Latest Kentucky Derby rankings

Here’s the latest Kentucky Derby rankings I sent in to this morning:

1. The Pamplemousse — Will be morning-line favorite for Santa Anita Derby
2. Friesan Fire — Louisiana Derby winner may be bound for Blue Grass on April 11
3. Pioneerof the Nile — Santa Anita Derby will provide stiffest test yet
4. Old Fashioned — Can redeem himself in Arkansas Derby on April 11
5. I Want Revenge — If he wins Saturday’s Wood impressively, could be Derby favorite
6. Quality Road — Florida Derby win set him up nicely for Louisville
7. Chocolate Candy — Santa Anita Derby isn’t just a two-horse race
8. Dunkirk — Figures to get only better after runner-up effort in Florida Derby
9. Imperial Council — Will try to turn tables on ‘Revenge in Wood
10. Papa Clem — Ships from Louisiana to Oaklawn Park for Arkansas Derby

Florida Derby winner on road to Kentucky

Quality Road, ridden by John Velazquez, won the Florida Derby in stakes record time today, setting himself up as one of the betting favorites in this year’s Kentucky Derby on May 2.
Sitting second right behind the pacesetter much of the way in the seven-horse field, Quality Road took the lead around the turn for home and then held off a late charge from even-money favorite Dunkirk to win by 1 3/4 lengths, running the 1 1/8 miles on dirt in 1:47.72. Dunkirk, ridden by Garrett Gomez, was two lengths clear of third-place finisher Theregoesjojo.
It was the second consecutive stakes victory for Quality Road but only his fourth lifetime start. For Dunkirk, it was his stakes debut after the $3.7 million yearling purchase won his first two career starts by a combined 10 1/2 lengths. Dunkirk earned $150,000 for his second-place effort, putting him squarely on the bubble in terms of cracking the Derby field should it draw more than 20 horses.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who’s never won the Derby with 19 starters, said this week that this would probably be the final Derby tuneup for Dunkirk. He ran big despite his inexperience and I think he’ll be a serious player if he cracks the Derby lineup.

Terrific Dubai World Cup performance

I have to admit, I had my doubts about Well Armed in today’s $6 million Dubai World Cup. The horse just seemed to be tailing off, in my opinion, since his victory in the Goodwood Handicap in September at Oak Tree. He was third at Dubai last year, a race that Curlin powerfully won.
But Well Armed made Curlin’s 2008 victory look like a stroll in the park, as the Eoin Harty-trained 6-year-old gelding romped to a record 14-length victory against some of the best older horses in the world.
It was the biggest victory of veteran jockey Aaron Gryder’s career. Always a professional, it was a well-deserved victory for the 38-year-old native of West Covina.
I’m sure Well Armed will get a much-needed break now, and he could return in time for the Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic this summer and then the Breeders’ Cup in the fall. If he continues to run like he did in Dubai, you can be sure he’ll be running in the $5 million Classic rather than the Dirt Mile like 2008.

Bing Crosby won’t be singing on Mondays

If the Del Mar Throoughbred Club has its way, the track will be dark both Mondays and Tuesdays this upcoming summer because of a shortage in the horse population. According to the Daily Racing Form, vice president Craig Fravel said Del Mar will ask the CHRB for a 37-day meet rather than a normal 43-day meet so it can follow the traditional Wednesday-through-Sunday racing schedule rather than its usual Wednesday through Monday.
The only Monday racing day would be Labor Day, Sept. 7, and the track would have nine races on Wednesdays and Fridays and 10 on Sundays. If the horse population is better than expected, the track might card nine races on Thursdays as well.
Del Mar is hoping that less is better, and I think it’s a step in the right direction. There is too much horse racing, plain and simple. I just hope they don’t start having 11 races on weekends to make up for it. That’s too many.

Is this the year Pletcher breaks through?

For all trainer Todd Pletcher has accomplished in thoroughbred racing, he’s never won a Kentucky Derby. He’s 0 for 19 heading into this year’s Run for the Roses, scheduled for Saturday, May 2.
This year, he’s got a lightly-raced colt named Dunkirk who has won both of his starts impressively but gets his first big test in Saturday’s $750,000 Florida Derby, one of the major steppingstones to the big dance in Louisville.

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Bejarano on a lot of live horses today

Jockey Rafael Bejarano, second to Eclipse Award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez in the Santa Anita rider standings heading into today’s eight-race program, is on five or six live horses today and could have a big afternoon, putting a dent in Gomez’s nine-win lead. Joel Rosario is 13 back of Gomez and only four behind Bejarano.
I erred Wednesday when I wrote that Gomez would not be going back to ride fulltime at Keeneland this spring. He will in fact be leaving to ride the Keeneland meet that begins April 3 but will be here the following day to ride Pioneerof the Nile in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.
So that means Bejarano and Rosario both have shots to win the title with 19 days left in the winter-spring meet. Bejarano has won the past five SoCal riding titles since relocating to the Southland fulltime in 2008.

