Horse racing newsletter: Top of Belmont rankings looks familiar

A race horse ridden by a jockey.
Essential Quality, shown with jockey Luis Saez at the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile horse race, is ranked No. 1 in Jon White’s Belmont Stakes rankings.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we get ready for four days of racing at Santa Anita.

We’ll save some of the news this week for tomorrow and get right to the good stuff.

Jon White’s Belmont Stakes rankings

Here we are with the rankings for the Belmont Stakes. Jon White does them for us. He’s 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 the middle week picks on the Belmont Stakes. It’s brought to you courtesy of Take it away, Jon.


“No horse will be going for a Triple Crown sweep in this year’s $1.5-million Belmont Stakes on June 5, but three of the highest-ranked horses in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll are scheduled in the 1 1/2-mile classic: No. 1 Rombauer, No. 2 Essential Quality and No. 4 Hot Rod Charlie.

“As for this newsletter’s Belmont Stakes rankings, Essential Quality holds the top spot.

“Essential Quality has won five-of-six career starts. In his lone defeat, he finished fourth as the 5-2 favorite in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby on May 1 for trainer Brad Cox. Essential Quality ended up one length behind Medina Spirit, who finished first at odds of 12-1. According to Trakus, Essential Quality traveled 68 feet (approximately seven to eight lengths) farther than Medina Spirit.

“Essential Quality skipped the May 15 Preakness Stakes. ‘Moving forward off the [Kentucky] Derby, his weight’s great, his energy level’s great,’ Cox said Thursday during an NTRA teleconference. ‘We’re happy with everything we’ve seen post-Derby.’

“Last Saturday at Churchill Downs, Essential Quality recorded a sharp five-furlong workout in :59.80. Cox called it ‘a fantastic work.’

“The plan is for Essential Quality to have his final workout prior to the Belmont at around 5:30 a.m. Saturday at Churchill, then depart by van Sunday for New York.

“Luis Saez has ridden Essential Quality in his last five races. Saez again has the call for the Belmont.

Flavien Prat was aboard Rombauer when he won the 1 3/16-mile Preakness. Prat also was Hot Rod Charlie’s pilot when he finished third in the Kentucky Derby.

“Prat has opted to ride Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont. The Kentucky-bred Oxbow colt won the 1 3/16-mile Louisiana Derby on March 20 with Prat in the irons for trainer Doug O’Neill prior to the Kentucky Derby.

“Hot Rod Charlie is scheduled to have his final pre-Belmont Stakes workout about an hour before Friday’s first race at Santa Anita, then be flown across the country the following day. O’Neill likes the fact Hot Rod Charlie will have five weeks between the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont. ‘He’s added weight, he’s added muscle,’ O’Neill said Thursday. ‘He’s a stronger version than we saw in the [Kentucky] Derby. I just feel like we have a super-quality colt with a full tank.’

“Since Prat is sticking with Hot Rod Charlie, John Velazquez has been chosen to ride Preakness winner Rombauer in the Belmont Stakes. Hot Rod Charlie has won two of eight starts overall.

“Rombauer has won three of seven lifetime starts. The Preakness was his first win on dirt. In his two other victories, the Kentucky-bred Twirling Candy colt won a maiden race on turf at the 2020 Del Mar summer meet and the El Camino Real Derby on synthetic footing Feb 13 at Golden Gate Fields.

“Mandaloun, No. 3 in the NTRA poll, finished second in the Kentucky Derby for Cox, then passed on the Preakness. Mandaloun will make his next start in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park on June 13, Cox said Thursday.

“Medina Spirit, No. 5 in the NTRA poll, finished first in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness. The Florida-bred Protonico colt has returned to trainer Bob Baffert’s Santa Anita barn. Baffert said Sunday there are no immediate plans for Medina Spirit’s next race, the DRF’s Steve Andersen reported.

“Midnight Bourbon, No. 6 in the NTRA poll, finished second in the Preakness, will not be in the Belmont after finishing second in the Preakness. ‘I just want to freshen him up a little bit,’ trainer Steve Asmussen told DRF’s Marty McGee as to why the Kentucky-bred Tiznow colt will not be running in the Belmont.

