Horse racing newsletter: Jon White’s new 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 get ready for a big weekend of Kentucky Derby prep races.

Couple of notes before we get to the good stuff.

--Del Mar announced it stakes schedule for this summer. There are 34 major stakes worth $6.75 million, up 30% from last year. There are five Grade 1s: Bing Crosby Stakes (July 31), Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (Aug. 1), Pacific Classic (Aug. 21), Del Mar Oaks (Aug. 21), Del Mar Debutante (Sept. 5) and Del Mar Futurity (Sept. 6). If you want to see the entire schedule, just click here.

--I preview Saturday’s Grade 1 $400,000 Santa Anita Handicap with a look at the undefeated 4-year-old Maxfield, who ships in as the 8-5 morning line favorite for the race. Want to know more, just click here.

Now, the good stuff.

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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 another big weekend, brought courtesy of Take it away, Jon.

“Essential Quality, who remained undefeated by splashing home to a 4 1/4-length victory on a sloppy track in last Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, retains the top spot in this newsletter’s rankings for the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 1.

“Life Is Good, who continues to be ranked No. 2, heads a field of seven entered in Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita. The San Felipe also has attracted No. 7 Medina Spirit and No. 10 Roman Centurian.

“Greatest Honour climbs a notch to No. 3 this week after rallying from ninth to win Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream Park. Shug McGaughey trains Greatest Honour, who has put together a three-race winning streak. Prior to the Fountain of Youth, the Kentucky-bred colt won Gulfstream’s Holy Bull Stakes.

“Tapit is the sire of both Essential Quality and Greatest Honor. Essential Quality and Greatest Honour each won a graded stakes race this year on the same day, Feb. 27. It was 20 years ago on Feb. 27 that Tapit was foaled.

“Essential Quality was fifth early in the Southwest when much closer to the pace than in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He proved an emphatic winner of the Southwest as a 9-10 favorite.


“Trained by Brad Cox, Essential Quality now is four for four. The Kentucky-bred colt was voted a 2020 Eclipse Award following stakes wins in the Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“Southern California shipper Spielberg, trained by Bob Baffert, finished second in the Southwest despite a poor start. This puts the $1 million purchase into the Kentucky Derby picture after an 11 1/4-length defeat when fourth in Santa Anita’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Jan. 30. Spielberg won the Los Alamitos Futurity in his final 2020 start.

“Baffert will be represented in the San Felipe by Life Is Good and Medina Spirit. I have installed Life Is Good as the 4-5 favorite on the morning line. Medina Spirit is the 7-2 second choice in the field of seven, followed by The Great One at 4-1, Dream Shake at 5-1, Roman Centurian at 8-1, None Above the Law at 30-1 and Govenor’s Party at 50-1.

“The San Felipe will be Life Is Good’s third career start. This will be the farthest he has raced. The smooth-moving Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt made a jaw-dropping debut at Del Mar in the fall. He won a 6 1/2-furlong maiden race by 9 1/2 lengths as an overwhelming 1-5 favorite.

“Life Is Good again was sent away as a 1-5 favorite in Santa Anita’s one-mile Sham Stakes on Jan. 2. He was just cruising along and led by four lengths with a furlong to go. His lead then diminished in the final furlong, but he still was able to get the job done.

“Medina Spirit rallied to finish second in the Sham, just three-quarters of a length behind Life Is Good. Medina Spirit then won the 1 1/16-mile Lewis in game fashion by a neck on Jan. 30.

“Doug O’Neill trains The Great One, who was a maiden when he lost the Los Alamitos Futurity by a nose to Spielberg. When The Great One returned to the maiden ranks for his next start, the Louisiana-bred colt won a one-mile maiden race at Santa Anita on Jan. 23 by 14 lengths in 1:37.28.

“When Life Is Good won the Sham at the same distance, his final time for one mile was 1:36.63. When Authentic registered a 7 3/4-length win in the 2020 Sham, he completed one mile in 1:37.57.

“Dream Shake goes into the San Felipe off a scintillating performance when unveiled in an especially strong 6 1/2-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita on Feb. 7. Eighth early in the field of nine, the Kentucky-bred Twirling Candy colt passed rivals with a rush on the far turn, then kept on going strongly down the lane while drawing away. He won by 4 3/4 lengths for trainer Peter Eurton.

