appeal in that it offers more Kentucky Derby points (50-20-10-5) than the Southwest (10-4-2-1). On the other hand, Cox has indicated that he likes the idea of running Essential Quality off a layoff in the Southwest at its 1 1/16-mile distance rather than in the longer Risen Star at 1 1/8 miles.

“Life Is Good’s form continues to be flattered by the vanquished. When Life Is Good won at first asking by 9 1/2 lengths at Del Mar on Nov. 22, two of his victims, Wipe the Slate and Roman Centurian, proved to be next-out winners. In Santa Anita’s Sham Stakes earlier this month, Uncle Boogie finished 20 1/4 lengths behind Life Is Good. Uncle Boogie then rebounded to win an allowance/optional claiming contest by 3 3/4 lengths at Santa Anita last Sunday.


“The Baffert-trained Life Is Good again is No. 2 in the Kentucky Derby rankings this week. Debuting all the way up at No. 3 is Concert Tour, who was an impressive 3 1/2-length winner at first asking last Friday for Baffert in a six-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita.

“Concert Tour is a Kentucky-bred Street Sense colt. Street Sense won the 2007 Kentucky Derby.

“Is it out of line to put Concert Tour all the way up at No. 3 off only a single six-furlong maiden victory? Keep in mind Prime Factor had been ranked No. 3 for the past two weeks off, yes, only a single six-furlong maiden victory.

“Trained by Todd Pletcher, Prime Factor registered an 8 3/4-length win on Dec. 12 at Gulfstream in his lone start to date. The Kentucky-bred Quality Road colt worked five furlongs in 1:01.40 last Sunday in Florida at Palm Beach Downs.

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

1. Essential Quality (1)

2. Life Is Good (2)

3. Concert Tour (NR)

4. Prime Factor (3)

5. Hot Rod Charlie (4)

6. Keepmeinmind (5)

7. Medina Spirit (6)

8. Senor Buscador (7)

9. Jackie’s Warrior (8)

10. Midnight Bourbon (NR)

NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”

CHRB meeting

Who would think that a nine-item California Horse Racing Board meeting could last five hours? Well, anybody who has listened to one of its meetings in the past. So, on the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century, Los Alamitos got its year-long license after being granted only a six-month license in December. The change to six from 12 last month prompted Ed Allred, Los Alamitos owner, to say he was withdrawing his application if it was only for six months. The Board did Allred a huge favor by ignoring his request and granting him a six-month license.


The track still ran for the last month making Allred’s knee-jerk reaction seem little more than theatrics. The track appealed to the Board to have the matter reconsidered at Thursday’s meeting. The public comment was at least 40 deep, mostly people who the track had lined up to speak on its behalf. It’s not often that the anti-horse racing people are dwarfed by the pro-horse racing people, but that’s what happened on Thursday.

It was a 4-3 vote to give Los Alamitos a year’s license with Dennis Alfieri playing the Anthony Kennedy/John Roberts swing vote role. Chairman Greg Ferraro was for it, vice-chair Oscar Gonzales was opposed. The thing is, it would never have reached this contentious flash point if commissioner Alex Solis had shown up for the December meeting. He is the commissioner who most often sides with keeping things the same.

Then, the thing that most will be talking about, was the result of Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director, not having his microphone off when, in another 4-3 vote, the Board agreed to delay a medication change ruling for a month for more study. Arthur said the decision was “crap,” and no we’re not softening what he said, that’s what he said. This ruling once again put Ferraro and Gonzales on opposite sides of things. In this case, Damascus Castellanos played the Kennedy/Roberts role and Gonzales won.

The Board might be interesting to watch for those who are used to unanimous decisions.

Santa Anita preview

Racing is back at Santa Anita this weekend starting with an eight-race card starting at 12:30 p.m. (Of course, all The Stronach Group attention will be pointed toward South Florida for Saturday’s Pegasus doubleheader.) Half of Friday’s races are on the turf with no real discernable feature.

