Horse racing newsletter: Santa Anita to Los Alamitos deal appears dead
Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we keep our heads up during this life-defining crisis.
Here we are another week gone, this one with tragic consequences but yet a sign of hope. Can’t say it enough. Be smart. Stay safe. Stay home.
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As for racing returning to Santa Anita, there is no movement on the part of the health department to allow racing to resume. However, there was talk of temporarily moving Santa Anita’s racing dates to Los Alamitos, which is the only track in California currently running. But that deal seems dead.
“It’s not going to happen,” Jack Liebeau, Los Alamitos vice president, told Art Wilson of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group on Thursday.
Adding to a finality of this decision is it would require California Horse Racing Board approval and it is not on the current agenda for the April 23 meeting, which will be held by teleconference. Now, should things change, there is time to add an agenda item as the Board did last month with the request from Cal Expo to move its racing days to Tuesday and Wednesday. The board did just that and OK’d things until the track was ruled non-essential and shut down.
So, racing at Santa Anita, as does life, remains on hold as we creep our way to May.
Now, on to your favorite features.
Jon White’s Kentucky Derby Top 10
As always, we’re lucky to have top expert Jon White take a look at what’s happening on the uncertain Kentucky Derby trail, and what a trail that has become. Jon makes the morning line at Santa Anita (when they are racing), he’s a licensed steward, and he’s the pre-eminent historian on racing. We’re lucky to have him. So, here’s his Kentucky Derby rankings, brought courtesy of Xpressbet.com.
“Charlatan, who is No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, and Nadal, who ranks No. 2, are ticketed for Oaklawn Park’s $750,000 Arkansas Derby at 1 1/8 miles on May 2. They both are trained by Bob Baffert, who disclosed plans for the two 3-year-olds when interviewed this week by Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss in a video for nbcsports.com.
“Baffert said he really does not want to run two-for-two Charlatan and three-for-three Nadal against each other. That’s why he is hoping the Arkansas Derby draws enough entries to be split into two divisions. If the race is split, Charlatan and Nadal would be able to avoid running against each other, just as the Baffert-trained duo of Game Winner and Improbable contested different divisions of last year’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn.
“If the Arkansas Derby is not divided, Baffert does plan to go ahead and run the two undefeated colts against each other. No doubt that’s mainly because Baffert’s options are severely limited by the dearth of tracks that are conducting racing at this time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Should Charlatan be excluded from the Arkansas Derby field for not having sufficient career earnings, Baffert indicated that Charlatan then could run at a later date in Southern California when thoroughbred racing returns.
“Baffert said that he considers Charlatan to be ‘a smaller version of Justify.’ The Baffert-trained Justify swept the Triple Crown in 2018 after the Baffert-trained American Pharoah had done likewise in 2015.
“Charlatan would be making his stakes debut in the Arkansas Derby. The Kentucky-bred Speightstown colt worked six furlongs in 1:12.60 last Sunday at Santa Anita.
“Nadal has a pair of stakes victories under his belt. He won Santa Anita’s San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 9, then took Oaklawn’s Rebel Stakes on March 14. The Kentucky-bred Blame colt had a sharp six-furlong workout in 1:11.60 last Sunday at Santa Anita.
“As Baffert sees it, his trio of Charlatan, Nadal and Authentic are ‘all are superstar material.’
“Authentic most likely would have been the favorite in last Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby if it had been run. But Santa Anita Park is among the large number of tracks that have been forced to cease live racing as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Santa Anita announced last week that the Santa Anita Derby will be rescheduled.
“After Authentic was unable to run in the Santa Anita Derby, Baffert said he now ‘is just going to back off’ him.
“Baffert’s decision to ‘back off’ Authentic for the time being makes sense. There is no need to be in a hurry with Authentic when this year’s Kentucky Derby has been moved from May 2 to Sept. 2. Baffert also alluded to backing off Authentic because ‘he’s a late (May 5) foal’ and ‘a light-bodied horse.’