Gomez might be uncatchable

Rafael Bejarano’s bid for his sixth consecutive SoCal riding title looks like it may be derailed by Garrett Gomez, still the best money jockey in the country. Going into Wednesday’s nightcap, Gomez held a 78-69 edge over Bejarano after riding two winners on the card. Gomez’s agent, Ron Anderson, said earlier this month that Gomez will not be leaving early to ride at Keeneland as he has in past years, so that will make it doubly tough for Bejarano to close the gap. Bejarano was aboard one winner Wednesday.
The closer race might be for second place, where Rosario had pulled within four wins of Bejarano with a riding double Wednesday. Rosario was scheduled to ride General Buffet in Wednesday’s eighth race.
What do you think?

CHRB meeting highlights

Two of the larger issues discussed at Tuesday’s regular monthly California Horse Racing Board meeting dealt with Hollywood Park racing and when the track will shut down and the Chapter 11 bankruptcy concerning Santa Anita parent company Magna Entertainment Corp.

The following are exceprts from the CHRB press release:

Hollywood Park’s president informed the Board that the Inglewood racetrack would conduct its scheduled meet this fall, but when asked by racing commissioners for a longer-term commitment, track President Jack Liebau said he was not in a position to commit to racing beyond this calendar year.

When the Board approved the 2009 racing calendar last November, Hollywood Park was awarded fall dates (November 11 through December 21). Even though the track had not committed to racing beyond its spring-summer meet, expectations had been that Hollywood Park would race in the fall. But when Hollywood Park’s owner recently unveiled plans to the City of Inglewood for a mixed-use development on the 238-acre property that would include a retail district, office space, and nearly 3,000 residential units, the Board placed the matter on the agenda for the meeting.

“Yes, Hollywood Park will be conducting its fall meet,” Liebau confirmed without elaboration. Chairman John Harris and Vice Chairman David Israel both asked Liebau whether he could give any assurances of racing beyond this fall. Liebau said he could not. Harris expressed his hope that Hollywood Park would continue its racing operation, and he encouraged others to voice their support for racing in Inglewood beyond 2009.

A representative of Magna Entertainment Corp. (MEC) provided an update on MEC’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, including motions concerning the sale of Santa Anita, Golden Gate Fields, and other MEC-owned properties, and the status of funds due to various industry programs considered vital to on-going racing operations. Gregg Scoggins, MEC’s national director for regulatory affairs, said the funding issues are being reviewed and he might have something to report within a week. Scoggins said the bankruptcy judge already approved $13.4 million in debtor-in-possession financing, and the judge will consider motions to approve another $49 million on March 27. Other issues scheduled to be heard either March 27 or at hearings in April include MEC motions for the setting of procedures for the auctioning of MEC assets. MEC proposes bidding and auctioning timetables that could lead to the sales of racetrack properties in early August. Additional information about the MEC bankruptcy process, including hearing dates, court documents and court orders, can be obtained at this Web site (

After the meeting, Harris stressed that several persons in the racing industry expressed concerns about delays in the distribution of funds that MEC held in trust for various programs and operations that are not believed to be general creditors, including the Stabling and Vanning Fund and satellite location fees. He noted their fear that these programs might be forced to close down – to the detriment of Santa Anita and Golden Gate’s continuing operations and the overall industry – if payments are not made soon. Harris said that although all pari-mutuel tickets have been and will be paid, the bankruptcy filing has delayed the distribution of millions of dollars from pari-mutuel wagering due to other beneficiaries, including $1.2 million in license fees due the State of California.

Could be short Santa Anita Derby field

Only four horses lined up to take on Brother Derek in the 2006 Santa Anita Derby, and the field could be as small this year when the race for the West Coast’s premier 3-year-olds is run for the 72nd time.
Only three colts — Chocolate Candy, Feisty Suances and Mr. Hot Stuff — are scheduled to line up against Pioneerof the Nile and The Pamplemousse in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4, a race that has drawn an on-track crowd in excess of 50,000 each of the past three years.
The race lost a potential starter this week when trainer Todd Pletcher said Take the Points, runner-up to The Pamplemousse in the Sham Stakes on Feb. 28, was now being pointed toward the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 11 because of the presence of both Pioneerof the Nile and The Pamplemousse.
Pletcher told the Daily Racing Form that he would reconsider the Santa Anita Derby if there was one or two defections. Garrett Gomez would ride Take the Points in the Blue Grass, but he’d need a different rider if he ran in the Santa Anita Derby. Gomez is scheduled to ride Pioneerof the Nile in the Arcadia race.