Horse racing newsletter: Jon White’s 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 we have one of those four-day racing weeks.

Before we get to the good stuff, a couple of news items I might elaborate on over the long weekend.

--Former jockey Aaron Gryder has joined The Stronach Group as Vice President, Industry Relations. He’ll be located in Florida and work with Aidan Butler with stakeholders, including jockeys.

--Jockey Flavien Prat has split with longtime agent Derek Lawson and gone to Brad Pegram, who has Mike Smith and Drayden Van Dyke as clients. But the rules say an agent can only have two clients, so Van Dyke is shopping for a new agent.

Those are the top headlines. I’ll get to more in the next few days.

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Jon White’s Kentucky Derby rankings


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 Take it away, Jon.

“The big Kentucky Derby news this week is a race that has been postponed.

“Undefeated Eclipse Award winner Essential Quality, who has not started since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland last Nov. 6, was supposed to make his 2021 debut in Monday’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

“But Oaklawn announced Wednesday that it has canceled racing from Saturday through Monday due to ‘predicted winter weather.’ The Southwest has been moved to Saturday, Feb. 20.

“Keepmeinmind and Jackie’s Warrior also had been scheduled to run Monday in the Southwest, which is why so many had been looking forward to seeing the 1 1/16-mile race.

“Essential Quality is No. 1 in this newsletter’s Kentucky Derby rankings. Keepmeinmind is No. 8. Jackie’s Warrior, winner of such important races in New York last year as the Hopeful Stakes and Champagne Stakes, finished fourth as the 9-10 favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“The good news is it’s expected that Essential Quality, Keepmeinmind and Jackie’s Warrior still will show up in the Southwest next week and vie for the 10-4-2-1 points awarded to the first four finishers toward the May 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.


“Two 1 1/8-mile races this week offering Kentucky Derby points will be contested Saturday. They are the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds and the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

“The first four finishers in the Risen Star will earn 50-20-10-5 Kentucky Derby points. The El Camino Real Derby has 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby points up for grabs.

“Thirteen are entered in the Risen Star, but 3-1 morning-line favorite Keepmeinmind will be scratched to await the rescheduled Southwest, according to trainer Robertino Diodoro.

“With Keepmeinmind not starting, Mandaloun assumes the role of morning-line favorite at 9-2. Senor Buscador and Midnight Bourbon are each 6-1. The final odds for Mandaloun, Senor Buscador and Midnight Bourbon most assuredly will be shorter than their morning-line prices due to the defection of Keepmeinmind.

“The Risen Star is a prime example of the flaw in how morning lines are made these days. The term ‘morning line’ originated when morning lines were submitted in the morning on race day. Nowadays, however, morning lines are submitted at least two days in advance of race day. Thus, when a contender scratches and/or there are several scratches in a race, the morning-line odds lose much of their relevance.

“Nowadays, in reality, a ‘morning’ line is actually an ‘advance’ line.

“Senor Buscador, trained by Todd Fincher, is two for two. Both victories were at Remington Park. In his most recent start, the Kentucky-bred Mineshaft colt rallied from last in a field of 10 to win the Springboard Mile with authority by 5 3/4 lengths on Dec. 18.

“Midnight Bourbon won Fair Grounds’ 1 1/16-mile Lecomte Stakes by one length at odds of 7-2 on Jan. 16, with Proxy second at 8-1, Mandaloun third as the 4-5 favorite and Santa Cruiser fourth at 7-1. They are all entered in the Risen Star. Mandaloun will race with blinkers for the first time Saturday in his attempt to rebound from his defeat in the Lecomte.


“Nine are slated for the synthetic surface in the El Camino Real Derby. Rombauer has been installed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite. He has not started since finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Trained by Michael McCarthy, Rombauer ran second in Santa Anita’s American Pharoah Stakes prior to the Breeders’ Cup.

“Waspirant also is in the El Camino Real Derby field. His morning-line odds are 8-1. Rombauer and Waspirant were entered in Santa Anita’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Jan. 30, but both were scratched. Medina Spirit won the Lewis, with Roman Centurian second and Hot Rod Charlie third. Medina Spirit currently is No. 6 in this newsletter’s Kentucky Derby rankings, while Hot Rod Charlie is No. 7 and Roman Centurian is No. 10.

