Horse racing newsletter: Jon White’s Kentucky Derby rankings are here

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 things start to get interesting on the Kentucky Derby trail.

Let’s get right to the good stuff.

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 and previewing the weekend points races, brought courtesy of

“Someone who truly would have appreciated the fierce three-way battle down the lane involving Medina Spirit, Roman Centurian and Hot Rod Charlie in last Saturday’s 1 1/16 Robert B. Lewis Stakes was the man for whom the race is named.

Bob Lewis, who died of a heart attack in 2006 at age 81, certainly enjoyed watching a good horse race. He especially loved it whenever he and his wife, Beverly, saw one of their equine athletes in action. The Lewises owned such champions as Serena’s Song, Timber Country, Silver Charm, Charismatic, Orientate and Folklore.


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“Speaking of Silver Charm, when Medina Spirit won the Lewis in ultra-game fashion for Bob Baffert, the trainer said it reminded him of Silver Charm.

“Known for being tenacious in the heat of battle, Silver Charm in 1997 provided Baffert with the first of his record-tying six Kentucky Derby victories. The gray colt went on to win the Preakness Stakes before having his bid for Triple Crown glory thwarted when he finished second to Touch Gold in the Belmont Stakes.

“Though Baffert’s first big thoroughbred win on the national stage came when Thirty Slews captured the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Gulfstream Park, it was Silver Charm’s run at a Triple Crown that really put Baffert on the map.

“Medina Spirit won last Saturday’s Lewis Stakes by a neck, while Roman Centurian nosed out Hot Rod Charlie for second. Medina Spirit’s performance was much better than the margin of victory or the final time would suggest.

“The Lewis was run fast early and slow late. On a wet track rated good (Baffert called it very tiring), Medina Spirit showed the way early. He recorded brisk fractions of :22.89 and :46.61 while being pushed by Wipe the Slate and Parnelli. With the final quarter a far-from-sizzling :26.98, Medina Spirit completed his 1 1/16-mile trip in 1:46.26.

“To Medina Spirit’s credit, despite running as quickly as he did during the early portion of the race, he still managed to get to the finish line in front while displaying Silver Charm-like heart. And what happened to the two horses who pushed Medina Spirit early? Parnelli finished fifth, 19 1/2 lengths behind Medina Spirit. Wipe the Slate finished sixth, 20 lengths behind Medina Spirit.


“On the strength of Medina Spirit’s win in the Lewis, he climbs a couple of notches this week to No. 6 in this newsletter’s rankings for the May 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Hot Rod Charlie drops to No. 7 after being No. 6 last week. Roman Centurian debuts this week at No. 10.

“Departing from the Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week are Prime Factor and Jackie’s Warrior. Prime Factor, who was No. 5 last week, finished third as the 11-10 favorite in last Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream. Jackie’s Warrior will get the opportunity to reappear on the Top 10 if he runs well in his first 2021 race, likely at Oaklawn Park’s 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes on Feb. 15.

“The Southwest also is scheduled to be the first 2021 start for Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male champion Essential Quality, who once again holds the top spot in the Kentucky Derby rankings this week. Still another quality 3-year-old with designs on the Southwest is Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes winner Keepmeinmind, who currently is ranked No. 8.

“Greatest Honour, who won last Saturday’s Holy Bull by an emphatic 5 3/4 lengths when coming off a maiden victory, debuts in the Kentucky Derby rankings this week all the way up at No. 4.

Shug McGaughey trains Greatest Honor, a Kentucky-bred son of Tapit and Tiffany’s Honour. Tiffany’s Honour is kin to back-to-back Belmont Stakes winners Jazil (2006) and Rags to Riches (2007). McGaughey won the 2013 Kentucky Derby with Orb.

“The two races this week offering 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby points to the first four finishers are Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.


“The Davis has enticed an overflow field of 13, including one also eligible. The 3-1 morning-line favorite is Smiley Sobotka. Trained by Dale Romans, the Canadian-bred Brody’s Cause colt makes his first start since finishing second to Keepmeinmind in the Kentucky Jockey Club.

“Trainer Bill Mott has Nova Rags entered in the Davis. Pegged as the 4-1 second choice, the Kentucky-bred Union Rags colt makes his second 2021 start after winning Tampa’s seven-furlong Pasco Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths on Jan. 16.

“The feeling here is Candy Man Rocket has a shot to win the Davis at 10-1 on the morning line. Also trained by Mott, the Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt registered a 9 1/4-length victory in a six-furlong maiden race Jan. 9 at Gulfstream in his second career start.

“The Withers has drawn a field of nine. The 5-2 morning-line favorite is Risk Taking. Trained by Chad Brown, the Kentucky-bred Medaglia d’Oro colt is coming off a 2 1/4-length win in a 1 1/8-mile maiden race Dec. 13 at the Big A.

“Capo Kane (3-1 morning line) and Donegal Bay (7-2) also are Withers contenders.

