Santa Anita & Gulfstream

 

SANTA ANITA 2010-2011 DIRT RACING PREVIEW

Santa Anita is preparing for one of the most anticipated race meets in its long and storied history for the 2010-2011 winter/spring season as traditional dirt racing returns to The Great Race Place in Southern California. Following a three-year experiment with synthetic racetracks that got old really fast in the hearts and minds of horseplayers, horseracing fans and bettors everywhere are once again abuzz about day-to-day racing at Santa Anita this season thanks to the much looked-forward-to return of dirt racing. While this switch back from an artificial surface to a dirt surface is truly something to celebrate, the occurrence nevertheless will present its challenges for handicappers, who now must try to figure out what works and what doesn't when it comes to cashing tickets and making money back on the dirt in SoCal.

For handicappers, Southern California racing will be in a transitional period over the course of the winter of 2011 as racing shifts from several years of artificial track racing back to a dirt main track at Santa Anita. The players who do the best over this span of time will be the ones who factor the not-to-be-underrated surface switch into the rest of their handicapping. Will you be one of the winners, or one of the losers?

First, lets look at the new surface. According to the project manager in charge of installing the new dirt surface during the second half of 2010, the new Santa Anita dirt track will consist of nine inches of sand and clay on top of an eight-inch base. This track composition should then make the new track surface very similar to the dirt tracks at places like Churchill Downs, Gulfstream, and the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga. The past Santa Anita dirt surface had quite a bit more clay in it than the new track does. This change should prevent the track from turning very hard when it is sealed, which should help make it safter.

This surface switch of epic proportions back to dirt racing could result in something near chaos for SoCal horseplayers and handicappers. Handicappers will again be sent scrambling to try to figure out what is going on at Santa Anita, just like they did back in 2007 when Santa Anita switched to an artificial track for the first time. Let's start by looking at how the Santa Anita main track played when it most recently was a traditional dirt surface. Only time will tell how racing on the new dirt track will compare to the trends and tendencies of the old surface.

SANTA ANITA DIRT TRACK TRENDS

With Santa Anita's switch back to dirt, we should see a slight increase in the emphasis for early speed in sprints, espcially at the two most popular sprint distances of 6 furlongs and 6 1/2 furlongs. Remember that running style preference and winning profiles are bound to change dramatically, and immediately, with Santa Anita's switch back from Pro Ride to dirt.

In 2007, when Santa Anita last contested main track races on dirt, 38 percent of the 6 furlong races were won in wire-to-wire fashion (the success rate of front runners dropped to 31 percent on Santa Anita's artificial tracks). At 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita's most recent dirt track meet in 2007, 32 percent of the races were won wire-to-wire. At 7 furlongs, 38 percent of the races were won wire-to-wire.

The average beaten lengths at the first call at these sprint distances was 2.08 lengths behind at the quarter-mile mark. Horses definitely didn't want to be too far back, however, based on the fact that 93 percent of the dirt sprint winners were within 5.00 lengths of the lead at the first call (quarter mile). It proved to be difficult to win from very far back in the pack on the Santa Anita dirt based on these stats, and clearly the need for good tactical speed will increase now that Santa Anita has gone back to dirt.

During Santa Anita's artificial track era, it also was more difficult than ever to win by going wire-to-wire in route races. It should be easier to go all the way on the front-end in Santa Anita's new dirt routes based on the dirt statistics from 2007 when over 23 percent of the dirt route races were won wire-to-wire and 66 percent were won by horses classified either as early speed horses or pace pressers. These numbers were both much lower on Santa Anita's artificial surface at all two-turn distances when the slight edge instead went to closers and mid-pack stalkers.

Percentages of Speed/Front-running Dirt Wins at Santa Anita
(Most recent dirt meet in 2007)

Distance % of races won by speed
6 Furlongs 38% wins
6 ½ Furlongs 32% wins
7 Furlongs 38% wins
Routes 23%

Therefore, go ahead and downgrade closers or late-running horses that have made their livings in recent years thanks in part to the artificial surfaces like Pro Ride. Conversely, you can upgrade the early speed and front-running horses that have often struggled in recent years on the closer-friendly Pro Ride.

Speed will rise again on a new dirt surface at Santa Anita.

Where post positions were concerned in the past, the rail and inside posts (1-3) were preferred spots in sprints when Santa Anita last raced on dirt. This is pretty much the exact opposite from the way the track played once artificial surfaces were installed. Route races formerly tended to not show much bias in terms of post positions.