“Other Southern California-based 3-year-olds entered in the El Camino Real Derby are the filly Javanica (5-2), Petruchio (3-1), Positivity (12-1) and Play Chicken (12-1)

“Rombauer is a Kentucky-bred Twirling Candy colt. So is Dream Shake, who won by 4 3/4 lengths at odds of 20-1 when unveiled last Sunday at Santa Anita. Trained by Peter Eurton, Dream Shake trounced a stronger-than-usual maiden field that included the highly regarded Bob Baffert-trained Bezos, who finished seventh as the 3-5 favorite.

“Last Saturday, Baffert won Santa Anita’s seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes with Concert Tour, who currently is No. 5 in the Kentucky Derby rankings. Heavily favored at 2-5 in the San Vicente, Concert Tour did not have an easy time of it. He defeated 5-1 Freedom Fighter by a half-length.

“Freedom Fighter also hails from the powerful Baffert barn. He ran quite well in defeat last Saturday in that he had not competed since his narrow debut victory at Del Mar last Aug 1.

“Concert Tour’s early career so far has mirrored that of the Baffert-trained Nadal. Both did not race at 2. Both won a maiden sprint when unveiled at 3 in January at Santa Anita. They both then were victorious in the San Vicente. Nadal won the 2020 San Vicente by three quarters of a length as a 3-10 favorite and would go on to win the Rebel Stakes and a division of the Arkansas Derby, both at Oaklawn, before an injury ended his racing career.

“Baffert also trains the undefeated Life Is Good, who is No. 2 in the Kentucky Derby rankings. Winner of Santa Anita’s Sham Stakes on Jan. 2, the Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt has Santa Anita’s 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes on March 6 as his next target.


“Two races last Saturday offering 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby points to the first four finishers were the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and the 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.

“Candy Man Rocket, a Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt trained by Bill Mott, won the Davis by one length at odds of 3-1. His final time was 1:44.30. Mott also sent out runner-up Nova Rags. Hidden Stash finished third in the field of 12. Candy Man Rocket now has registered back-to-back victories after finishing seventh in his first career start.

Chad Brown trains Risk Taking, who won the Withers by 3 3/4 lengths as the 9-5 favorite. Risk Taking posted a final time of 1:51.91. A Kentucky-bred Medaglia d’Oro colt, Risk Taking lost his first two races without blinkers. He’s two for two since having blinkers added to his equipment.

“Overtook finished second in the Withers. Capo Kane ended up third in the field of nine.

“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 (5)

6. Medina Spirit (6)

7. Hod Rod Charlie (7)

8. Keepmeinmind (8)

9. Senor Buscador (9)

10. Roman Centurian (10)

NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”

Santa Anita preview

This is a four-day week so the cards are going to have a stretched look to them. Friday bears that out. There are eight races, no stakes, and they begin at 12:30 p.m. Half of the races are on the turf, the odd numbered ones.

We’re going to pick a one-mile turf allowance/optional claimer as the feature. It’s for fillies and mares 4 and up and worth $65,000 in purse money. She’s Our Charm is the 5-2 morning-line favorite for Ron McAnally and jockey Giovanni Franco. This lightly raced 5-year-old mare has won three-of-10 lifetime starts. She was in stakes company last three races, so this might be easier.


The second favorite, at 3-1, is On Mars for Phil D’Amato and Mike Smith. This 4-year-old filly is also three-for-10 lifetime but a little less stakes conditioned. She has won two of her last three and three of her last five. Post is around 3:45 p.m.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 7, 7, 10, 6, 9 (2 also eligible), 8, 8, 9.

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day

THIRD RACE: No. 8 Polished Lady (6-1)

Polished Lady gets first time Umberto Rispoli on Friday and on turf for trainer John Sadler. This tandem has won three of nine thus far at the meet. First time Lasix as they take a jump in class so we are getting a nice 6-1 morning line. There is a sharp workout as well for the first start in three months. This horse should not be 6-1 and is my top choice in the race.

Sunday’s Result: Prance was out for exercise on Sunday finishing off the board.

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.

“Los Alamitos Race Course resumes its live nighttime racing with an eight-race program on Friday night headed by a $12,540 allowance for quarter horses at 330 yards. The field will be led by Governor’s Cup Futurity finalist Favorite Five and Corona Chick Handicap contenders One Sweet Venom and No Questions. First post is 6 p.m.