“Trained by Harold Wyner and based at Pennsylvania’s Parx, Capo Kane won Aqueduct’s one-mile Jerome Stakes by 6 1/4 lengths on a muddy track Jan. 1 in his first 2021 start. Capo Kane is a California-bred son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.

“Donegal Bay makes his stakes debut following a 4 1/4-length win in a one-mile maiden race Dec. 12 at Gulfstream. Todd Pletcher trains the Kentucky-bred Uncle Mo colt.

“Pletcher also has Overtook in the Withers. Listed at 6-1 on the morning line, the Kentucky-bred Curlin colt lost twice before winning a one-mile maiden race by two lengths at Aqueduct on Dec. 20.


“Saturday’s seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita does not offer any Kentucky Derby points. Nevertheless, it merits attention vis-a-vis the first Saturday in May. After all, Nadal won last year’s San Vicente and went on to win a division of the Arkansas Derby on the first Saturday in May for Baffert. Nyquist in 2016 won the San Vicente and subsequently succeeded in the Run for the Roses.

“The 8-5 morning-line favorite in this year’s San Vicente and No. 5 in this newsletter’s Kentucky Derby rankings is Concert Tour, a sparkling 3 1/2-length debut winner for Baffert in a six-furlong maiden race Jan. 15 at Santa Anita. Baffert also trains San Vicente entrant Freedom Fighter, who has not started since he won a five-furlong maiden sprint by a head last Aug. 1 at Del Mar.

“Freedom Fighter is 5-2 on the morning line, as is The Chosen Vron, who trounced fellow California-bred maidens at first asking Dec. 27 at Santa Anita when he won by 6 3/4 lengths.

“Another impressive recent California-bred maiden winner in the San Vicente is Found My Ball, who drew away in the stretch to post a six-length victory at Santa Anita on Jan. 22.

“Uncle Boogie goes into the San Vicente with two wins and two seconds from five career starts.

“Mr. Impossible has been scratched from the San Vicente to run instead in a maiden race Sunday at Santa Anita that has attracted the highly regarded Baffert first-time starter Bezos.


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

1. Essential Quality (1)

2. Life Is Good (2)

3. Caddo River (3)

4. Greatest Honour (4)

5. Concert Tour (4)

6. Medina Spirit (8)

7. Hod Rod Charlie (6)

8. Keepmeinmind (7)

9. Senor Buscador (9)

10. Roman Centurian (NR)

NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”

Santa Anita preview

Friday’s card will be the latest starting time of the three this weekend with 12:30 p.m. first post. There are eight races and five of them will have a first-time winner. Half of the races are on the turf, all of the odd numbered races. Thanks to everything being off the turf last weekend, there is the rare Friday stakes race, albeit a minor stakes. It’s the $75,000 Baffle Stakes for 3-year-olds going 6 ½ furlongs on the turf.

The favorite, at 3-1, is Earls Rock for trainer Phil D’Amato and jockey Flavien Prat. He made his first start in Ireland, finishing second, before switching to D’Amato in the U.S. where he won his maiden by 4 ¼ lengths. Commander Khai is the second choice at 7-2 for Richard Baltas and Umberto Rispoli. This colt has one win in five starts. He’s coming off a second in the Eddie Logan after giving up the lead. That race was a mile. Post is around 3:45 p.m.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 8, 5, 10 (2 also eligible), 7, 8, 7, 9, 9.

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day

SEVENTH RACE: No.1 Gator Shining (8-1)

Gator Shining has lost by a head bob two of the three career starts with a win sandwiched in between, all with jockey Ricardo Gonzalez riding for trainer Richard Baltas. ‘Gator has the top last race speed, top back speed and loves to close late. Today is the second start off the layoff. Wide open race I will gladly take this 8-1 value.

Sunday’s Result: Lady Noguez went off at 3-1 and sat at the back of the pack into the turn before making a too late move to run second, passing the winner on the gallop out. Lady paid $3.80 for the place.

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


No Los Alamitos this weekend

There is no racing at Los Alamitos this weekend. Quarter horses are notorious gamblers and a bunch of them wanted the weekend off to go to Las Vegas and bet the Super Bowl. A spokeshorse said, “We spend all year with people betting on us. Now it’s time, for at least one day, for us to bet on them.” So, there you have it, plus the course gets renovated. Orlando Gutierrez will be back next week with his preview.

A final thought

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

Santa Anita Entries for Friday, February 5.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 20th day of a 81-day meet.