“Meanwhile, Baffert also trains Thousand Words, who is No. 9 on my Top 10. The $1 million yearling is entered in Saturday’s $200,000 Oaklawn Stakes (formerly the Oaklawn Invitational), a 1 1/8-mile contest at Oaklawn Park. Thousand Words is the 5-2 morning-line favorite in the field of 13, with Basin the 7-2 second choice.
“Thousand Words was three for three prior to finishing fourth in Santa Anita’s San Felipe Stakes (won by Authentic) on March 7. The Florida-bred Pioneerof the Nile colt won the Los Alamitos Futurity last year on Dec. 7 and the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 1.
“Basin figures to improve off his third-place finish on a sloppy track in the March 14 Rebel. It was his first race since his 6 1/2-length victory in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last Sept. 2. The Hopeful also was contested a sloppy track. Steve Asmussen trains Basin, a Kentucky-bred Liam’s Map colt.
“Taishan, 8-1 on the morning line, could be dangerous in the Oaklawn Stakes. Trained by Richard Baltas, the Kentucky-bred Twirling Candy colt splashed his way to a 4 3/4-length win in a 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claiming race in the slop at Oaklawn on March 14. Taishan, who has been victorious in two-of-five career starts, won a maiden race at Santa Anita last Nov. 3.
“As for this week’s Top 10, after further evaluating Tiz the Law’s effort when he won the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby on March 28, I decided to move him up to No. 3 this week from No. 5 last week.
“Tiz the Law won the Florida Derby by 4 1/4 lengths, but I originally was put off by his final time of 1:50.00. The Florida Derby has been run 16 times since Gulfstream enlarged the main track to 1 1/8 miles for its 2005 season. The winner’s final time was faster than Tiz the Law’s in 12 of those 16 editions of the Florida Derby.
“But I’m now not as troubled by Tiz the Law’s Florida Derby clocking after finding out the Thoro-Graph number credited to him for that race was a negative 3/4. In terms of Thoro-Graph, the lower the number the better. According to Thoro-Graph, ‘each number on a sheet represents a performance rating arrived at by using time of the race, beaten lengths, ground lost or saved on the turns, weight carried, and any effects wind conditions had on the time of the race.’
“Tiz the Law is the only 3-year-old male to run well enough to have earned a negative Thoro-Graph number this year. And he’s done it twice. Tiz the Law also posted a negative 3/4 when he won Gulfstream’s 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull Stakes by three lengths on Feb. 1. By comparison, in Charlatan’s two wins this year, both at Santa Anita, his Thoro-Graph numbers were 0 on Feb. 16 and 1/4 on March 14. Nadal has received a 3 3/4 Thoro-Graph number in each of his three races. But I think Nadal is quite capable of improving on his Thoro-Graph numbers to date, which is one of the reasons I have him ranked a notch higher than Tiz the Law.
“Here are this week’s rankings for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby, courtesy of Xpressbet:
1. Charlatan (1)
2. Nadal (2)
3. Tiz the Law (5)
4. Honor A.P. (3)
5. Authentic (4)
6. Maxfield (6)
7. Sole Volante (7)
8. Ete Indien (8)
9. Thousand Words (9)
10. King Guillermo (10)
NOTE: Last week’s rankings in parentheses”
Ron Flatter’s weekly insights
It’s time for our weekly contribution from Ron Flatter of the Vegas Stats and Information Network. He offers up some common sense advice about what we learned from the Florida Derby. Ron, what insights do you have?
“Older horses make up springtime’s most ignored division of racing. But this year it should not be that way.
“Now that the road to the postponed Kentucky Derby seems eternal, races like Saturday’s Oaklawn Mile in Arkansas provide stages that put deserving horses in the spotlight while the 3-year-olds make their way down an uncharted trail.
“Not that calls should be put through to the Hall of Fame at Saratoga for any of the 14 horses in Saturday’s race. But dismissing a $150,000 stake because it is ungraded would be short-sighted.