“The Early Pick Four will kick off with eight thoroughbred fillies and mares going 4 ½ furlongs. Havasu Hunni, ridden by Kellie McDaid for trainer Lorenzo Ruiz, should top this field. The Kentucky-bred mare showed good early speed and a runner-up finisher in each of her last three starts.

“The Late Pick Four starts with seven fillies and mares going 1,000 yards. Leading trainer Jesus Uranga will saddle Back Beauty against impressive winner Purdue and Way Too Sweet, who enters this race following a daylight victory on Jan. 24.

“On Saturday night, Dr. James Streelman will look to become the first owner to win the 400 yard Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby more than once when Flash Bak heads the field as the 8-5 favorite. Streelman’s first win in the Winter Derby came with the 11-1 longshot Imaqtpie in 2017. Flash Bak won his trial finishing strongly while racing from the middle of the track to score a three-quarter-length win with the fastest qualifying time of :20.026.

“Flash Bak’s strong trial effort followed a remarkable juvenile campaign in which he was one of only two runners to qualify to both the All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs and the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity. He was second in the Two Million behind the PCQHRA champion 2-year-old filly Apollitical Patty.

“On Sunday, Up For Speed is among the favorites in the Grade 1 Brad McKinzie Los Alamitos Winter Championship after posting the fastest qualifying time in the trials on Jan. 24, less than a week after his connections purchased him privately from Ed Allred.

“’We just had him for a few days so I can’t take credit for that win,’ trainer Roman Figueroa said after the trials. ‘He’s definitely an outstanding horse.’

“The field also features defending champion Bos Time Machine and multiple Grade 1 winner Powerful Favorite, who cruised to victory in the trials after running third in the Champion of Champions. Powerful Favorite is the most accomplished horse in the field after winning three graded derbies in 2019 and then returning with a win the Grade 1 Go Man Go Handicap. Trained by Chris O’Dell, Powerful Favorite has finished in the top three in 14 consecutive starts, winning 10.

“Los Alamitos has extended its $10,000 Pick Six promo until further notice. The track seeds the Pick Six pool with $10,000 if there is not a carryover going into its Sunday night racing program. The promo boosted the total Pick Six pool on Sundays in January to an average of $65,000.”

Chris Wade’s LA pick of the day


FIRST RACE: No. 1 Glitter Gulch (4-1)

She is a hard trying 5-year-old who despite often finding trouble remains a solid play in this event with everything factored in – trouble and track variant. She enters this race after a better than looked runner-up effort 20 nights ago when she overcame a poor start. In said affair, Glitter Gulch leaned back at the start to lose multiple lengths and her early racing momentum. After the tough getaway, this hard knocker put forth a sustained run down the backstretch and through the turn to reach contention followed by an even run inside the 1/16th pole to garner the runner-up position. With several speed horses entered in here this evening, we’ll push the chances of this mare to hopefully break better this night and sit her preferred fourth over trip prior to her usual solid finish and be a big threat for the top spots.

A final thought

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

Santa Anita Entries for Friday, February 12.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 23rd day of a 81-day meet.


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $39,000. Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $32,000-$28,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Move Over Tiago Pereira118Hector O. Palma10-128,000
2CauseididitmywayEswan Flores118Sal Gonzalez12-128,000
3Prodigal SonMario Gutierrez122Doug F. O'Neill10-132,000
4Fly to MarsFlavien Prat124Peter Miller2-132,000
5Southern KingGeovanni Franco122Brian J. Koriner4-132,000
6Jasikan Tyler Baze122John W. Sadler7-232,000
7Cajun TreasureUmberto Rispoli122Peter Eurton5-232,000


6 Furlongs. Purse: $61,000. Maiden Special Weight. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1RattrapanteUmberto Rispoli124John W. Sadler6-1
2Bye Bye Miss PieFlavien Prat124Mike Puype8-5
3ReemAbel Cedillo124Bob Baffert2-1
4Shell ShockTyler Baze124Carlo Vaccarezza12-1
5Fierce for SulDrayden Van Dyke124Bob Baffert8-1
6Bay WitchJessica Pyfer117Richard Baltas20-1
7Angel of FreedomRicardo Gonzalez124John A. Shirreffs4-1