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1No Foolery HereFlavien Prat124Richard Baltas8-1
2Coulthard Umberto Rispoli124Philip D'Amato5-2
3Eagle ChiefJoel Rosario124John W. Sadler5-1
4Got CurlyMario Gutierrez124Philip A. Oviedo15-1
5Kahuna MagicJuan Hernandez124John A. Shirreffs8-1
6Mahaamel Tyler Baze124Jeff Mullins6-1
7First Class DadAlexis Centeno117Jeff Bonde4-1
8Hudson RidgeDrayden Van Dyke124Bob Baffert7-2


1 Mile. Purse: $61,000. Maiden Special Weight. Fillies. 3 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1FrosteriaMike Smith124Bob Baffert6-5
2American HeightsVictor Espinoza124Carla Gaines10-1
3Lady MystifyFlavien Prat124Peter Eurton5-2
4Donna BellaUmberto Rispoli124Simon Callaghan2-1
5Quick and DirtyRicardo Gonzalez124Michael W. McCarthy8-1


6 Furlongs Turf. Purse: $35,000. Maiden Claiming. 3 year olds. Claiming Prices $50,000-$45,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1SoulongJoel Rosario119Peter Miller4-145,000
2Whiskey VisionAbel Cedillo119Val Brinkerhoff10-145,000
3Cross IndianEswan Flores123Hector O. Palma7-250,000
4AmanofmystatureFlavien Prat123Peter Miller5-250,000
5Daniel's MagicRicardo Gonzalez119Eoin G. Harty8-145,000
6ImissbaymeadowsJessica Pyfer116Dan Blacker20-150,000
7Racing AceTyler Baze123Charles S. Treece30-150,000
8Pro BonoHeriberto Figueroa123Carlo Vaccarezza10-150,000
9Mongolian FordEdwin Maldonado123Enebish Ganbat8-150,000
10Special MissionUmberto Rispoli123Richard Baltas8-150,000
Also Eligible
11SensemakerRuben Fuentes123Manuel Ortiz, Sr.10-150,000
12Lance the LegendJessica Pyfer116Jeff Bonde3-150,000


1 Mile. Purse: $63,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Popular KidTyler Baze124Eddie Truman9-220,000
2OliverJoel Rosario124Doug F. O'Neill3-120,000
3Coalinga RoadUmberto Rispoli122Carla Gaines2-1
4Bam Bam AgainJessica Pyfer115Reed Saldana20-120,000
5Lightning FastTiago Pereira122William Spawr12-1
6Desmond DossAbel Cedillo124Steven Miyadi3-1
7SignofthecrossFlavien Prat122Leonard Powell5-1


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $61,000. Maiden Special Weight. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Wind and HopeRicardo Gonzalez124Simon Callaghan10-1
2Lady CrockerMike Smith124Carla Gaines15-1
3Sweet DevilUmberto Rispoli124Michael W. McCarthy4-1
4Lady Timmy Ho Joel Rosario124Mike Puype5-2
5Eyes OpenJuan Hernandez124Dan Blacker3-1
6Witch MoonFlavien Prat124Philip D'Amato2-1
7I'll Do It for YouEdwin Maldonado124Quentin B. Miller30-1
8Phoenix TearsAlexis Centeno117Daniel Dunham20-1


1 Mile. Purse: $47,000. Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $50,000-$45,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Self TaughtTiago Pereira122Steve Knapp8-150,000
2King AbnerTyler Baze122Philip D'Amato5-150,000
3Bold EndeavorJessica Pyfer115Mark Glatt8-150,000
4Two Thirty FiveAbel Cedillo122Manuel Ortiz, Sr.7-250,000
5MultiplierFlavien Prat122Peter Miller5-250,000
6Pubilius SyrusJuan Hernandez124Vladimir Cerin2-150,000
7ItsthattimeRicardo Gonzalez122Jeff Bonde12-150,000


6½ Furlongs Turf. Purse: $75,000. 'Baffle Stakes'. 3 year olds.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Gator ShiningRicardo Gonzalez120Richard Baltas8-1
2Earls Rock Flavien Prat120Philip D'Amato3-1
3WestonTyler Baze124Ryan Hanson12-1
4Mac Daddy TooAbel Cedillo120Doug F. O'Neill8-1
5Sword Zorro Joel Rosario120John W. Sadler6-1
6Commander KhaiUmberto Rispoli120Richard Baltas7-2
7ExhaltingEdwin Maldonado122Doug F. O'Neill6-1
8Harlan EstateRuben Fuentes120Peter Eurton20-1
9Beer Can ManJuan Hernandez124Mark Glatt4-1


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Wild ArchTyler Baze124Anthony K. Saavedra4-120,000
2MoreavinoJuan Hernandez124Gary Mandella6-120,000
3A J RockJessica Pyfer117Reed Saldana7-220,000
4Haute TimeAlexis Centeno117Blake R. Heap3-120,000
5Shez Our ArchEswan Flores124Jorge Gutierrez5-120,000
6Turkish AngelEmily Ellingwood114Marcelo Polanco50-120,000
7Spoken With a KissJose Valdivia, Jr.124Ronald W. Ellis5-120,000
8Mojo MamaAbel Cedillo124Val Brinkerhoff30-120,000
9My Girl PearlRuben Fuentes124Steve Knapp8-120,000