THE SYNTHETIC-TO-DIRT SWITCH

Contrary to what a lot of horseplayers are thinking and hoping, Pro Ride's and (Cushion Track's) effects on Southern California handicappers will not end when racing on the SoCal circuit shifts back to a dirt track at Santa Anita starting on Dec. 26. Pro Ride's effects, as well as those of California's other artificial surfaces, will remain with us for quite some time, even as the horses race on dirt all winter at Santa Anita. That is because even though the main track horses will now be running on dirt, their past performances are for the most part on artificial tracks. This switch is bound to have an affect on horseplayers as they try to handicap a horse's form and its chances of winning on dirt.

Once racing resumes at Santa Anita, most of the horses running on the dirt there will be showing mainly artificial track form for most of their recent races. If dirt track past performances cannot be used to reliably handicap artificial track races, then the same will also be true of the opposite. Artificial track past performances cannot be relied upon when you are trying to handicap all the dirt races that will be run at Santa Anita.

The best way to proceed with your Santa Anita dirt track handicapping is to toss out the artificial track races a horse has run, while instead focusing your attention on either a horse's most recent dirt races, if any, or else waiting for horses to compile past performances on dirt during this year's Santa Anita meet. This will lead you to bets on loads of overlays that appear to have bad current form, but in reality just didn't handle the Cushion Track surface at Hollywood Park or at the other artificial tracks in Southern California except for Fairplex.

Conversely, taking the approach of tossing out past performance lines run on Cushion Track will also enable you to steer clear of many overbet horses who appear to be in good form, but in reality just had more of a liking for artificial tracks than the majority of their competition.

Just as we all did in 2007 when Santa Anita abandoned dirt, all past speed figures, par times, track records, track biases, and horse-for-the-course statistics must be completely thrown out from the most recent three-year period. Whatever happened on Santa Anita's old dirt track meant nothing on the synthetic surfaces, and what happened on the synthetic surfaces will mean nothing in terms of what happens from now-on on dirt. You don't want to end up handicapping dirt races by using anything but dirt-race pp's. A horse's speed figures and finish positions from the Pro Ride era should not be expected to carry over to Santa Anita's next surface.

If a horse earned a perfect or near-perfect record at Santa Anita on the old Pro-Ride, for instance, that record will have no relevance at all on what the horse's ability will or will not be over the track's newly installed dirt surface. Handicappers must subscribe to this rule and be willing to totally toss out a horse's past performances on Santa Anita's Pro Ride surface. The players who use this one single angle will have a huge advantage over those players who continue to rely on old, out-of-date, and meaningless records and statistics earned on a track that was completely different from the new track that would be put in place should Santa Anita switch back to a dirt track at some future date.

Also, because synthetic Pro Ride racing closely mirrored grass racing, you should be able to latch onto several good betting opportunities when you bet against the horses that were essentially grass horses who were able to thrive on the Pro Ride and the other artificial tracks. Those horses will no longer be able to thrive on the dirt. This will eventually lead to a mass exodus of these artificial track horses back to the turf where they belong, but probably not before they burn a lot of bad money in the process.

Once any new dirt surface has been installed, handicappers can again begin compiling main track stats entirely from scratch so they can once again form new opinions as to potential track biases and preferred running styles. Until then, however, there just won't be much information out there for handicappers to base their ideas, opinions, and selections upon.

For starters, the best policy for Southern California handicappers is to immediately downgrade any closer or late-running horse that has made a living in recent years thanks in part to the artificial surfaces like Pro-Ride. Instead, it will be the early speed and front-running horses that have often struggled in recent years that will rise again with a switch back to the dirt. All front-runners and horses with early speed, even the cheap speed horses and horses that have been quitting badly on Pro-Ride, must be immediately upgraded by horseplayers who wish to turn a steady profit on a new dirt surface at Santa Anita.


TRAINERS

The switch will also affect trainers, too. Certain horse trainers have been hurt by the synthetic track era in California racing over the past few years- let's face it. Trainers
such as Bob Baffert, Richard Mandella, all the way on down to Vladimir Cerin, Jack Carava, Bruce Headley, Jorge Periban, and many others including Jeff Mullins certainly haven't been helped by California's synthetic tracks in recent years, but all of those barns figure to have an influx of new winners and higher winning percentages back on the dirt.

