Horse racing newsletter: Jon White’s Kentucky Derby new 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 Santa Anita Derby gets a different lineup for the April 3 race.

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 there are some changes. It’s brought to you courtesy of Take it away, Jon.

“Following his big win in the March 6 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, Life is Good moved into the top spot in this newsletter’s Kentucky Derby rankings on March 12. But after just two weeks at No 1, he’s gone from the rankings.

“Life Is Good worked six furlongs in an excellent 1:11.40 last Saturday morning at Santa Anita. However, the undefeated two-time graded stakes winner emerged from the drill with a left-hind ankle injury that has knocked him out of the Triple Crown races.


“Regaining the top spot in the rankings this week is undefeated Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male Essential Quality. The Kentucky-bred Tapit colt, winner of Oaklawn Park’s 1 1/16-mile Southwest Stakes in his 2021 debut on Feb. 27, is headed to Keeneland’s 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass Stakes on April 3.

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“Essential Quality recorded a sharp five-furlong bullet workout in :59.00 at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds last Saturday for 2020 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox. It was the fastest of 25 works at five furlongs that day.

“With Life Is Good now on the shelf for trainer Bob Baffert, the Baffert-trained Concert Tour moves up a notch to No. 2 in this week’s rankings. The Kentucky-bred Street Sense colt, undefeated in three career starts, won Oaklawn Park’s 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes on March 13. Next for Concert Tour is Oaklawn’s 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby on April 10.

“Rising all the way up to No. 3 after being No. 7 last week is Hot Rod Charlie. In Fair Grounds’ 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby last Saturday, Hot Rod Charlie, a pace factor from the outset, won by two lengths at odds of 5-2.

“Hot Rod Charlie’s final time was 1:55.06. Midnight Bourbon and O Besos rallied from last in the field eight to finish third. Proxy finished fourth. The 13-10 favorite, Mandaloun, finished sixth in by far the worst performance of his five-race career.


“Mandaloun and Proxy, like Life Is Good, drop off this newsletter’s Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week.

“Hot Rod Charlie’s next race will be the 147th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 1. The Kentucky-bred colt has won two of seven lifetime starts.

“In Hot Rod Charlie’s final race at 2, he ran second at the humongous odds of 94-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland. Essential Quality won that race.

“In between the Breeders’ Cup and Louisiana Derby, Hot Rod Charlie finished a close third in Santa Anita’s 1 1/16-mile Robert B. Lewis Stakes, a race he lost by only a neck. Medina Spirit won, while Roman Centurian came in second.

“Medina Spirit, trained by Baffert, is No. 5 in this newsletter’s Kentucky Derby rankings.

“Hot Rod Charlie resides at trainer Doug O’Neill’s Santa Anita barn. O’Neill is a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby, first with I’ll Have Another in 2012, then with Nyquist in 2016.

“The two races in the U.S. this week offering 100-40-20-10 points toward a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby are Saturday’s Florida Derby on dirt at Gulfstream Park and Jeff Ruby Steaks on synthetic footing at Turfway Park. Both races will be contested at 1 1/8 miles.


“Greatest Honour, who is No. 4 in this newsletter’s Kentucky Derby rankings, heads the Florida Derby. Spielberg, No. 6 in the rankings, also is in field of 11.

“Trained by Shug McGaughey, Greatest Honour is the 6-5 morning-line favorite. Spielberg is 4-1. Known Agenda is 5-1. Collaborate is 6-1. All others are 12-1 or higher.

“McGaughey sent out Orb to win the 2013 Florida Derby. Orb went on to provide the highly respected trainer with his only Kentucky Derby victory to date.

“If Greatest Honour gets the job done Saturday, he will become the first horse to sweep Gulfstream’s Holy Bull Stakes, Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby.

“Spielberg will be the first horse Bob Baffert has ever started in the Florida Derby. The strength of the SoCal sophomore male is reflected by Concert Tour’s Rebel win and Hot Rod Charlie’s Louisiana Derby triumph. Now Spielberg invades Gulfstream to try and come away with a Florida Derby victory.