“Now that Midnight Bourbon will not be in the Belmont, he drops out of this newsletter’s rankings after being No. 6 last week.

“Malathaat, an undefeated filly ranked No. 7 in the NTRA poll, was ruled out of the Belmont to freshen up. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Curlin won the Kentucky Oaks on April 30. She’s won all five of her races.

“Trained by Todd Pletcher, Malathaat is slated to make her next start in the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga on July 24, followed by the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 21, then the Breeders’ Cup Distaff or perhaps the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar in early November.

“Rock Your World, No. 10 in the NTRA poll, is going to the Belmont in an attempt to rebound from his Kentucky Derby fiasco. After a rocky start put Rock Your World much farther back early than ever before, he ended up 17th in the Run for the Roses as the 9-2 second favorite.

“Trained by John Sadler, Rock Your World won his first two career starts when competing on turf, then registered a front-running 4 1/4-length victory in the April 3 Santa Anita Derby on dirt prior to the Kentucky Derby.

“Now that Rock Your World is confirmed for the Belmont (with Mike Smith riding) and appears to be training in fine fashion, he moves up to No. 2 in the rankings this week after being No. 4 last week.

“Essential Quality was No. 1 and Rock Your World was No. 2 in this newsletter’s final Kentucky Derby rankings. They occupy those same positions in this week’s Belmont Stakes rankings.

“While Rombauer’s Preakness triumph certainly was impressive, the fact that he’s being asked to run in a much longer race just three weeks after such a strong performance in Baltimore is a concern.

“In addition to Midnight Bourbon, Keepmeinmind drops out of this week’s Belmont Stakes rankings after being No. 8 last week.

“Keepmeinmind finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness for trainer Robertino Diodoro. The DRF’s David Grening wrote on May 21 that Keepmeinmnind is expected to run in the $500,000 Ohio Derby on June 26 instead of the Belmont

“Though Get Her Number is entered in Monday’s $300,000 Texas Derby at Lone Star Park, trainer Peter Miller told Thursday that the Belmont Stakes remains a possibility. Get Her Number, winner of Santa Anita’s American Pharoah Stakes last year, finished fourth last time out in the April 10 Arkansas Derby.

“Here are this week’s Belmont Stakes rankings, courtesy of Xpressbet:

1. Essential Quality (1)

2. Rock Your World (4)

3. Hot Rod Charlie (2)

4. Rombauer (3)

5. Rebel’s Romance (5)

6. Known Agenda (7)

7. Bourbonic (9)

8. Overtook (10)

9. Get Her Number (NR)

10. Brooklyn Strong (NR)

NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”

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Santa Anita preview

It’s a four-day racing schedule at Santa Anita, and it starts with Friday’s eight-race card starting at 1 p.m. The good news is the field sizes are up from last weekend. There are three turf races, four maiden races and the race with the largest purse ($61,000) is the first. And that doesn’t happen very often. The race is a maiden special for Cal-bred 2-year-old fillies going 4 ½ furlongs. Four of the seven are first-time starters. The favorite, at 2-1, is Munny Penny for trainer Walther Solis and jockey Flavien Prat. She finished second by seven lengths in her first start. The second favorite is Drizella for Luis Mendez and Juan Hernandez. She finished second in her first start by 10 lengths. Post is, well, it’s the first race, you can figure it out.

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

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day

THIRD RACE: No. 1 Smiling Annie (6-1)

Smiling Annie makes the first start since August for trainer Mark Glatt, who puts Abel Cedillo in the irons. This tandem has won two of eight and been in the money seven of eight at the meet. Annie races protected Friday and comes in with a sharp workout. This horse makes the first start beyond 5½ furlongs and that is why I am landing here. In the last several races before hitting the bench Annie made late bids going shorter to finish in the money so this added distance could be ideal. 6-1 or maybe higher is excellent value and makes a great second choice to the Prat-ridden favorite Lalic.

Sunday’s result: Barsabas raced at the back of the pack in what looked like an exercise run. B’esame Me Mucho in the eight race was scratched.

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.