Likewise, other trainers will undoubtedly be hurt by a switch back to dirt track racing. This list of trainers could include the likes of Neil Drysdale, Peter Eurton, Carla Gaines, Paddy Gallagher, and Kathy Walsh.

With the return of natural dirt racing, along with projected purse increases as much as 25 percent, there should be an influx of new trainers at the 2010-2011 Santa Anita meet, and more entries from the established local barns. One new trainer of note on the grounds will be Steve Asmussen, who is expected to show up with a winter string of about 30 horses this season.

Besides Asmussen it will be all the usual suspects winning the largest portion of the local races (see the trainers section for Santa Anita in the book "Handicapping the Big Winter Meets"). This meets projected top trainers will include John Sadler, Bob Baffert, Mike Mitchell, Jerry Hollendorfer, Doug O'Neill, and Jeff Mullins. Others to make money betting should include Mike Machowsky, Clifford Sise, Barry Abrams, and Jorge Gutierrez.


JOCKEYS

Rafael Bejarano, Garrett Gomez, Joel Rosario and Hall of Famer Mike Smith will headline a high-quality jockeys' colony that will also include Tyler Baze, Brice Blanc, Victor Espinoza, David Flores, Martin Garcia, Corey Nakatani, Martin Pedroza, Joe Talamo, Alonso Quinonez, Chantal Sutherland, Patrick Valenzuela and others in 2011. It is this group- especially Gomez, Rosario, and Bejerano- that should dominate the top of the jockey's standings this season and battle it out for the meet title.

Rafael Bejarano shifted his tack to Southern California in 2007 and quickly became a local sensation- winning six consecutive major meet riding titles in 2008 and through the 2008/2009 Santa Anita meeting. Bejarano is in search of his fourth consecutive Santa Anita title, a feat most recently accomplished back in 1973 by Laffit Pincay.

Garrett Gomez, fresh off victory aboard Blame in last month's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, has been America's leading money-winning jockey the past four years and won Eclipse Awards in 2007 and 2008 (he's a top candidate to win again for 2010). Gomez is one of the strongest finishers in racing today, and "Go-Go" notably was Santa Anita's leading rider in 2007 when the track last conducted dirt racing. He finished fourth in the 2009-2010 standings and is seeking his second Santa Anita riding title.

The leading rider at the recently concluded Hollywood Park Fall Meeting was Joel Rosario, who finished the meet on fire and could well be the most up-and-coming young rider in America today. Rosario, like Gomez, is also known as a tremendous finisher.

Rosario has finished fourth, third, and second the past three years at Santa Anita's winter/spring meets and he's in search of his first Santa Anita title in 2010-2011. It he continues his recent trend, he should end up as the meet's leading rider come April.

Finally, the regular rider of the recently retired superstar mare Zenyatta, Hall of Famer Mike Smith, will anchor a deep and powerful Santa Anita jockey colony.

GULFSTREAM 2011 PREVIEW AND 2010 YEAR IN REVIEW

Gulfstream Park is the Eastern epicenter of Thoroughbred racing during the winter, and another exceptional and challenging meet is now upon us. As always, Gulfstream promises to offer the best horses, trainers, jockeys, grass races, and stakes races of the season with the top barns from New York and Kentucky and all points in-between all converging on South Florida for a sensational four-month sunshine-filled standout race meet.

Live racing for the 2011 Gulfstream Park meet begins on Wednesday, January 5thand will run until late April every Wednesday through Sunday. The Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby, the centerpiece of the 2011 Gulfstream meet, has been moved to Sunday this year and will be run on April 3. The start of the meet is always good, but it is the middle part of the Gulfstream Park meet is when the action really happens. The best part of the meet always comes from the second half of January until the beginning of April with the Florida Derby.

This year's Gulfstream meet will have a good deal of star power as Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo is expected to make his first start of his three-year-old campagne at Gulfstream this season. Awesome Feather, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, is also expected to kick off her three-year-old campaign at the track.

For bettors, some changes to the 2011 Gulfstream meet include a new post time of 12:55, and a new 50-cent Pick-5 bet with a low 15 % takeout on the day's last five races. There will also be both early and late 50-cent Pick-4s and rolling Daily Doubles and Pick-3s. Takeouts have been lowered on the Pick-3 and 50-cent Pick-4 (20 percent). Superfecta will be offered, and 10-cent Supers will be available on every race. All other bets will be $1 minimums, with the exception of a new experiment with a 10-cent Pick 6, with a jackpot that will only be awarded to a winner with one unique ticket. On days when there are multiple winners, 60% of the pool will be shared equally while 40% will go into a carryover pool.