“Roman Centurian is coming off his best effort yet in three career starts when he finished a close second in the Lewis. Simon Callaghan trains Roman Centurian, a Kentucky-bred Empire Maker colt. Empire Maker won the 2003 Belmont Stakes.

“None Above the Law meets much tougher opponents after finishing second at odds of 9-1 in the California Cup Derby at Santa Anita on Jan. 16. Peter Miller trains None Above the Law, a California-bred Karakontie colt. Karakontie won the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Mile.

“Govenor’s Party most recently ran third as a gigantic 119-1 longshot in the El Camino Real Derby on Golden Gate Fields’ synthetic surface on Feb. 13. Daniel Franko owns and trains the California-bred Govenor Charlie colt.

“Saturday’s San Felipe is one of three races Saturday that will reward the first four finishers with 50-20-10-5 qualifying points toward a starting berth in the $3 million Kentucky Derby. There is the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby and one-mile Gotham Stakes.

“The Tampa Bay Derby has a dozen entrants. Tampa Bay Downs’ Tommy Creel has pegged Candy Man Rocket as the 2-1 favorite on the morning line. Hidden Stash is the 4-1 second choice.

“Candy Man Rocket is coming off a one-length win in Tampa’s 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 6. Bill Mott trains the Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt.

“Hidden Stash, a Kentucky-bred Constitution colt, came on late and finished third in the Davis for trainer Vicki Oliver.

“Highly Motivated is the 8-5 favorite on David Aragona’s morning line for Aqueduct’s Gotham, which has drawn a field of eight. Freedom Fighter is the 5-2 second choice. The others listed at odds lower than 10-1 are Crowded Trade at 9-2, Capo Kane at 5-1 and Wipe the Slate at 6-1.

“This will be Highly Motivated’s first start since his sparkling 4 1/4-length win in the Nyquist Stakes at Keeneland last Nov. 6. Chad Brown trains the Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt. Brown also conditions Crowded Trade, who goes into the Gotham off a one-length debut victory in a six-furlong maiden race at Aqueduct on Jan. 28.

“Freedom Fighter and Wipe the Slate have been sent to New York from Southern California to run in the Gotham. Baffert trains Freedom Fighter, who finished second to Concert Tour in Santa Anita’s seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 6. O’Neill trains Wipe the Slate, who ran sixth in the Lewis following a 3 1/4-length maiden win at Santa Anita on Dec. 26.

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

1. Essential Quality (1)

2. Life Is Good (2)

3. Greatest Honour (4)

4. Caddo River (3)

5. Mandaloun (5)

6. Concert Tour (6)

7. Medina Spirit (7)

8. Hot Rod Charlie (8)

9. Keepmeinmind (9)

10. Roman Centurian (10)

NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”

Santa Anita preview

As is normally the case on the day before a big day, Friday’s card is pretty mediocre. There are eight races with the usual 12:30 p.m. start time. There are only two turf races, one allowance/optional claimer and one maiden special. We’re picking the only allowance as our feature, a six-furlong race for Cal-bred fillies and mares for a purse of $63,000.

Kristi’s Tiger is the 2-1 favorite for trainer Thomas Bell and jockey Umberto Rispoli. She has three wins and three seconds in 10 lifetime starts. She’s never won the stakes level, but then again, this isn’t a stakes race. Morning-line maker Jon White has co-second favorites at 5-2. There is Sing in the Wind (Isidro Tomayo, Abel Cedillo) and Li’l Grazen (Manuel Ortiz, Tiago Pereira.) Sing in the Wind ships down from Golden Gate, where she won last out and Li’l Grazen has won two of her last four. Post is around 3:45 p.m.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 6, 6, 8, 5, 7, 8, 7, 9.

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day

THIRD RACE: No. 5 Law Professor (6-1)

Law Professor is 6-1 morning line and attracts Joel Rosario for trainer Michael McCarthy. Mike is 23% second career race like today and 50% in the money from 62 such starts for a profit. A 59 second workout last week for a horse racing protected is a big positive. In fact, the last few works have been great including the one prior to the debut. I hope we get 6-1 or more. Also use There Goes Harvard the “other” McCarthy horse with Umberto Rispoli riding (he is 33% for the trainer). Also, the second career race for this horse and a 59 second work as well. 12-1 is juicy. In Pick 5 bets I am using both these horses as well as Fenway and Harbored Memories.

Sunday’s result: El Diablo Rojo tracked in third but had nothing 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.