“One of the biggest nights of the season is Sunday, as 114 juveniles will compete in 12 trials at 350 yards to the Grade 1 Ed Burke Million Futurity with an average field size of 9.5. The horses with the 10 fastest times will advance to the final on Sunday, June 20. With 12 races there will be three Pick Fours. The Pick Six will start in the seventh.

“The trials will include 47 horses that have already won at least once. Three have won twice led by undefeated Apolitical Thunder, Docs Fastlane, whose only loss in three starts was a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Robert Adair Kindergarten Futurity, and Attack Zone, who has won two of her three outings.

“The headliners also include Eye On The Sky, who crushed his foes in his debut by winning the 300-yard race by 3 ½ lengths, and Chizum, who was a two-length winner in his debut. Both are trained by Jose Flores. Other runners that have impressed this season are Arimathea, a half-brother to Grade 1 winning champion Tarzanito, and In Hott Pursuit, a brother of champion and millionaire Hotstepper. Arimathea and In Hott Pursuit will face off in trial five. Jess Hez On Fire, a half-brother to stakes winner Jess Macho Corona, and Griffindore, a full brother to champion Uncle D, will also run on Sunday.

Edgar Payeras, a leading rider at Los Alamitos the past two years, returns on Friday aboard three-time winner Vastly Deep in the second. First post for Friday’s eight-race card is 6 p.m.

“Payeras took some time off to visit his parents out of state and will now look to pick up where he left off in this 1,000-yard race. Payeras led all jockeys with 52 wins in mixed-breed races last year, while finishing third in overall standings. He was the leading thoroughbred rider here in 2019 with 66 wins. Other top runners in this 1,000-yard race include Hydrostatic, who had a 1 ½-length win, and Debt Monger, who ran third at this level in his last start.

“On Saturday, Far West Futurity winner the Best Feeling, stakes winner Mister Tornado, and stakes-placed runners Up To Hit and Suite Expectations will face off in what shapes up to be one of the best 110-yard races of the meet.

“The track record at this distance set by Teller Jazz Mrl of :06.978 could be in danger with this strong field. Trainer Jaime Gomez will saddle the Best Feeling, who was second at this distance in the Last Chance Dash Handicap last December, and also Up To Hit, who also ran second at this distance in the Cypress Speed Stakes on March 19.

“There are two new $30,000 features at 1,000 yards on same night as a $50,000 final at this distance on Sat., Nov. 27. Of the two races, one will be strictly for fillies and mares.

“Horses competing at either the 1,000 or 870 yards at Los Alamitos will qualify to the new $30,000 races by earning points during the current meet using the point system already in place for the $50,000 final. Each of the three races will not exceed 10 horses and quarter horses are preferred in each of the three races.

“The track had its highest pick six in more than 17 years when one $2 winning ticket on Friday night returned a whopping $94,217. It was the highest payout at night here in the Pick Six since $108,631 was paid on Feb. 15, 2004.”

Chris Wade’s LA pick of the day

SIXTH RACE: No. 1 Im Tough Tonight (4-1)

He has had trouble in each of his career starts yet has quality figures after prepping well during morning workouts, including a drill that I graded as B-. In his most recent out 33 nights ago, this runner got slightly fractious prior to breaking slowly and getting bumped back by quicker opponents when losing multiple lengths of ground and any early racing momentum. After the tough getaway, the gelding finished better than looked for fifth while under a hold late. The charting with all factored in is very competitive in this mish-mashed affair and the rail hopefully should ensure a clear path to the wire at an expected nice price for quality connections.

A final thought

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

Santa Anita Entries for Friday, May 28.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 67th day of a 81-day meet.


