Latest Kentucky Derby rankings

The Factor proved he can win going two turns Saturday, rolling to an impressive victory in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The next question is whether he can win going two turns while being pressured a bit more. If he goes in the Kentucky Derby, odds are he’s not going to have things his own way on the front end.

Next up for the Bob Baffert-trained colt will be the Santa Anita Derby on April 9 or the Arkansas Derby on April 16. Wherever he races next, it’s going to be interesting to see how The Factor fares. Right now, he’s taken the step from sprinter to viable Derby contender. Whether he can carry his amazing speed 1 1/4 miles is anyone’s guess, but last time I looked none of the contenders for the Run for the Roses had gone that far yet.

Our updated ratings for the 137th Kentucky Derby, which will be run May 7:

1. Uncle Mo — Todd Pletcher colt hasn’t done a thing wrong yet
2. Santiva — Looking at Blue Grass Stakes on April 16 as final Derby prep
3. To Honor And Serve — Bill Mott-trained colt will go next in Florida Derby on April 3
4. Stay Thirsty — Pletcher targeting talented colt for Florida or Arkansas Derby
5. Premier Pegasus — San Felipe score stamped him as legit Santa Anita Derby favorite on April 9
6. Jaycito — Needs to run big in Santa Anita Derby to warrant a look on May 7
7. The Factor — One of the most talented colts in America
8. Soldat — Will tune up for Derby with a start in the Florida Derby
9. Brethren — Disappointed badly in Tampa Bay Derby; needs to rebound in Arkansas Derby
10. Dialed In — Nick Zito’s best shot at third Derby victory; targeted for Florida Derby

Santa Anita paddock guard shows continued improvement

The Santa Anita publicity office released an updated report on the condition of paddock guard John Shear this morning. Shear heroically saved a young girl from possible injuries last weekend when a horse broke free from his handler:

Santa Anita paddock guard John Shear, a Santa Anita employee for nearly half a century, continues to make progress after he suffered multiple injuries following an act of heroism at Santa Anita on March 13.

The 90-year-old Shear was injured while shielding a 5-year-old girl from a runaway loose horse prior to Santa Anita’s third race. Shear has been employed at Santa Anita since Dec. 23, 1961.

“He’s been taken off the critical list and was taken out of intensive care this morning,” said long-time Shear friend Gail McNeal, who recently retired from Santa Anita after 33 years. She operated the press box elevator since 1980 until her retirement, thus earning the nickname, “Elevator Gail.”

“I saw him yesterday at Huntington Memorial Hospital,” McNeal continued. “His spirits are good; he’s chatty and positive and wants to get well and get out of there. He wants to go home to his wife (Diane) in Sierra Madre. After that, we’re talking about taking another one of our trips to Las Vegas.”

Shear’s act of selfless heroism has created national interest.

“I’m completely blown away and humbled by the response from fans at the track and from those on all the social media sites,” Shear’s 44-year-old son, Mike, told the Santa Anita Publicity Department earlier. “It’s amazing how many people who don’t even know my dad have expressed their well wishes.”

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Santa Anita paddock guard Shear ‘improved’

Here’s a press release the Santa Anita publicity department released Sunday on the condition of 90-year-old paddock guard John Shear, who put his own life in jeopardy Saturday in an effort to save a young girl from potential injuries:

ARCADIA — The condition of injured 90-year-old paddock guard John Shear has improved “one hundred eighty degrees” over what it was Saturday night at Huntington Memorial Hospital according to a family member.

Shear, who was injured while shielding a 6-year-old girl from a runaway loose horse, was hospitalized Saturday afternoon following the accident that occurred prior to Santa Anita’s third race.

“I went and saw him last night in I.C.U. (intensive care unit) and he didn’t look good,” said Shear’s son, Mike, 44. “His voice wasn’t good and his face was black and blue. I went back this morning to see him at 10:30 and there was a complete, 180 degree turnaround. He was sitting upright, talking, laughing and completely coherent and he’s stable.

“He’s got multiple fractures. I’m not sure about all of them, but we do know he has one fracture in his pelvic area. He was hurt about four years ago in a paddock accident at Hollywood Park and the doctors inserted a rod in that area which may’ve been dislodged yesterday.

“The doctors think this has caused some internal bleeding in that bone area and he did lose a significant amount of blood yesterday. The latest word is that he’s not going to have to undergo surgery at this time, which is great news,” said Shear.

Shear’s act of selfless heroism has created national interest, far beyond the scope of horse racing.

“I’m completely blown away and humbled by the response from fans at the track and from those on all the social media sites. It’s amazing how many people that don’t even know my dad have expressed their well wishes,” said Shear.

“My dad does about 35 pushups a day and he eats well and stays fit. I think that’s the biggest reason he’s recovering so quickly. I’m extremely proud of him. I’m the most proud of him that I’ve ever been. He’s overcome a lot in his life–from where he came from and what’s he’s been able to accomplish.

“We’re not really sure how long he’s going to have to stay in the hospital. A lot depends on whether he’s going to (eventually) need surgery. “We’ll probably know more later today.”

John Shear has been employed at Santa Anita Park since Dec. 23, 1961.

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Santa Anita paddock guard saves young girl

John Shear, a former jockey who recently turned 90 and has been a paddock guard for years at Santa Anita, saved a young girl from potentially serious injuries when he threw himself in front of her to protect her from a loose horse Saturday.

Sea and Sage, a 3-year-old maiden trained by Gary Mandella, was in the walking ring before the third race when he freed himself from his handler and, in a 180-degree about-face, sprinted toward the opening Shear was guarding.

Shear ran in front of Sea and Sage and threw himself in front of and on top of the young girl, who appeared to be 3 or 4.

Sea and Sage collided with Shear, who remained conscious and responsive and was moving when he was transported by ambulance to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena for further evaluation.

The horse was uninjured, was caught in the Santa Anita barn area and returned to his stall in Mandella’s barn.

Go with Switch, Jaycito at Santa Anita today

I think Switch is the best filly in America, and she’ll win today’s $300,000 Grade I Santa Margarita Stakes if she gets a clean trip.

The Bob Baffert-trained Always a Princess will be on the lead and tough to collar, but Switch has enough natural early speed to keep her within sight and pounce in the stretch under Joel Rosario.

Switch convinced me in last fall’s Lady’s Secret Stakes how good she is, opening up on Zenyatta in the stretch before the big Horse of the Year ran her down just like she had 18 previous opponents. But Zenyatta was probably the only distaffer in the country who could have beaten Switch that afternoon.

In the $250,000 San Felipe Stakes, the final major prep for the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 9, Jaycito gets the nod here in a race that appears to have a ton of speed on paper. That should bode well for the stretch-running Victory Gallop colt.

Runflatout could be the real deal off his impressive 2 1/2-length maiden victory at Santa Anita on Jan. 29, and likewise the Steve Asmussen-trained Albergatti. Interestingly, Garrett Gomez got off Runflatout to stick with Albergatti.

Also, can CashCall Futurity winner Comma to the Top, beaten as the 1-2 favorite in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 12, regain his luster? He fell off a lot of Derby lists after that defeat but could redeem himself with a strong showing today.