by SCOTT SHAPIRO
A wonderful time of the year is upon us.
College football bowl season is heating up, the Super Bowl is less than two months away, and the start of the Santa Anita Park winter meeting is the day after Christmas.
A challenging nine-race card gets things started on Tuesday, December 26, at Santa Anita headlined by a wide-open rendition of the Grade 1 Malibu and a loaded field of fillies in the Grade 1 La Brea.
I’ll be providing Daily Selections full-card analysis with best bets throughout the Santa Anita meeting as well as commentary, spot plays, and wagering strategy on the blog. For all Santa Anita handicapping reports, CLICK HERE.
With the excitement of the new meeting in mind let’s take a look at a few easy handicapping angles that can help horseplayers find overlays with a big chance to run well over the next several months.
My twenty-first century handicapping approach requires the regular use of Optix EQ to help determine the race shape, as well as Ragozin Sheets as tools to help go beyond traditional past performances, but much of my best work can still be done through the use of Brisnet.com Ultimate Past Performances. Here are a few angles that are easily accessible from a horse’s basic PP’s and can help you discover potential value over the next several months at “The Great Race Place.”
- Turf Sprints
Handicapping races run down the hill at Santa Anita is a unique skillset due to its one-turn configuration that extends for six and a half furlongs.
The course not only attracts sprinters looking to stretch out from five or five and a half furlongs, but also two-turn animals hoping that the cutback to an elongated one-turn race will hit them right between the eyes.
Finding “horses for the course” is an invaluable tool when handicapping these six and a half furlong dashes, but rarely will that angle unveil a long shot. On the other hand, equine athletes that possess tactical speed and are exiting two-turn races can often provide handicappers with overlays in races run down the hill.
A lot of these animals going route to sprint that discover their form in Santa Anita’s turf sprints seem to struggle late during races going a route of ground. However, the early speed prevalent in these elongated turf sprints at Santa Anita forces them to settle off a more contentious pace and can result in them finishing with significantly more energy.
Unfortunately, with just two maiden races carded for the hill on Opening Day there is not a strong example on Tuesday, but keep an eye out for these “speed cutbacks” as the meet moves forward. There will be several that pay more than they should to win.
- Jockey/Trainer combos
It is always important to keep an eye out for hot jockey/trainer combinations and that certainly is the case at Santa Anita Park.
Most horseplayers know that when Mike Smith rides for Bob Baffert it often leads to a positive result. However, the two Hall of Famers rarely produce an overlaid winner when they merge forces. This is not the case though with all duos.
Using the “JKY w/Trn L60” in a horse’s past performances on Brisnet can be a valuable tool in uncovering connections that are hot, yet fly below the radar and still produce double-digit winners more than once or twice during the meet.
One example of a jockey/trainer combination that has produced a positive R.O.I. at Santa Anita over the past two years and has remained profitable despite a limited sample over the past 60 days is that of Rafael Bejarano and trainer George Papaprodromou.
Papaprodromou does not win at a high overall percentage, but when he attracts the services of Bejarano he means business. Perhaps they can get things rolling right away on #1 Best Two Minutes who looks to make it three straight wins in Race 5 on Tuesday afternoon.
Keeping an eye out for connections that are hitting regularly on non-favorites can certainly work to a horseplayers’ advantage during the winter in Southern California. I recommend following along.
- Use riders on the grass that win regularly over the surface
Some jockey colonies have a large number of riders that take turns winning races over the lawn. That is not true in Southern California where it seems like the same few jocks win all of the events over the sod. A glance at the “JKY w/Turf” statistic on Brisnet illustrates this point rather well.
Guys like Flavian Prat, Corey Nakatani, Kent Desormeaux and Gary Stevens have won 15% or more of their mounts over the lawn in 2017, while others like Victor Espinoza and Joe Talamo have been victorious in less than 10% of their starts on the turf this year.
In many cases, the best riders will be aboard the best horses making them hard to find at a good price, but keep your eyes peeled. There are more than a few examples of the top guys on the circuit producing boxcars in the win pool over the past few years.
Things heat up the day after Christmas in Arcadia and then resume on Friday afternoon.
It should be a great meet. Let’s crush them at the windows!