“Up to this point, Spielberg has had his ups and downs. The Kentucky-bred Union Rags colt, a $1 million auction purchase, won the Los Alamitos Futurity in his final 2020 start. Next, Spielberg ran a clunker to lose by 11 1/4 lengths when he finished fourth (behind Medina Spirit, Roman Centurian and Hot Rod Charlie) in Santa Anita’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes.


“Spielberg then rebounded in the Rebel. Despite a poor start, he managed to finish second to Essential Quality.

Todd Pletcher trains Known Agenda, who is coming off an 11-length win in a 1 1/8-mile allowance/optional claiming race at Gulfstream.

“Pletcher has five Florida Derby victories and one of those, Always Dreaming, went on to win the 2017 Kentucky Derby. Pletcher also won the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver.

“Known Agenda and Greatest Honour have run against each other once. When Known Agenda won a 1 1/8-mile maiden race by a head at Aqueduct last Nov. 8, Greatest Honour was the runner-up and finished a whopping 21 lengths in front of third-place finisher Overtook.

“Curlin, Known Agenda’s sire, won the 2007 Preakness Stakes and was a two-time Horse of the Year.

“Collaborate has run just two races. Trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., Collaborate ran fifth on a sloppy track in a six-furlong maiden race Feb. 6 at Gulfstream, then crushed maidens as a 12 1/2-length winner in a one-mile race on dry land there Feb. 27.


“Tarantino, who finished second in the Holy Bull and fourth in the Fountain of Youth, is the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the Jeff Ruby Steaks. The 4-1 second choice is Hush of a Storm, who won Turfway’s John Battaglia Memorial in his stakes debut.

“Listed at 10-1 is SoCal shipper Hockey Dad for O’Neill. Hockey Dad, who has won all three starts this year at Santa Anita, is competing in a stakes race for the first time Saturday.

“O’Neill also is running recent Santa Anita maiden winner Ambivilant in Saturday’s $750,000 UAE Derby in Dubai. This race, like the Florida Derby and Jeff Ruby Steaks, has 100-40-20-10 Kentucky Derby points up for grabs to the first four finishers.

“The distance of the UAE Derby, which has attracted a wide-open field of 14, is 1,900 meters (about 1 3/16 miles). Ambivalent has the look of a longshot. So does the only other entrant who has raced in the U.S., Lugamo, who makes his first 2021 start and stakes debut after winning two of four starts in Maryland last year.

“Looking ahead, the projected field for the $750,000 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 3 understandably has grown due to the defection of Life Is Good.

“Medina Spirit, runner-up to Life Is Good twice this year, is expected to top the Santa Anita Derby lineup. Also currently expected to be entered are Defunded, Dream Shake, Get Her Number, Parnelli, Rock Your World, Roman Centurian, Rombauer and The Great One.


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

1. Essential Quality (2)

2. Concert Tour (3)

3. Hot Rod Charlie (7)

4. Greatest Honour (4)

5. Medina Spirit (6)

6. Spielberg (8)

7. Midnight Bourbon (NR)

8. Keepmeinmind (8)

9. Risk Taking (NR)

10. Dream Shake (NR)

NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”

Santa Anita preview

Friday’s eight-race card is not your typical collection of races. First post is 1 p.m. Three-quarter of the races (that’s six if you are math challenged) will have first-time winners. There are four maiden specials and two maiden claimers. Half of the races are on the turf (the odd race numbers). Four of the races are worth $61,000. I can’t find a feature out of this mess, but maybe media impresario Mike Willman of Santa Anita can find one. If not, we’ll just report on how many races Flavien Prat won on Friday.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 5, 5, 9 (also eligible), 7, 8, 6, 6, 7.

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day

THIRD RACE: No. 4 I Give Up (8-1)

I Give Up rallied late going 6 1/2 furlongs last out under Jesscia Pyfer so the stretch out to a mile Friday looks ideal as does the 8-1 morning line price and the way this horse closes. Hot jockey, big weight break, top closing kick and as much speed as the top choices. I love this value play here.

Sunday’s result: Constitutional Affair went off at 9-2 and sat second off the pace before powering home down the stretch to win easily. ‘Affair paid $11.20 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.