CC Perkinson, a winner of 93 races as a jockey and a former racing analyst on TVG’s “The Quarters”, is back training at Los Alamitos when she saddles the Clubhouse Ride filly Crookhaven Lass in the first race on Friday. It will be Perkinson’s first starter here since Jan. 27, 2002.

“Perkinson claimed the 4-year-old for $5,000 at Golden Gate on Feb. 15 following the filly’s third consecutive runner-up effort. Crookhaven Lass will start from the seven in the 1,000-yard race. will ride.

“During her riding career, Perkinson won 46 thoroughbred races, including 24 at Los Alamitos. She also won 33 Arabian and five quarter horse races. She also won the 1998 Santa Rosa Marathon on Katella Lad at 870 yards. Perkinson trained horses briefly in 2001 and 2002, saddling Policy Maker to a victory at Fresno in October of 2001. Her stable was based in Northern California.

“Apollitical Patty will make her first start for new owner Julianna Hawn Holt when she headlines the trials to the $427,500 Los Alamitos Oaks on Saturday night. Twenty-three sophomore fillies will be in the trials with the runners with the 10 fastest times returning on Sat., March 27 for the final.

Apollitical Patty, trained by Monty Arrossa, had a magical season in 2020. She won California’s richest horse race of the year, the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity, and qualified to the Grade 1 Golden State Million Futurity. Julianna Hawn Holt, whose band of high-profile fillies and mares is among the nation’s best, acquired Apollitical Patty by private purchase after the Two Million.

“When asked how much Hawn Holt paid for the superstar filly, Arrossa had a simple answer.

“’It was a lot,’ Arrossa said. ‘Mrs. Hawn Holt has many great quarter-horse fillies and mares and I feel that she added two outstanding ones in Apollitical Patty and Aint She Tempting.’

“Hawn Holt had previously purchased Aint She Tempting before the Two Million final. Apollitical Patty was the big winner on that night, while the Tempting Dash filly bumped early and finished seventh. The two also met in the Golden State Million with Aint She Tempting finishing second to Patty’s sixth in the final. Apollitical Patty, the PCQHRA champion 2-year-old filly, will be in the first of three trials, while Aint She Tempting will be in the third.

“Sunday night’s card will feature the trials to the Grade 3 El Primero Del Año Derby. They will be headed by M & G Farms’ Constituent, the PCQHRA champion 2-year-old colt of 2020, plus Grade 1 stakes finalists Thats R Best Card, Gentleman Chuck and BF Outfoosed.

“Constituent finished last season with the most wins by a 2-year-old male at Los Alamitos. His five victories were second overall among freshman sprinters behind Grade 1 futurity winner Apollitical Patty’s six wins. Constituent’s biggest win of the year came in the Restricted Grade 1 Governor’s Cup Futurity when the son of Seperate Interest outdueled stablemate Squid Word to win the 350-yard futurity by a nose. He got his sophomore campaign off to a flying start after posting a 1 1/4 length victory in his 2021 debut on Jan. 17. Constituent posted the meet’s fastest 330-yard time of :16.728 in that race. Constituent is trained by Valentin Zamudio.”

“The Los Alamitos $10,000 Pick 6 Promo is still being offered here on Sundays until further notice. If there’s not a carryover going into Sunday’s program, Los Alamitos will seed the Pick 6 pool with $10,000. The total pools in the Pick 6 on the promo nights have averaged $67,000.”

Chris Wade’s LA pick of the day

SIXTH RACE: No. 1 Teller Bullet Mrl (9-2)

She has finished third in both career starts and each has included some trouble in the journey. Eighteen nights ago, the filly broke a bit slow and inward to lose over a length of ground at the start and her early racing momentum against her perfect tripped rivals. She was able to show a good amount of speed after the less than perfect getaway, but her momentum slowed after she found more trouble nearing the wire. I still like her overall effort and the figure earned that evening makes her a contender for all the board placings if she can repeat the best qualities of that outing.

A final thought

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

Santa Anita Entries for Friday, March 5.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 33rd day of a 81-day meet.