There are two races worth $61,000, both maiden specials for Cal-bred 3-year-olds. So, we’re going to pick the one that is the seventh race, because that’s normally where they put the feature unless it’s only five starters. Friday’s seventh has nine starters, so there you go. Va Va Vegas is the 5-2 favorite for trainer Bob Baffert and Juan Hernandez. Va Va Vegas finished second at Los Alamitos in his only start. The second favorite is Found My Ball for Doug O’Neill and Mario Gutierrez. He finished third in his only start, which was at Santa Anita. Post is around 3:34 p.m.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 7, 8, 11, 10, 9, 10 (1 also eligible), 9, 10 (2 ae).

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick

THIRD RACE: No.10 Lolo Paniolo (10-1)

Lolo Paniolo sees Edwin Maldonado ride Friday instead of the 7-2 horse Awhitesportscoat whom he rode the last six races. It is a new claim but I am thinking Edwin picked here for trainer Manuel Ortiz. This horse drops multiple classes a move this trainer wins 26% and is 68% in the money. This horse has a great closing kick, the best in this race but the last few races has just been kept too far back. From this outside post I see Edwin blasting to the front and trying to wire them at a 10-1 or more price. Lolo has as much speed as the top choices and a better late kick. This is a great price for us today!

Sunday’s result: Capital Heat under a perfect ride by Jessica Pyfer blasted to the front as we thought and never looked holding on and fighting off to win the head bob on the line at 12-1. Jessica in my opinion is one of the best rookie jockeys we have seen in a long time (and there are many greats that have come through here). Heat paid $26.60 for the win.


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.

“Jockey Paul Nieto, a winner of more than 500 races in his career, will make his first appearance at Los Alamitos Race Course when he rides a pair of horses on Friday. First post is 6 p.m.

“Nieto’s will be in the fourth race aboard Bushido’s Way in a 1,000-yard race. His first quarter-horse mount will come with first-time starter Candy’s Martiny in the eighth for maidens going 300-yards. Nieto has won 412 quarter-horse races in his career of about 20 years. He’s also won 128 thoroughbred races.

Alberto Amparan’s stable has now settled at Los Alamitos after arriving from New Mexico. The veteran trainer has won more than 150 races in his career with around $2 million in lifetime earnings. The feature event on Friday is the fifth race, a $15,000 allowance at 1,000 yards. Coil To Strike and Eskimo Roses are among the horses to watch in this race based on their recent consistency at Los Alamitos.

“Moving on to the weekend, there will be five trials to the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby on Saturday followed by trials to the Grade 1 Brad McKinzie Los Alamitos Winter Championship on Sunday night.


“Eighteen major futurity finalists, including 10 that competed in an open Grade 1 stakes event last year, are among the top sophomores in the trials to the $203,950 Los Alamitos Winter Derby at 400 yards. The horses with the 10 fastest times advance to the final on Sat., Feb. 13.

“Flash Bak, who finished second in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Two Million last year, and Monopolist, winner of the Grade 2 PCQHRA Breeders Futurity, are among the headline names in the trials. Other big names include Terrific Temper, Doc Lamb, and Famous Cartel Jess, all who raced in the Two Million last year.

“The second heat is the toughest as the field will include three of those Two Million finalists in Monopolist, Doc Lamb, and Famous Cartel Jess. Monopolist had the highest placing of the three in the Two Million, finishing fourth. To be ridden by Oscar Andrade, Jr. for trainer James Glenn, Jr., Monopolist ran a tremendous race in the Two Million trials with the second fastest qualifying time. He also won the PCQHRA Breeders Futurity by a half-length on Oct. 3.

