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 the Kentucky Derby trail starts to get interesting.

We’ll get right to it with our very popular Derby rankings.

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.

“Essential Quality, the undefeated Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male champion who is No. 1 in this newsletter’s Kentucky Derby rankings, originally was supposed to have made his 2021 debut this past Monday in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.


“However, due to the unusual February wintry weather, the Southwest at first was moved to this Saturday. Then it was moved to this Sunday. And now it has been moved to Feb. 27.

“Despite the delay, the plan is for Essential Quality to run in the Southwest on Feb. 27, according to trainer Brad Cox. The same goes for Jackie’s Warrior, according to trainer Steve Asmussen.

Enjoying this newsletter?

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.

“Thus, the rematch between Essential Quality and Jackie’s Warrior is still on. When they met in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Essential Quality won at odds of 7-2, while Jackie’s Warrior finished fourth as the 9-10 favorite.

“Going into the Breeders’ Cup, Essential Quality was two for two. The Kentucky-bred Tapit colt won a maiden race at Churchill Downs in September and the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October prior to winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on that same track in November.

“Jackie’s Warrior was four for four going into the Breeders’ Cup. The Kentucky-bred Maclean’s Music colt won such important races as the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga in September and Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park in October before having his bubble of invincibility burst at the Breeders’ Cup.

“With a rematch between Essential Quality and Jackie’s Warrior now scheduled to take place on Feb. 27, one can only hope that the Southwest finally will be run on that date.


“Life Is Good, who is No. 2 in our rankings, continues to sparkle in his workouts for trainer Bob Baffert. The Kentucky-bred colt was clocked in 1:00.80 for his five-furlong drill this past Monday morning at Santa Anita. It was not the time, but rather the effortless manner in which Life Is Good executed his workout that was impressive.

“Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman wrote: ‘Life Is Good went along so easily that clockers designated the work as breezing, which is given out rarely in California, as most works are labeled handily. Of the 137 works on Monday on both the main and training tracks, his was the only one so denoted.’

“As I watched Life Is Good’s Monday workout on XBTV, it appeared to me that he was just floating over the ground. When I mentioned this observation in a text to Baffert, his one-word response was ‘freaky.’

“According to Equibase, Life Is Good has had 17 recorded workouts. His most recent four works have all been listed as breezing by the clockers.

“Justify, the 2018 Triple Crown winner trained by Baffert, had a total of 17 Southern California workouts during his racing career, none of which were listed as breezing.

“American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown winner trained by Baffert, had a total of 42 Southern California workouts during his racing career, with only two listed as breezing.


“Life Is Good is two for two. After a 9 1/2-length debut victory in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race at Del Mar in November, he won Santa Anita’s one-mile Sham Stakes by three-quarters of a length on Jan. 2.

“Authentic, likewise trained by Baffert, also won a Del Mar maiden race at first asking in November. Authentic then won the Sham in 1:37.57, a final time that was slower than Life Is Good’s 1:36.63 in this year’s renewal.

“After Authentic took the Sham, he won Santa Anita’s 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes in his next start. Life Is Good is scheduled to make his next start in the San Felipe on March 6.

“During the second half of 2020, Authentic won both the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic on his way to being voted Eclipse Award Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male.

“Meanwhile, Mandaloun won Fair Grounds’ 1 1/8-mile Risen Star Stakes last Saturday and returns to the rankings at No. 5. Senor Buscador drops out of the Top 10 after finishing fifth in the Risen Star.

“Senor Buscador’s trainer, Todd Fincher, told the Daily Racing Form’s Mary Rampellini that two options being discussed for the colt’s next start are the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn on March 13 or the Santa Anita Derby on April 3. Senor Buscador won last year’s Springboard Mile at Remington Park.


“Mandaloun was No. 10 in our rankings going into Fair Grounds’ Jan. 16 Lecomte Stakes. But Mandaloun dropped off the Top 10 after running third in the Lecomte in which Midnight Bourbon and Proxy finished first and second, respectively.

“It looks like the addition of blinkers was a positive equipment change for Mandaloun in the Risen Star. He sat comfortably in third early, responded willingly in the stretch and won by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:50.39 as the 2-1 favorite. Proxy finished second in the field of 11. Midnight Bourbon came in third.

