January 23, 2022

Shapiro starts strong at Santa Anita

by SCOTT SHAPIRO

My first week of handicapping in March came in like a lion and went out like a lamb.

The first four days are in the books as Brisnet.com’s Daily Selections handicapper for Southern California, and my debut was a strong one with six of eight winners on Thursday afternoon. Unfortunately it was followed by subpar two-win performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

All in all I was pleased with my efforts given difficult weekend cards, but the 12 winners in 34 races is not as strong as it appears. The large majority of the correct predictions in Week 1 involved extremely logical contenders. However, one of my top choices to hit the wire first on Thursday was a $23.40 winner that required the use of a few key handicapping angles and was the chief reason I got off to a great start to the month at Santa Anita Park.

Thursday’s fifth was a maiden special weight event for three-year-olds conducted down the hillside turf course. The unique grass configuration provides full fields with great wagering opportunities throughout the Santa Anita meet, and this day was no exception. It was particularly satisfying because I was able to use a combination of handicapping tools—trainer data such as that found in the Ultimate Past Performances and pedigree analysis such as American Produce Records (APR) Online) to hit the double-digit winner.

As always, I started out by diving deep into the morning line favorites and after further review found both of them to be vulnerable. One was starting for the first time off the shelf for a barn that rarely wins down the hill and the other was coming off a lengthy layoff for a conditioner that rarely fires his best shot off the bench. Time to look at the rest of the field.

Three horses were making starts for barns that have regular success down the hill and had a reason to move forward in the spot sprinting over the lawn. But #6 City Storm stood out as the best option of the trio.

Phil D’Amato, one of the best turf trainers on the circuit, trained the City Zip gelding. City Storm had one career start over the Del Mar dirt in December. He was involved early at odds of 38-1, but tired badly to finish dead last. Something clearly went wrong, but he was not even competitive in his debut.

While it was hard for the public to ignore the horrible running line, I was confident for a number of reasons that City Storm’s performance last time out was not indicative of how well he could run.

Firstly, City Storm was gelded after that first start.

Additionally, D’Amato has had much greater success sending out horses for their second start compared to in their debut.  A simple review of his numbers over the past five years reveal that he wins with 14% of his first-time starters, yet a strong 21% with those racing for the second time.

Finally, City Storm’s breeding suggested significant improvement was likely in store with the change of surface for his second start. Without getting too technical the turf was exactly where he wanted to be.  A City Zip gelding out of a Storm Cat mare that won sprinting on the lawn at Belmont Park under the care of Shug McGaughey. Sign me up.

I was fortunate. City Storm got a great trip and a perfect ride by veteran jockey Stewart Elliott and just held off the hard charging favorite Conquest Smartee. Without the ideal voyage he likely gets beat at the wire. Thank you Stewart.

A big week coming up at Santa Anita Park as Saturday is loaded with stakes races headlined by the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. Kentucky Derby points will also be on the line in the Grade 2 San Felipe.

Should be great!