“Redneck Ryan has put together a pair of impressive wins at Los Alamitos this season. The Texas-bred has won allowances by 1 1/4 lengths and 3/4 lengths and has now set his sights in Friday’s featured $20,000 Katella Speed Stakes at 110 yards.

“Ridden by Oscar Peinado for trainer Jaime Gomez, Redneck Ryan has won both of his local starts gate to wire, so he surely has the quickness out of the gate needed to excel at this distance. He’ll also look to showcase his versatility, as previous wins have come at 300 and 350 yards.

“At this distance, it can be anyone’s race, but it helps to have previous success at 110 yards. Spirit Foose is one horse that fits this category, as he’s a multiple winner at 110 yards.


“Friday’s card also includes what should be a great matchup between promising 2-year-olds Mookkie and Red Hot Topic. The will both be debuting in the fifth race.

“Apollitical Patty will headline the field in Saturday’s $427,500 Los Alamitos Oaks at 400 yards. Apollitical Patty, who won the Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity at the end of last year, is the fastest qualifier after an ultra-impressive 3 ½ length win on March 6. Her victory was the largest margin by a Two Million winner in his or her next start after winning the rich futurity. Armando Cervantes will ride Apollitical Patty for trainer Monty Arrossa.

“As impressive as Apollitical Patty performed in the trials, she’ll need to be at her best in the final, as Terrific Temper posted a three-length victory in her trial and she’s had her share of other strong victories in her career.

“’Apollitical Patty will be tough to deal with, but it might be a good race if we draw close together,’ said Chris O’Dell, who trains Terrific Temper. “I think my filly needs something to run at. Apollitical Patty buries her head and runs no matter what, but this filly kind of gets out there a couple of lengths and she’ll go looking around, loafs a little. She’s good in the starting gate and is getting better in the paddock. She’s a very nervous, high-strung filly and hard to control. If we can get all that energy going in the right direction, she is one heck of a filly.’

“Sunday’s feature is the $225,200 El Primero Del Año Derby led by fastest qualifier Constituent, who has won seven of nine career starts. The colt by Seperate Interest was an easy 1 ½ length winner in the March 7 trials.

“’He’s a winning machine,’ trainer Valentin Zamudio said. “He loves it, thankfully. He’s a blessing. I liked him a lot because he has been doing great, but we needed a good break and he had to do everything well. I feel that he’ll be sharper in the final. I don’t know if he’ll win the final, but I think he’ll be right there if everything goes well for us.’

“The field also has four runners for trainer Paul Jones, who has won this race a record six times.

“Los Alamitos hosted its first races of the year for juveniles with six races last weekend. Three of the winners were sired by first-year stallion Fly Thru The Fire led by Watch Out, who won the meet’s first race for 2-year-olds. Trained by James Glenn, Jr. and ridden by Henry Reynoso Lopez, Watch Out is a half-brother to 2019 AQHA World Champion He Looks Hot.”

Chris Wade’s LA pick of the day

SECOND RACE: No. 2 Untapped Potential (6-1)

She crushed a solid cast of rivals for the level 19 night’s ago as the deserving favorite while earning a figure that compares favorably for Friday’s race against tougher. She broke well and sat a perfect second against a speed horse before catching and moving past his rival in timely fashion. With a nice mixture of speed and finish in her holster along with being the lone four-time winner in a field in which all others are two-time winners, we’ll push this 4-year-old steadily at a nice price to sit another quality trip and be a big player for all the board placings for a small but good shred row.


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 26.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 42nd day of a 81-day meet.