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Bella RenellaKent Desormeaux124Rafael DeLeon4-116,000
2RaneemAbel Cedillo124Bob Baffert5-216,000
3It's a RiddleJuan Hernandez120Robert B. Hess, Jr.5-112,500
4PasitoRuben Fuentes124Steve Knapp8-116,000
5Full EclipseTyler Baze124John E. Cortez4-116,000
6Miss Lady AnnTiago Pereira124Dean Pederson2-116,000


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Best of ShowAbel Cedillo123Steven Miyadi5-230,000
2Chrome of Our OwnTyler Baze123Val Brinkerhoff5-230,000
3Lulu D' OroRuben Fuentes123Victor L. Garcia6-130,000
4Big Al's PrincessJessica Pyfer116Victor L. Garcia2-130,000
5Brio Is AwesomeEswan Flores121Lorenzo Ruiz6-128,000
6Zu Zu FlynnGeovanni Franco123Steven Miyadi8-130,000


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Hudson RidgeDrayden Van Dyke123Bob Baffert8-1
2Lone ScoutKent Desormeaux123Robert B. Hess, Jr.15-1
3Star SailorJuan Hernandez123John W. Sadler3-1
4Mucho Del OroTyler Baze123George Papaprodromou20-1
5Law ProfessorJoel Rosario123Michael W. McCarthy6-1
6There Goes HarvardUmberto Rispoli123Michael W. McCarthy12-1
7FenwayJohn Velazquez123Bob Baffert5-2
8Harbored MemoriesFlavien Prat123Mike Puype2-1


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1RagerJoel Rosario118Andrew Lerner4-1
2City RageFlavien Prat124Mark Glatt8-5
3Quick FinishJuan Hernandez124Dan Blacker2-1
4One Flew SouthUmberto Rispoli124Gus Headley4-1
5Promise NothingEdwin Maldonado124Daniel Azcarate6-1


1 Mile. Purse: $35,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies. 3 year olds. Claiming Prices $50,000-$45,000. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Complete ControlAlexis Centeno112Edward R. Freeman3-145,000
2SmoothlikebuttahAbel Cedillo123Steve Knapp7-250,000
3Sideways SuancesTyler Baze119Jeff Mullins12-145,000
4Sugar KissesTiago Pereira123Carla Gaines10-150,000
5Here Comes RalphieEswan Flores123Gary Stute4-150,000
6Supersonic FlyerEdwin Maldonado123Leonard Powell5-150,000
7Half HopingJose Valdivia, Jr.123Mike Puype5-250,000


6½ Furlongs. Purse: $35,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $50,000-$45,000. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1FursaceJose Valdivia, Jr.126Brian J. Koriner3-150,000
2Dual RealityAlexis Centeno115Rolando Quinonez15-145,000
3Humor Me HarperHeriberto Figueroa122Ricardo S. Guillen30-145,000
4Lady DocTyler Baze114J. Eric Kruljac6-145,000
5Slewpys Last SongGeovanni Franco126Javier Jose Sierra30-150,000
6TwentyseventroutsJuan Hernandez126Mike Puype5-250,000
7My TigressFlavien Prat126Richard Baltas9-550,000
8ElgofrancoMario Gutierrez126Ben D. A. Cecil4-150,000


6 Furlongs. Purse: $63,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Lovely FinishEswan Flores124Joe Herrick12-1
2Jan Jan CanJuan Hernandez122Ronald W. Ellis8-1
3Kristi's TigerUmberto Rispoli122Thomas Ray Bell, II2-1
4Sing in the WindAbel Cedillo124Isidro Tamayo5-220,000
5Li'l GrazenTiago Pereira124Manuel Ortiz, Sr.5-220,000
6Time for EbbyTyler Baze124Gary Stute6-120,000
7HomehomeMario Gutierrez124Doug F. O'Neill6-1


1 1/8 Mile Turf. Purse: $36,000. Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $25,000-$22,500.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Full of Luck Eswan Flores122Steven Miyadi4-125,000
2New YearTyler Baze120Juan Andres Rodriguez20-122,500
3Marckie's WaterAbel Cedillo120Tim Yakteen4-122,500
4Noble ThoughtUmberto Rispoli122Robert N. Falcone, Jr.5-225,000
5Mo Bob Ruben Fuentes120Jesus Ramos12-122,500
6Move Over Tiago Pereira122Hector O. Palma12-125,000
7FabozziJuan Hernandez120Kristin Mulhall6-122,500
8French GetawayMike Smith122Robert B. Hess, Jr.7-225,000
9Worthy TurkMario Gutierrez122Reed Saldana15-125,000