“The Risen Star was Mandaloun’s third victory from four career starts.

“Into Mischief is the sire of Mandaloun and the aforementioned Life Is Good and Authentic.

“Cox trains three of the 3-year-olds in this week’s rankings: No. 1 Essential Quality, No. 3 Caddo River and No. 5 Mandaloun.

“Caddo River registered a 10 1/4-length victory in Oaklawn’s one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes on Jan. 22. The Rebel is the next scheduled start for him.

“Baffert also trains three of the 3-year-olds in our rankings: No. 2 Life Is Good, No. 6 Concert Tour and No. 7 Medina Spirit.

“Concert Tour is headed to the Rebel after winning Santa Anita’s San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 6.


“Medina Spirit finished second in the Sham, then won Santa Anita’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Jan. 30. His next race has not been determined.

“In last Saturday’s El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, a 1 1/8-mile race on a synthetic surface, Southern California-based Rombauer trailed early in a field of eight and rallied to win by a neck as the 6-5 favorite. Javanica, a filly also based in Southern California, finished second as the 2-1 second choice in the wagering. Govenor’s Party, neglected by bettors to the tune of 119-1, ran third.

Michael McCarthy trains Rombauer. Daily Racing Form lists the Santa Anita Derby as the next likely start for the Kentucky-bred Twirling Candy colt.

“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. Mandaloun (NR)

6. Concert Tour (5)

7. Medina Spirit (6)

8. Hot Rod Charlie (7)

9. Keepmeinmind (8)

10. Roman Centurian (10)

NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”

Santa Anita preview

The good news about Friday’s card is there are enough horses to fill nine races, but they aren’t really great races. There are no stakes or allowance races but there are three maiden specials, two of those for Cal-breds. So, we’ll designate the non Cal-bred race as the feature. They are all worth $61,000. It’s for 3-year-olds going a mile on the turf. The favorite, at 9-5, is Du Jour for trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Flavien Prat. He’s finished second and third in his two starts, the last one to Roman Centurian on the dirt. Man Friday is the second favorite at 3-1 for Doug O’Neill and Abel Cedillo. He’s winless in five starts but finished second last out in his only turf start. It’s the first race, so you know the post time.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 8, 7, 9, 6, 8, 7, 9, 8, 9 (1 also eligible).

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day


SECOND RACE: No. 2 Madame Barbarian (10-1)

Madame Barbarian won under Umberto Rispoli at seven furlongs last out and now cuts back and picks up Jessica Pyfer and her weight break. From this inside post gate-to-wire will be the plan. Sharp work she has a great value price of 10-1.

Sunday’s Result: Awhitesportscoat was merely out for exercise in a disappointing performance

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.

“A trio of allowance races for quarter horses head the eight-race program on Friday night with a first post of 6 p.m. The first is 110 yards in the sixth race and will feature California Breeders Freshman Stakes winner La Reina De Sur 1, who is trained by Adan Farias.

“The other two are at the more conventional 300-yard distance with Rox Win, runner-up in the 2020 Corona Chick Handicap, the 8-5 favorite in the seventh, while multiple stakes winner Black Fryday heads the eighth. He’s looking for his first win since the Southern California Derby on Dec. 14, 2018. Black Fryday did not race in 2020 before returning with a fourth-place finish in a trial to the Brad McKinzie Winter Championship on Jan. 24. If he’s shaken off the cobwebs, Black Fryday will be the horse to beat.

“On Saturday night, the top aged California-bred mares get one more major stakes opportunity before many head to the breeding shed when they meet in the $35,000 Denim N Diamonds Handicap.

“Nine mares aged 4 and up will be in the Denim N Diamonds to be held at 400 yards. Kiss Thru Fire, trained by Juan Aleman, won the Charger Bar earlier this year after running second in the Grade 2 Southern California Derby on Dec. 20. The daughter of Walk Thru Fire was one of the nation’s top sophomore fillies last season, and finished second in the All American Oaks and qualified to the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Super Derby. Kiss Thru Fire confidently handled her opponents in the Charger Bar, taking the lead shortly after the start and then going on to win the $100,000 race by a half-length. Raul Valenzuela, who piloted her to victory in the Charger Bar retains the mount in the Denim N Diamonds.

