Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Santa Anita Opening Day (12/26/18)

Greetings from 35,000 feet! I’m typing this from my flight back west, and the six-hour duration has left me plenty of time to analyze Wednesday’s Opening Day festivities at Santa Anita.

It’s a season of change at The Great Race Place. There’s a new announcer, a new racing secretary, and the lawsuit involving several members of the Stronach family looms large. Having said that, the Opening Day card is an excellent one that boasts plenty of wagering opportunities. I’ve got a pair of Pick Four tickets, and I think the large field sizes could ensure sizable payouts even if heavy favorites win a leg or two.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 2,3,5,6
R3: 7
R4: 3,7
R5: 1,6,8,9,10

40 Bets, $20

I wanted to put together an early Pick Five ticket. Having said that, I found the opener to be completely impossible, and from a betting standpoint, I want no part of it.

I’ll focus on the early Pick Four, which starts in the second. This is a claiming event for 3-year-old fillies, and I’m going four-deep to start. Of the three horses likely to take money, I most prefer #5 CHATTY, who takes a big drop in class and has shown an ability to rate a bit (which could come in handy in a race with lots of speed signed on). However, I also need to use #2 EMPRESS OF LUV, who improved in her first start for new trainer Andrew Lerner. Her form looks considerably better if you toss her Del Mar races, and I think 12-1 is a sizable overlay.

I can’t, however, get as cute in the third. This is a starter allowance, and I really like #7 I AM THE DANGER, who has not run a bad race since being claimed by Doug O’Neill earlier this year. This doesn’t seem like the strongest race for the level, and a repeat of the two-back race against similar foes would make him pretty tough to beat. He’s the 5/2 morning line favorite, and I’ll happily place a win bet if he’s that price come post time.

The fourth is the Lady of Shamrock Stakes for fillies going a mile on the grass. I’m going against morning line favorite #1 AMANDINE, who will likely take a lot of money based on her lone American start. She was impressive, but that race fell apart, and I don’t think she’ll get a similar setup. Instead, I’ll take the 2-3 finishers from October’s Grade 3 Autumn Miss, #3 MS BAD BEHAVIOR and #7 STREAK OF LUCK. I’m a believer in that race, and both fillies seem to be in career-best form.

Many may single #9 SCALPER in the fifth. He fetched $850,000 at auction earlier this year and has been working very well for Bob Baffert, and if he’s 7/2 come post time, I’ll eat your hat. Having said that, this seems like a solid group, and I need security in case he needs a race. Of the ones that have run before, I prefer #6 MO MISSISSIPPI, who seems in line to take a step forward for a trainer whose horses often need a race to get going. However, #8 ALLEVA cuts back from a route to a sprint, which is often very useful in a race with many first-time starters. 12-1 seems like too big a price, and in a race with a bunch of horses that haven’t run before, I need to have him on my ticket.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7

R7: 5
R8: 2,3,7
R9: 3,9,12,13
R10: 1,4,5,6,10,11

72 Bets, $36

If you want to make this a Pick Five and single #5 DREAM TREE in the sixth (the Grade 1 La Brea), go right ahead. Personally, I don’t like the late Pick Five due to the increased takeout rate when compared to the early wager, and starting with back-to-back singles makes me a little nervous.

Instead, I’ll play a Pick Four, which is likely to draw a substantial pool. The seventh is the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile, and I find it very hard to go against #5 RIVER BOYNE. He’s never lost at Santa Anita, and was a half-length away from becoming a Grade 1 winner in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar. There’s plenty of speed to set up for his late kick, and his usual effort would beat these.

The eighth is the Grade 2 San Antonio, and despite a dearth of talent in the handicap division at this point in the year, this wound up being a very interesting race. #2 BATTLE OF MIDWAY and #3 DABSTER battled each other for nine furlongs in the Grade 3 Native Diver, and I need to use them both. However, I’m also using SoCal newcomer #7 GIFT BOX, who’s been working lights-out of late for trainer John Sadler. There’s a chance he’s best going one turn, but he should benefit from the early pace scenario, and if he runs to the work tab, he may be the one they have to hold off turning for home.

The ninth is the Grade 1 Malibu, and there’s a chance #13 MCKINZIE is simply better than his competition in here. I’m using him, but in the event he misfires on the cutback in distance, I’ve got plenty of coverage. I’ve always been a fan of #3 COPPER BULLET, and I was happy to see him come back running last month at Churchill Downs. This seems like the perfect spot for him, as well as the other two horses I have on my ticket. #9 AX MAN looked like a world-beater at times earlier this year and may be rounding back into form, while #12 KANTHAKA has never lost going seven furlongs and fired a recent bullet here at Santa Anita.

I’m six-deep in the finale, and I’m honestly not sure if that’s deep enough. #4 ACKER has won two in a row and may be in career-best form, but he’s no cinch. In fact, I think #5 TROJAN SPIRIT had a legitimate excuse when second to Acker last time out after a rough start. My six-horse spread also includes two big prices. #10 ICY STREET and #11 TAKI’S CHOICE have run competitive races on figures in the past, and I’m most interested in the latter. I think he needed the race last time out after a very long layoff, and trainer Phil D’Amato’s numbers with similar stock are strong. If we’re alive and he wins, it could make for a tidy score.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Santa Anita Opening Day (12/26/17)

First and foremost, I hope you’re having a great holiday season with the people you love and care about. I’m huddled under several blankets typing this, as your resident handicapper/scribe is a converted Californian who’s no longer used to the winters of upstate New York!