6½ Furlongs Turf. Purse: $36,000. Starter Optional Claiming. Fillies. 3 year olds. Claiming Prices $50,000-$40,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Commas Save LivesTyler Baze121Jeff Mullins15-1
2Disko FeverMario Gutierrez121Richard Baltas9-5
3Exchange VowsAlexis Centeno110Sal Gonzalez20-140,000
4Dancing DanaAbel Cedillo121Craig Anthony Lewis6-1
5Risen LadyGeovanni Franco121Michael W. McCarthy8-150,000
6Malibu MistressHeriberto Figueroa121Jeffrey Metz20-1
7Big Mama SueJessica Pyfer114Paul G. Aguirre20-1
8Polished LadyUmberto Rispoli121Michael W. McCarthy6-150,000
9Mucha WomanFlavien Prat117Sal Gonzalez5-140,000
10Yellow DressDrayden Van Dyke123Robert B. Hess, Jr.4-1


7 Furlongs. Purse: $63,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $40,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1ExaultedMike Smith122Peter Eurton3-1
2Mongolian LegendAlexis Centeno115Enebish Ganbat20-1
3RayrayTyler Baze124Mark Glatt4-1
4PosterizeGeovanni Franco124Daniel Azcarate5-1
5Wrecking CrewUmberto Rispoli124Peter Miller5-2
6American TheoremFlavien Prat124George Papaprodromou9-5


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1BoruUmberto Rispoli124Vladimir Cerin3-125,000
2Hard CountRicardo Gonzalez124Robert N. Falcone, Jr.6-125,000
3Big City BaneHeriberto Figueroa122Peter Miller4-122,500
4Galloping MischiefDrayden Van Dyke124Paul G. Aguirre6-125,000
5Armour PlateFlavien Prat122Peter Miller7-222,500
6Western SmokeTyler Baze124Craig Dollase12-125,000
7JugglesMario Gutierrez124Doug F. O'Neill4-125,000
8Surfside SunsetEswan Flores122Dean Greenman50-122,500
9Show BusinessJose Valdivia, Jr.124Steve Knapp20-125,000
Also Eligible
10Montana MoonRuben Fuentes122Antonio Garcia15-122,500
11FoothillAbel Cedillo124Sean McCarthy5-125,000


6 Furlongs. Purse: $22,000. Maiden Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Tiger's SongTiago Pereira124Alfredo P. Marquez4-120,000
2PobrecitoDrayden Van Dyke124Blake R. Heap10-120,000
3Stir the PotTyler Baze124Steve Knapp4-120,000
4Golden VictoryRuben Fuentes124Victor L. Garcia15-120,000
5BetitoAbel Cedillo124Kristin Mulhall4-120,000
6Mr. ClutchEswan Flores124Jorge Gutierrez30-120,000
7CrankinAlexis Centeno117Doug F. O'Neill5-220,000
8Fun CouponsGeovanni Franco124Brian J. Koriner7-220,000


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $65,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $62,500.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1TapwaterFlavien Prat122Richard E. Mandella6-1
2Love and Peace Edwin Maldonado122Neil D. Drysdale12-1
3On MarsMike Smith124Philip D'Amato3-1
4Miss Stormy DTyler Baze124Carla Gaines5-1
5She's Our CharmGeovanni Franco124Ronald L. McAnally5-2
6Queen of GodAbel Cedillo124Juan Andres Rodriguez12-1
7Silberpfeil Jose Valdivia, Jr.124Leonard Powell5-1
8Moonhall Milly Umberto Rispoli122Leonard Powell6-1


1 1/16 Mile. Purse: $24,000. Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $16,000-$12,500.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1K P D DayJessica Pyfer117Alfredo P. Marquez6-116,000
2BodegaAlexis Centeno113Derek Meredith15-112,500
3Street BehaviorMario Gutierrez124Steven Miyadi5-116,000
4Next RevoltFlavien Prat124J. Keith Desormeaux7-216,000
5Master RecoveryEdwin Maldonado120Cesar DeAlba6-112,500
6SpeakerofthehouseTiago Pereira120Ian Kruljac6-112,500
7SeicheAbel Cedillo124Bob Baffert5-116,000
8MeadwayEswan Flores124John E. Cortez15-116,000
9CzechmightRicardo Gonzalez124Richard Baltas4-116,000