“Tequila Sangria won the Charger Bar last year by a half-length, but she’s finished out of the money in her last two outings including a 10th when trying to defend her Charger Bar title. She never had a chance after getting bumped repeatedly. 


Jaime Gomez expects to have a lot of fun training Ilushion Eagle in 2021. The son of One Fabulous Eagle is expected to be the big favorite in the $101,250 Los Alamitos Stakes on Sunday night after winning three in a row.

“Ilushion Eagle’s most recent victory, a two-length romp in the trials to the Maiden Stakes on Jan. 31, has Gomez excited about the gelding’s prospects for this year. He has the current meet’s fastest 350-yard time of :17.415, and his clocking for the final 220 yards in that race was a sizzling :09.32. That ‘come-home-time’ is the fastest at 350 yards since AQHA World Champion Heza Dasha Fire’s won the Grade 1 Ed Burke Million Futurity on June 22, 2014. Heza Dasha Fire’s final 220 yards of that race was also :09.32.

“Win or lose the Maiden Stakes on Sunday night, Gomez is already dreaming of a big second half of the year with Ilushion Eagle.

“’He’s paid to the All American Derby trial in mid-August and if he continues like he is right now we might supplement him to the Los Alamitos Super Derby. He’s also AQHA Challenge eligible. Maybe we give him some time off and pay the $30,000 to make him eligible to the Super Derby. He’s going to be fun.’”

Chris Wade’s LA pick of the day

THIRD RACE: No. 6 Stay Legendary (10-1)

This 4-year-old gelding by Stay Thirsty has long odds due to his propensity for getting into trouble during his races, but on my charts with everything factored (trouble and track variant) he is very competitive for Friday’s endeavor and goes for a top-notch jockey/trainer combo. In the gelding’s most recent outing 20 nights ago, this runner broke a tad slow and was one paced until leveling out fairly well inside the 1/16th pole when completing the superfecta followed by a solid gallop out past the wire. With that better than looked charting and with two very quick speedsters in the lineup, the race could set up to his benefit and I’m counting that he’ll be the big, late threat for the top spot. I’m counting on a clean trip from the outside post for Stay Legendary.


A final thought

I love getting new readers of this newsletter, and you certainly can’t beat the price. If you like it, tell someone. If you don’t like it, you’re probably not reading this.

Either way, send this along to a friend, and just have them click here to sign up. Remember, it’s free, and all we need is your email address, nothing more.

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, Friday’s entries.

Santa Anita Entries for Friday, February 19.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 26th day of a 81-day meet.


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1AirmanJuan Hernandez124John A. Shirreffs4-1
2Ivory SkyGeovanni Franco124Ruben Gomez50-1
3Du JourFlavien Prat124Bob Baffert9-5
4AchilleusTyler Baze124John W. Sadler20-1
5Enough NonsenseMario Gutierrez124Doug F. O'Neill7-2
6Man FridayAbel Cedillo124Doug F. O'Neill3-1
7WarbirdRicardo Gonzalez124Michael W. McCarthy8-1
8El JoyDrayden Van Dyke124Eoin G. Harty10-1


6½ Furlongs. Purse: $42,000. Starter Allowance. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Canadian GingerJuan Hernandez124Mark Glatt8-1
2Madame BarbarianJessica Pyfer117Jeff Mullins10-1
3Time for EbbyTyler Baze122Gary Stute8-1
4Li'l GrazenTiago Pereira124Manuel Ortiz, Sr.3-1
5Sadie BluegrassRicardo Gonzalez124Jonathan Wong5-2
6ClockstrikestwelveFlavien Prat124Jonathan Wong2-1
7Lady On IceEdwin Maldonado124Steve Knapp8-1


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1In Vronsky StyleTyler Baze124Philip D'Amato5-2
2Starship ChewbaccaJessica Pyfer117Howard L. Zucker4-1
3RacetrackersJose Valdivia, Jr.124Ronald W. Ellis20-1
4Kristel's RebelHeriberto Figueroa124Doug F. O'Neill8-1
5Jungle BoyAbel Cedillo124Steven Miyadi12-1
6Queen's CodeJuan Hernandez124Carla Gaines3-1
7Square RootAlexis Centeno117Doug F. O'Neill12-1
8August IndyEswan Flores124Ricardo S. Guillen50-1
9LuvluvFlavien Prat124John W. Sadler3-1