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1WinzerJuan Hernandez123John W. Sadler4-1
2First Class DadFlavien Prat123Jeff Bonde5-2
3BenchHeriberto Figueroa123Carlo Vaccarezza8-1
4Cherubic FactorMario Gutierrez123Peter Eurton7-2
5Beyond BrilliantUmberto Rispoli123John A. Shirreffs2-5


5½ Furlongs. Purse: $61,000. Maiden Special Weight. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1ElgofrancoMario Gutierrez126Ben D. A. Cecil4-1
2Starship DefiantJuan Hernandez118Robert B. Hess, Jr.5-2
3FursaceJose Valdivia, Jr.126Brian J. Koriner7-5
4Starship EndeavorAbel Cedillo118Robert B. Hess, Jr.10-1
5Miss O'BrienFlavien Prat118Blake R. Heap5-2


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $35,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $50,000-$45,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Starship SkyJuan Hernandez124Robert B. Hess, Jr.6-145,000
2My Girl PearlAlexis Centeno117Steve Knapp50-145,000
3Kiss and RunEdwin Maldonado124Robert N. Falcone, Jr.15-145,000
4I Give UpJessica Pyfer119Hector O. Palma8-150,000
5MangotangoEmily Ellingwood117Val Brinkerhoff30-145,000
6Amiko Chow Abel Cedillo124Patrick Gallagher5-245,000
7Acoustic ShadowUmberto Rispoli126Philip D'Amato2-150,000
8KatlaTiago Pereira124Carla Gaines20-145,000
9UnbreakableFlavien Prat126Mike Puype5-250,000
Also Eligible
10BellizeRicardo Gonzalez126Neil D. Drysdale15-150,000
11Jaxons Tour GuideAlexis Centeno111Doug F. O'Neill12-145,000
12Judy With GraceMario Gutierrez120Ronald W. Ellis12-150,000
13Quick and DirtyJuan Hernandez120Michael W. McCarthy5-150,000


1 Mile. Purse: $24,000. Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $20,000-$18,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1AlcoolsAbel Cedillo124Peter Miller4-120,000
2SeicheTyler Baze124Val Brinkerhoff4-120,000
3Justin's QuestFlavien Prat124Tim Yakteen5-220,000
4Malakai MoxieJessica Pyfer117Art Sherman8-120,000
5Great PowerEmily Ellingwood115Reed Saldana8-118,000
6CauseididitmywayKent Desormeaux122Sal Gonzalez5-118,000
7ItsthattimeJuan Hernandez124Doug F. O'Neill7-220,000


1 1/8 Mile Turf. Purse: $61,000. Maiden Special Weight. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1AstronautFlavien Prat126John A. Shirreffs9-5
2Still in the GameMario Gutierrez126Ben D. A. Cecil7-2
3WarbirdUmberto Rispoli118Michael W. McCarthy12-1
4CosmoJuan Hernandez126Neil D. Drysdale4-1
5August IndyHeriberto Figueroa126Ricardo S. Guillen50-1
6On Easy StreetAbel Cedillo126Patrick Gallagher3-1
7Ivory SkyGeovanni Franco118Ruben Gomez30-1
8Phantom DanceRicardo Gonzalez126Philip D'Amato6-1


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1BezosFlavien Prat123Bob Baffert7-5
2CircumventJuan Hernandez123David E. Hofmans10-1
3FenwayMike Smith123Bob Baffert5-2
4Rookie YearHeriberto Figueroa123Peter Miller10-1
5Vantage PointAbel Cedillo123Clifford W. Sise, Jr.15-1
6There Goes HarvardUmberto Rispoli123Michael W. McCarthy9-5


6 Furlongs Turf. Purse: $36,000. Starter Optional Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $50,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Shes'a PerfectladyFlavien Prat126John W. Sadler5-2
2Bye Bye NickyAbel Cedillo126Robert N. Falcone, Jr.12-150,000
3Bella ChicaJose Valdivia, Jr.126Mike Puype4-1
4TranslateUmberto Rispoli126Robert N. Falcone, Jr.4-5
5Hola MazumaJessica Pyfer119Vann Belvoir30-1
6AcaiMario Gutierrez126Doug F. O'Neill6-1


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Allergic to LogicAbel Cedillo119Brian J. Koriner5-145,000
2Queen of LoveJessica Pyfer116Jeff Mullins6-150,000
3Our Little TigerKent Desormeaux123Jerry Wallace, II6-150,000
4Here Comes RalphieEswan Flores119Gary Stute5-145,000
5Medusa's GazeRicardo Gonzalez123Kristin Mulhall5-250,000
6AgataJuan Hernandez123Carla Gaines2-150,000
7Sugar KissesTiago Pereira123Carla Gaines12-150,000