“With the racing calendar at Santa Anita, Aqueduct and Keeneland darkened by the pandemic, the Oaklawn Mile and next Saturday’s $600,000 Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap are luring shippers that might not otherwise show up at Hot Springs for a race that accedes to little more than black type.
“Seven Oaklawn Mile starters shipped in for the race, including four that had never before set foot on that track. They include morning-line favorite Tom’s d’Etat (3-1), the 7-year-old that belongs to New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson. A $1.2 million earner, he has not raced since he won the Grade 1 Clark Stakes the day after Thanksgiving at Churchill Downs.
“Back for the first time since he was a distant fifth for Baffert in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Improbable (7-2) goes after his first stakes victory since last summer’s Shared Belief at Del Mar. A seven-time starter at the Group 1 level with a win in the 2018 Los Alamitos Futurity, the 4-year-old Improbable was sent from California to start improving on a 1-for-7 disappointment in 2019.
“Then there is Mr. Money (4-1), a horse who spent the winter at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Last summer he paid off for wise-guy bettors with a four-race winning streak. Seemingly a ’tweener looking for a sweet spot between sprint and classic distances, he found it in the eight-to-nine-furlong range with first-place finishes in the Pat Day Mile, the Matt Winn, the Indiana Derby and the West Virginia Derby. Saturday’s Oaklawn Stakes comes in at nine furlongs, which may be an important angle for handicappers looking at trainer Bret Calhoun’s 4-year-old.
“None of these horses is among the 20 listed in off-shore and overseas futures for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but that is just the point of showcasing them now. Who is to say that this race does not become a springboard to bigger stakes, presuming they happen this spring and summer?
“The same goes for the Apple Blossom, which started Midnight Bisou on her way to three consecutive 2019 Grade 1 victories and an Eclipse Award. Now 5, she was the top-ranked horse in the most recent National Thoroughbred Racing Assn. media poll.
“Midnight Bisou is still on a break after finishing second six weeks ago in the $20 million Saudi Cup. So another filly or mare may use the Apple Blossom the way she did. No fewer than four Grade 1 winners are reported by Horse Racing Nation to be under consideration for the race, including Oaklawn-based Serengeti Empress and Street Band and shippers Come Dancing and Ollie’s Candy.
“Without the Derby to shine a glare, it may be easier to keep track of older horses now. The better to handicap them later in events like the Breeders’ Cup, presuming horseplayers are not blinded by 3½-year-olds.
Ron Flatter is a host and reporter who covers horse racing for the Vegas Stats & Information Network, which is available at SiriusXM 204 and to subscribers at VSiN.com. He also hosts the Ron Flatter Racing Pod. On the current episode renowned gambler Alan “Dink” Denkenson talks about his life betting horses and sports, and jockey Joe Talamo discusses his ride on Thousand Words in Saturday’s Oaklawn Stakes. There are also previews of races in Arkansas, Japan and Australia with handicappers Dave Tuley, Kate Hunter and Nick Quinn. To listen, just click here.
Ciaran Thornton’s weekend pick
Oaklawn Park on Saturday
RACE NINE: No. 6 M G Warrior (15-1)
RACE NINE: No.11 Lord Guinness (30-1)
This week’s pick is from the Oaklawn Mile, the ninth race on Saturday. This is the best stakes race of the weekend with two Grade 1 winners and some horses that have each won more than a million dollars. The top betting favorites are all making their first starts since last November including Improbable and Tom’s d’Etat. Races like this, more times than not, give value players way better prices on very good horses, prices they would not normally not get. From 21 races horses over 10-1 have won 24%. I am going with the California horse with M G Warrior from trainer Brad Cox with Joe Talamo riding. Joe is having a great meet since moving to Oaklawn and is Brad’s go to jockey winning 24% of his mounts. They won at this distance last out and jump up in class. 15-1 or more is great value. I also like Lord Guinness who ships out from California with Ruben Funetes riding for Tim Yakteen making the second start off a long layoff. They prepped in February at Golden Gate and now ship out here. Fuentes rode the horse to victory last April so it is interesting to see him travel here on Saturday. When Tim ships them they mean business. 30-1 is excellent. Improbable has been a major disappointment, and drew a horrible post, but I like the dropping in class/last win rider jumping back on angle. I will be using these three horses in my exotics.