One of the great treats of this time of year is opening day at Santa Anita. That card is coming up Tuesday and boasts nine races, including four of the graded stakes variety. I’ve got two multi-race exotics tickets that cover the entire program, and I’ll go through them all next!

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: 9,10
R2: 3,6,9,10,12
R3: 6
R4: 2,3,4,8,10
R5: 4,8

100 Bets, $50

This ticket is built around the horse that will likely be the shortest price of the day. However, despite this “free square,” I think this Pick Five could pay handsomely.

I’m two-deep in the opener, and while I’m using morning line favorite #10 BIG BUZZ, my top pick actually breaks directly to that one’s inside. #9 FENGARI took a step forward in his first start going long, and he showed some early speed that day, which could serve him well in this spot. There doesn’t appear to be much early speed signed on, and top rider Javier Castellano (who’s in town on a one-day trip) could get an ideal trip on or near the lead in a very slowly-paced race. 5-1 seems like a square price given the likely race shape, and I could see the logic in singling him.

I’m spreading in the second race, which features a full field of 2-year-old maidens going seven furlongs. #12 CANDY CORNELL may be favored, as he exits a fast debut race at Del Mar where he was second despite most of his trainer’s runners needing a race or two to get going. He could be talented enough to win, but a bounce off of such an effort is far from impossible. The one to fear could be #9 AMERICAN RULE, a Bob Baffert trainee making his career debut following a string of fast workouts.

The single I mentioned is #6 COLLECTED in the Grade 2 San Antonio. Simply put, he seems better than the rest of this group, and if he runs the type of race he usually runs, he’ll be very difficult to beat. I respect the likes of #1 HOPPERTUNITY and #5 ACCELERATE, but Collected seems like a different kind of animal.

I thought the fourth race was the most difficult in the sequence. This is a maiden race for turf sprinters coming down the hill, and I want coverage. #10 SENSIBLE MYTH is a reasonable favorite, especially given the cushy outside draw and the continued presence of Flavien Prat. With that in mind, there are others that merit consideration. #2 CHICKATINI likely needed her debut and should step forward, #3 LADYBUG has experience and the running style that hints at downhill success, #4 SLICK TRICK is bred up and down for turf and has worked reasonably well, and #8 MAPIT has the pedigree to suggest the switch to turf will be a welcome one.

I’m two-deep in the payoff leg, and I’m not getting cute. I’m using #4 BIG GRAY ROCKET and #8 SPECTRE BOND, and they’ll likely be the top two betting choices. The former has been working well ahead of his first start in 14 months and may not have been too out of place in the Grade 1 Malibu later on in the card, while the latter makes his first start for new trainer Peter Miller and has hinted at potential from the get-go.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6

R6: 5,8
R7: 1,3,7
R8: 6,8,9
R9: 2,5,8,11

72 Bets, $36

This is a very difficult sequence that, I believe, will pay out a healthy sum. I don’t have a single on this ticket, and hopefully, we can get this home.

The sixth is the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile for 3-year-olds. I’m two-deep, and I think this gets off to a formful start. #5 BOWIES HERO and #8 BIG SCORE are the two likely favorites, and I’m using them both. The absence of Sharp Samurai leaves the door open for one of the horses that have chased him to win this, and I think one of them does.

The seventh is the Grade 1 La Brea for 3-year-old fillies. Many will have this figured as a two-horse race between #3 UNIQUE BELLA and #7 PARADISE WOODS, and I’m using both, but I think it’s unwise to sleep on #1 MISS SUNSET. She’s a seven-furlong specialist with seven wins in 11 lifetime starts, and while the rail draw is a bit of a problem, she’ll likely be more of a price than she should be due to the presence of the other two heavyweights.

The eighth is the Grade 1 Malibu, and while it may bite me in the rear end, I’m against the morning line favorite. #4 FAVORABLE OUTCOME ships west for Chad Brown, but I’ve yet to be floored by him this year. He earned a big number with his last-out win at Aqueduct, but he didn’t beat a ton that day, so I’ll try to beat him, especially at his likely price. I prefer #6 PAVEL (cutting back to a distance he should love), #8 DABSTER (who showed a new dimension last time out and should improve second off the bench), and #9 C Z ROCKET (who’s yet to be beaten and has worked lights-out since arriving at Santa Anita).

We finish with a real mess of a race in the form of a one-mile optional claimer on turf. #11 LAZZAM could be favored, but he wasn’t an automatic “use” for me. He’s had a lot of chances lately, and I almost put forth a ticket that didn’t have him on there. The redeeming factor for him, though, is a lot of early speed that’s signed on, which should lead to a favorable race shape. I’ll also use morning line favorite #5 SPANISH HOMBRE, as well as a few prices. #2 INCREDIBLE LUCK returns to his favorite turf course following a needed run off the bench, and #8 ACCOUNTABILITY has flexibility and boasts a last-out win here back in October.