“Doc Lamb made only three starts during his freshman campaign, but all three were high-caliber efforts. The son of Tres Seis finished fifth in the Two Million after running second to the sizzling fast Terrific Temper in the trials. He was a come-from-behind head winner in his career debut on Oct. 16. Jaime Gomez trains Doc Lamb. Famous Cartel Jess qualified to both the Golden State Million Futurity and Two Million Futurity after some strong efforts at Ruidoso Downs. The colt will be looking for his first win at Los Alamitos in five starts. This trial will also feature Candy Blood, who dominated the running of the Holiday Handicap on Dec. 26 when winning the 350-yard dash by three lengths. He finished fourth in the Grade 1 Heritage Place Futurity last spring at Remington Park.

“The fourth trial be headed by the Jaime Gomez-trained Flash Bak, who was lights out when finishing second to Apollitical Patty in the Two Million. Flash Bak also qualified to the All American Futurity final at Ruidoso Downs and was a winner of his trial to both the Ed Burke Million and Two Million. Oscar Peinado will ride.

“The trials to the Brad McKinzie for older horses will be headed by Chocolatito, who was a two-time Grade 1 winner last year and fourth-place finisher in the Champion of Champions, plus past Grade 1 winners Zoomin For Spuds, Runforyourlife, Powerful Favorite, and Bos Time Machine, the winner of the Brad McKinzie last year. Other top quarter horses in the trials include Black Fryday, who was a multiple stakes winner in 2018, and Circle City, who won the Grade 2 Golden State Derby winner last year.”

Chris Wade’s LA pick

FIFTH RACE: No. 2 Coil To Strike (7-2)

He has been a steady player at this level and the 6-year-old fares well in my figures against these foes. The speedster has finished second in each of his last three starts against quality rivals and if he repeats his recent performances, he’ll find himself leading the pack and possibly going all the way to the winner’s circle for a top notch jockey/trainer combo.


A final thought

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

Santa Anita Entries for Friday, January 22.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 14th day of a 81-day meet.


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Self TaughtTiago Pereira122Steve Knapp9-240,000
2AppreciatedAbel Cedillo122Rafael Becerra5-140,000
3Kitten's CatJuan Hernandez122Robert N. Falcone, Jr.5-240,000
4Via EgnatiaTyler Baze124Richard Baltas3-140,000
5Golden ImageEswan Flores118Daniel Dunham12-135,000
6ItsthattimeRicardo Gonzalez122Jeff Bonde10-140,000
7Mystery MessengerUmberto Rispoli122Vladimir Cerin3-140,000


6½ Furlongs. Purse: $25,000. Maiden Claiming. 3 year olds. Claiming Prices $30,000-$28,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1CashlingsAbel Cedillo123Peter Miller6-530,000
2He Be DangerousEmily Ellingwood111Richard Baltas12-128,000
3BoluKent Desormeaux123J. Keith Desormeaux6-130,000
4Lili's BoyEswan Flores123Hector O. Palma8-130,000
5Lance the LegendJessica Pyfer116Jeff Bonde5-230,000
6Musical GemRuben Fuentes123Howard L. Zucker20-130,000
7Mr. TripledoubleEdwin Maldonado123Neil French12-130,000
8Presto BenchTyler Baze121Ryan Hanson8-128,000


7 Furlongs. Purse: $24,000. Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $12,500-$10,500.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Royal SeekerEmily Ellingwood110Marcelo Polanco50-110,500
2MinosoJessica Pyfer115Hector O. Palma12-110,500
3Tobacco RoadKent Desormeaux122Paul G. Aguirre3-112,500
4Black StormTyler Baze120Jeff Mullins5-110,500
5PortandoTiago Pereira122William Spawr20-112,500
6Cosa Nostra Alexis Centeno113Stacy Locke20-110,500
7Write Me a SongRuben Fuentes122George Papaprodromou20-112,500
8Jan's ReserveGeovanni Franco122Rosemary Trela5-112,500
9AwhitesportscoatJuan Hernandez122Art Sherman7-212,500
10Lolo PanioloEdwin Maldonado122Manuel Ortiz, Sr.10-112,500
11ColosiAbel Cedillo122Mark Glatt4-112,500