4½ Furlongs. Purse: $61,000. Maiden Special Weight. Fillies. 2 year olds. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Endless ThirstTyler Baze122Edwin G. Alvarez12-1
2DrizellaJuan Hernandez122Luis Mendez5-2
3MadihaJessica Pyfer117Walther Solis8-1
4Ko OlinaEdwin Maldonado122Luis Mendez4-1
5Square FunMario Gutierrez122Doug F. O'Neill7-2
6Munny PennyFlavien Prat122Walther Solis2-1
7Scam LikelyAlexis Centeno117Jeffrey Metz12-1


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

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Exalted JoyJuan Hernandez120Michael W. McCarthy7-250,000
2WinzerTrevor McCarthy120John W. Sadler9-550,000
3Mongolian KingdomEdwin Maldonado126Enebish Ganbat3-150,000
4Magnificent RedAbel Cedillo118Dan Blacker15-145,000
5Poseidon WrathJessica Pyfer115Mark Glatt8-550,000


6 Furlongs Turf. Purse: $33,000. Starter Allowance. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Smiling AnnieAbel Cedillo126Mark Glatt6-1
2I'm the HeroTyler Baze126Adam Kitchingman8-1
3Capital HeatJessica Pyfer121Vann Belvoir5-1
4Majestic GigiTrevor McCarthy126Hector O. Palma12-1
5TrouvilleUmberto Rispoli126Leonard Powell4-1
6Lalic Flavien Prat126John W. Sadler8-5
7Roses and CandyGeovanni Franco126Ronald L. McAnally12-1
8Shanghai SunriseJose Valdivia, Jr.118Mike Puype6-1


1 Mile. Purse: $22,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Sugar KissesTiago Pereira118Carla Gaines5-120,000
2See You At the TopKent Desormeaux118Sal Gonzalez8-120,000
3MoreavinoJuan Hernandez126Gary Mandella7-220,000
4Circle of HonorAlexis Centeno113Steve Knapp6-520,000
5Summer RoseRicardo Gonzalez126Philip D'Amato4-120,000
6Dynamite QueenJessica Pyfer113Craig Anthony Lewis6-120,000


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $40,000. Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $40,000-$35,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1CharetteCesar Ortega113John W. Sadler7-235,000
2Kleen KarmaAbel Cedillo124Craig Anthony Lewis3-140,000
3Tizno's DilemmaTyler Baze120Andreas Psarras5-135,000
4Grazen HonorJose Valdivia, Jr.120Steven Miyadi8-135,000
5Clearly GoneUmberto Rispoli120Tim Yakteen8-535,000
6Little Bird Jessica Pyfer115Richard Baltas5-135,000


1 Mile. Purse: $22,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Big Game PlanCesar Ortega119Blake R. Heap10-120,000
2Keep It ClassyJose Valdivia, Jr.126Joe Herrick3-120,000
3MangotangoTrevor McCarthy126Val Brinkerhoff8-120,000
4Lady BeyonceMario Gutierrez126Felimon Alvarado20-120,000
5KatlaJessica Pyfer121Carla Gaines7-520,000
6Class CodeGeovanni Franco118Carla Gaines2-120,000
7Pancakes and BeerTyler Baze118Anthony K. Saavedra20-120,000


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $28,000. Starter Optional Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $25,000-$22,500.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1RailsplitterJose Valdivia, Jr.126Doug F. O'Neill4-1
2OnenightstandardsJuan Hernandez120Mark Glatt3-1
3Rookie YearAbel Cedillo120Peter Miller5-1
4Hammering LemonMario Gutierrez126Doug F. O'Neill5-225,000
5It's FittingGeovanni Franco126Milton G. Pineda15-1
6KennebecKent Desormeaux120Rafael DeLeon15-1
7UnilateralUmberto Rispoli126Andrew Lerner8-125,000
8RacetrackersFlavien Prat126Ronald W. Ellis5-125,000


6 Furlongs. Purse: $24,000. Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $20,000-$18,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Golden ImageCesar Ortega119Daniel Dunham50-120,000
2WhenducksflyAlexis Centeno119Lorenzo Campuzano20-118,000
3Street BehaviorJessica Pyfer119Steven Miyadi6-118,000
4Promise NothingEdwin Maldonado126Andrew Lerner4-120,000
5Rebel WarTyler Baze126Val Brinkerhoff6-120,000
6I Am AllthatyouareRicardo Gonzalez126Jonathan Wong7-220,000
7Crooked Finger RayJuan Hernandez126Ryan Hanson3-120,000
8Eel PointAbel Cedillo126Doug F. O'Neill5-220,000