6 Furlongs. Purse: $35,000. Maiden Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $50,000-$45,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Prince MagicianEswan Flores124Hector O. Palma12-150,000
2Candy FuryRuben Fuentes124Victor L. Garcia10-150,000
3McWherterJessica Pyfer117Doug F. O'Neill9-550,000
4Me MachoAlexis Centeno117John E. Cortez8-150,000
5Little RachelJuan Hernandez119Victor L. Garcia8-550,000
6Moon MischiefTyler Baze124John W. Sadler5-250,000


1 1/8 Mile Turf. Purse: $35,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $50,000-$45,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Let's Go NowTyler Baze120Eoin G. Harty6-145,000
2LakayaEdwin Maldonado122Robert B. Hess, Jr.6-147,500
3Amiko Chow Abel Cedillo120Patrick Gallagher5-145,000
4Lemon Drop TiniHeriberto Figueroa124Victor M. Trujillo8-150,000
5Nicole GraceMario Gutierrez124Patrick Gallagher30-150,000
6UnbreakableJose Valdivia, Jr.124Mike Puype7-250,000
7Awesome PamelaDrayden Van Dyke124Blake R. Heap4-150,000
8LookintogetevenFlavien Prat124James M. Cassidy5-250,000


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Cowboys DaughterAlexis Centeno117Thomas Ray Bell, II2-116,000
2Gotta Be LuckyAbel Cedillo120Carla Gaines5-112,500
3Info's TreasureTiago Pereira120Ian Kruljac8-112,500
4Lady O'PradoJessica Pyfer113Robert B. Hess, Jr.5-212,500
5True MischiefEmily Ellingwood114Richard Baltas7-216,000
6Mongolian SunriseHeriberto Figueroa120Juan Andres Rodriguez12-112,500
7Princess TaleTyler Baze124Mark Glatt8-116,000


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $36,000. Starter Optional Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $50,000-$40,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Witch's VowRuben Fuentes122Hector O. Palma10-1
2Midnight MysteryAbel Cedillo122Bob Baffert5-1
3American DancerJose Valdivia, Jr.122Mark Glatt20-150,000
4Holden the LuteTiago Pereira122Steve Knapp8-1
5Liar Liar Mario Gutierrez122Richard Baltas5-250,000
6InvictatatusTyler Baze122Alfredo P. Marquez8-1
7Hoop DreamJuan Hernandez122David Bernstein6-1
8TalkingRicardo Gonzalez122Robert N. Falcone, Jr.8-1
9I'm Leaving YouFlavien Prat122Vann Belvoir9-5


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Gov From AboveAlexis Centeno115Art Sherman12-122,500
2Super ClassicGeovanni Franco124Ruben Gomez30-125,000
3Montana MoonRuben Fuentes124Antonio Garcia6-125,000
4Defense WinsAbel Cedillo124Doug F. O'Neill2-125,000
5The KohenJessica Pyfer115Vann Belvoir12-122,500
6Flat WhiteTiago Pereira122Rene Amescua3-122,500
7Eel PointJuan Hernandez124Richard Baltas8-525,000


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Slew SouthFlavien Prat124Neil French5-2
2Ultimate HyDrayden Van Dyke124Blake R. Heap5-2
3Starship SkyJuan Hernandez124Robert B. Hess, Jr.6-1
4Rockie CausewayMario Gutierrez124Richard Baltas2-1
5Humor Me HarperHeriberto Figueroa124Ricardo S. Guillen20-1
6Phoenix TearsAlexis Centeno117Daniel Dunham15-1
7Rays DarlinkleGeovanni Franco124Rafael DeLeon30-1
8Vronsky Zips AwayJessica Pyfer117Carla Gaines10-1
9AristeiaEswan Flores124Jay Nehf30-1
Also Eligible
10I'll Do It for YouEdwin Maldonado124Quentin B. Miller7-2