March 4, 2024

First week of spring racing at Santa Anita Park is complete


The four days of late March action saw a plethora of short fields at Santa Anita and while my handicapping was solid it will unfortunately be remembered more by the runner-up efforts than the winners I predicted.

Thursday was a solid day at the office to start the week with four short-priced top pick winners for the Santa Anita sheet, but a half-length kept it from being a huge afternoon at the pari-mutuel windows.

I was not in love with the favorites in the day’s sixth race, an open $8,000 claimer for four-year-olds and upward so I decided to take a shot with #11 Sooner Time. The Sidney’s Candy filly was dropping in class and drew well to the outside for trainer George Papaprodromou. The four-year-old had races that were competitive with the top few betting choices and I knew jockey Iggy Puglisi would be hungry at the low level given his poor start to 2017.

At the top of the stretch the winner of 3 of 23 lifetime starts (Sooner Time) appeared to not be doing enough, but she fought on gamely and nearly nailed the eventual victor, Easter Fever at the wire. Unfortunately she came up just short.

If you boxed my top two choices you landed an exacta that paid $80.80 for a buck. However, if you just bet her to win or used her in horizontal sequences it was a tough one to swallow.

Friday got started in similar fashion with top choice #5 Super Echelon in the first. This son of Gio Ponti was somewhat dismissed by the Southern California bettors at a juicy 6-1. The Keith Desormeaux-conditioned gelding appeared poised to run down second choice Moonlight Blue in the final strides, but apprentice Austin Solis was unable to get to the winner. Once again an exacta box with my top two selections was the way to go, but regrettably the only action I took part in was the Win pool and horizontal sequences.

Thankfully, I was still able to salvage the day with three top choices, including #7 Saburai the 4-1-winner of the finale for trainer Vladimir Cerin.

Saturday’s nine-race card started in chaotic fashion with a $49.20 winner in the first and a $35.20 victor in the second and continued as first-time starter Helen Hillary shot up the rail and nailed 8-5-favorite Scandal on the wire to start the late Pick 4. I was nowhere near any of these long shots, but once again saved myself from a poor start to the weekend when French-bred #10 Itsinthepost held off the hard charging Syntax to capture the featured San Luis Rey Stakes (G2) at odds of nearly 7-1.

The week concluded with an uneventful three top pick winners on a less than memorable Sunday afternoon at “The Great Race Place.”

My first full month as Brisnet’s Southern California Daily Handicapper is now complete and things went relatively well. Small fields certainly made it easier, but 49 top choice winners in 139 races (35.3%) was nothing to be upset about. My “Best Bets” declined quite a bit after an incredible start, but still produced at a 43.5% clip (10-for-23.)

As we move into the meat of the spring calendar and approach the Santa Anita Derby (G1), I hope field sizes will increase a bit and give us more races to take shots in like I did with Sooner Time on Thursday afternoon.  Regardless I will continue to plug away and hopefully provide the insight to help you become a profitable Southern California horseplayer.

Scott Shapiro is a Southern California-based handicapper. Follow him on Twitter @ScottShap34