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Royal DudeAlexis Centeno116Vann Belvoir20-1
2BravestoneGeovanni Franco123Richard Rosales50-1
3Marksman On TargetEswan Flores123Gary Stute15-1
4Standing OJessica Pyfer116Philip D'Amato6-1
5MosbyUmberto Rispoli123Philip D'Amato8-1
6Hockey DadMario Gutierrez123Doug F. O'Neill6-1
7Gordy's BoyTiago Pereira123Alexis Barba4-1
8MinehunterJose Valdivia, Jr.123Mike Puype5-1
9Bob DanielsTyler Baze123Jeff Mullins5-2
10Lil RicardoKent Desormeaux123Peter Eurton6-1


1 Mile. Purse: $31,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies. 3 year olds. Claiming Prices $40,000-$35,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Simmer DownEmily Ellingwood108Ryan Hanson8-135,000
2ChevelitaAbel Cedillo122Robert B. Hess, Jr.3-140,000
3Sideways SuancesTyler Baze122Jeff Mullins8-140,000
4Tequila DivaEdwin Maldonado122Jeff Bonde10-140,000
5Made in KarooJuan Hernandez118Peter Miller9-535,000
6Lady MoGeovanni Franco118Ruben Gomez30-135,000
7Malibu JewelMario Gutierrez122Jonathan Wong6-140,000
8I'm All the JediRicardo Gonzalez118Ian Kruljac5-135,000
9Gemstone GalTiago Pereira118Dean Pederson20-135,000


6½ Furlongs Turf. Purse: $33,000. Starter Allowance. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Rather NosyAbel Cedillo124Mike Puype10-1
2Magical GrayJuan Hernandez124Victor L. Garcia5-1
3TrouvilleEswan Flores124Leonard Powell12-1
4ConstantiaUmberto Rispoli124John W. Sadler7-2
5Miss AlegriaRuben Fuentes124Victor L. Garcia15-1
6Lavender Jose Valdivia, Jr.124Peter Miller9-2
7Roses and CandyGeovanni Franco124Ronald L. McAnally8-1
8AnonymouslyKent Desormeaux124Vladimir Cerin6-1
9Claro Que SiEdwin Maldonado124Robert B. Hess, Jr.8-1
10Ellie ArrowayRicardo Gonzalez124Doug F. O'Neill6-1
Also Eligible
11Jen's BattleKent Desormeaux124Robert N. Falcone, Jr.6-1


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Lessons of AutismRuben Fuentes123Marcia Stortz20-1
2Run King Stud RunEswan Flores123Felix L. Gonzalez12-1
3Alexander's DreamAbel Cedillo123Jeff Bonde8-1
4By MoonlightRicardo Gonzalez123Richard Baltas8-1
5Va Va VegasJuan Hernandez123Bob Baffert5-2
6SabudaUmberto Rispoli123Anna Meah7-2
7Gabby HayesJessica Pyfer116Steven Miyadi4-1
8Found My BallMario Gutierrez123Doug F. O'Neill3-1
9Luckys Last StandTiago Pereira123Dean Pederson5-1


6 Furlongs Turf. Purse: $28,000. Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $25,000-$22,500.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Montana MoonRuben Fuentes124Antonio Garcia12-125,000
2HartelJuan Hernandez124Peter Miller3-125,000
3Surfside SunsetTiago Pereira122Dean Greenman50-122,500
4Mystery ManJessica Pyfer117Richard E. Mandella9-225,000
5Gov From AboveAlexis Centeno117Art Sherman20-125,000
6Red MuleRicardo Gonzalez124Robert N. Falcone, Jr.8-125,000
7Mecklenburg Tyler Baze124Mike Puype8-125,000
8ExultationUmberto Rispoli124Peter Eurton4-1
9One Flew SouthAbel Cedillo124Doug F. O'Neill5-225,000
10Show BusinessMario Gutierrez122Steve Knapp30-122,500
Also Eligible
11Zipper MischiefKent Desormeaux124Blake R. Heap8-125,000
12Flat WhiteTiago Pereira124Rene Amescua20-125,000