Last Saturday’s result: Lexi On The Move ran half a race and never looked comfortable racing in the slop.
Ciaran Thornton is the handicapper for Californiapick4.com, which offers daily full card picks, longshots of the day, best bets of the day. (Of course, that’s when there is racing.)
Los Alamitos weekend preview
It’s time to turn things over to marketing and media guru Orlando Gutierrez, who will tell us about things going on at Los Alamitos, which is currently the only game in California. Orlando, the floor is yours.
“Los Alamitos will have two nights of racing this week, as the Orange County track will be closed on Easter Sunday as scheduled before the start of the meet. Friday’s eight-race program will include a pair of maiden races for 2-year-olds with all 14 runners making their career debuts. The two events for juveniles are the sixth and seven races and will feature some of the most impressive quarter-horse juveniles to work at Los Alamitos this year.
“Eagle Empire, who was purchased for $160,000 at the Ruidoso Yearling Sale, is one of the marquee names in the seventh race. The son of One Famous Eagle posted the bullet drill of :12.20 on Feb. 25 when outworking SC Divas Cartel Man, who debuted with an impressive maiden win last Sunday night. Eagle Empire’s 220-yard work was the fastest of 35 drills recorded that morning. King Relentless, who’ll enter this race after posting the fourth fastest of 67 drills on March 21, figures to be one of other main competitors in this race.
“The sixth race will be headed by Halley, who had the fastest of 16 works on Feb. 29. The filly by Apollitical Jess was purchased for $200,000 at the Ruidoso Yearling Sale.
“There will be five races at 870 yards — three of them allowance events will highlight the nine-race program on Saturday night. The allowance races will be part of the track’s popular early Pick Four and will be races two through four. The second race is a $14,000 allowance event for 3-year-olds and upward which have never won two races and of the eight in action, six raced at Santa Anita in their previous outing. This group includes winners KP Indy from the Jeff Mullins barn and Equipo A from the Lorenzo Ruiz stable. The Kentucky-bred KP Indy won a maiden special weight event across town on Feb. 22, while Equipo A went from wire-to-wire to win a maiden race for $50,000 claimers.
“Mullins will also send out 6-5 favorite Into Mystic in the third race, an $18,000 allowance for fillies and mares going 870 yards. In her last outing, Into Mystic drew off late to score an easy daylight win when racing at 5 ½ furlongs at Sunland Park on Feb. 16. In the fourth race, an $18,000 allowance, Radar Rob Racing’s Make It A Triple is the 2-1 favorite after running third in a conditioned six-furlong allowance event at Golden Gate on Feb. 23.
Chris Wade’s LA pick for Friday
RACE FIVE: No. 5 Jabber Now (4-1)
She just crushed a productive field of rivals that included two-time 2020 winner El Senor Del La Tune in her first effort over the nighttime racing surface without needing to take a deep breath. In that event 26 nights ago, the 6-year-old mare broke a tad slow and inward at the gate opening to lose almost a length of ground right from the start. She was ridden steadily to garner the front end easily while dueling with an inside speed rival to the 1/8th pole and from there she pulled away to an easy victory. I expect another step forward from the mare in her second start over this oval while doing so at a good price.
Chris Wade’s LA pick for Saturday
RACE NINE: No. 2 Jess Curlin (4-1)
This stakes caliber runner exits a ‘much better than looked’ sixth against a solid cast of rivals for the level while earning a very competitive figure for Saturday’s endeavor on my speed comparison charts. In that event, the 4-year-old broke very slow and had his head turned sideways at the gate and was crossed by quicker rivals while losing multiple lengths to his rivals. Following the bad start, the gelding angled in for clearance and finished fairly well far back while guzzled nearing the wire. With a solid number and with the help of a clean start, this could be his night to reward his backers at a nice price.
A final thought
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