Gulfstream will once again play host to the wintertime's best trainer line-up and jockey colony. Paco Lopez was the surprise winner of the 2010 jockey title at Gulfstream, winning 70 races (17% wins). Todd Pletcher won the trainer title with 35 wins (23% wins). Both will return to defend their titles this year and will be facing stiff competition.

With most of the best East and Midwest trainers and horses wintering in Florida, it's no surprise that the top jockeys will all be there, too. A strong case can be made that during the past decade, the Gulfstream Park jockey colony has become the best jockey colony in the country during the winter, and arguably the best anywhere at anytime of the year (along with Saratoga). Gulfstream is the winter home of John Velazquez, Edgar Prado, Kent Desormeaux, Julien Leparoux, Javier Castellano, and 2009 Gulfstream leading rider leader Jose Lezcano, all joining 2010 leading rider Paco Lopez, and many more top jockeys.

The 2010 Gulfstream Park meet provided plenty of valuable statistics to help astute handicappers plan for a profitable 2011 meet. The information we gleaned from Gulfstream Park in 2010 should give us the framework for what we'll need for a profitable 2011 meet.

Some of what you want to pay attention to from the 2010 Gulfstream meet includes trainer angles and certain other meet-specific handicapping tips that most recently proved profitable. At Gulfstream this includes running-style and post position biases that tend to prevail on a fairly consistent basis dating all the way back to 2005 when the main track was reconfigured to its current mile-and-an-eighth layout. These Gulfstream handicapping tips based on the winning profiles from 2010 and earlier should help you win all throughout the 2011 meet.

When it comes specifically to the 2010 meet, Gulfstream had a banner year with the perfect balance of winning favorites (36% wins, 70% ITM) and good-priced win odds and exotics payoffs (average exacta payoff $106.80). This is thanks to big fields and wide-open races. Here is a closer look at the 2010 meet:

GULFSTREAM PARK 2010 MEET AT A GLANCE

Average winning odds: 6.03-1
Favorite winning %: 36%
Favorite ITM % 70%


Exotics average $2 payoffs
:

Exacta: $106.80
Daily Double $108.82
Trifecta: $432.53
Superfecta: $2,569.31
Pick 3: $522.37
Pick 4: $4,296.67
Pick 5: $16,410.70
Pick 6: $13,574.80



Gulfstream 2010 track trends:

Distance Races % wire-to-wire Best running style Best posts
6 furlongs 127 36% Early speed 1-6
7 furlongs 52 19% Speed / pressers 9-12
1 mile 170 18% Pressers 4-7
1 1/8 miles 30 10% Pressers 2-4
Turf sprints 62 35% Early speed 7-10
Turf routes 199 17% Pressers / stalkers Rail


GULFSTREAM PARK'S PREVAILING BIASES

Some of the prime golden rules at Gulfstream Park are to stay away from outside posts in main track two-turn routes, and to stay away from far inside posts in dirt miles. Don't bet the rail horse in any sprint at 6 1/2 furlongs or longer, and stack your bets against front-runners on the turf (unless the turf rails are out -- the further the better). These axioms cannot be repeated often enough, because these elements when added together with winning running styles and trainer trends can provide you the framework of everything you'll need to make money at Gulfstream Park.

The rail post is, at times, absolutely awful at Gulfstream Park in one-turn races between 6 1/2 furlongs and a mile on the main track (Post 1 at 6 1/2 furlongs during the 2009 meet, for example, won 2-of-49 races for 4%). Often, the anti-rail disadvantage is enough that any reasonable player would be forced to think twice before betting a horse from the wood no matter how good the horse looks on paper.

In Gulfstream miles, the three inside posts are also much more of a disadvantage than an advantage. Note, however, that the far outside posts in those races aren't great either. Mid-pack posts from 4-7 seem to be the best gate slots at one mile.

These post position trends are not solely based on short-term statistics. It has always been this way on Gulfstream's current track layout to one degree or another since 2005.

RUNNING STYLE PREFERENCES

The prevailing running style preference in Gulfstream dirt races tends to favor horses with early speed, or at least tactical speed, at all distances. Stalkers and mid-pack horses sometimes run well, but deep closers are generally not good bets at Gulfstream, except on days when a temporary anti-speed bias occasionally develops to help-out closers.

Since deep closers generally don't do well on this main track, and inside posts and rail-skimming trips are usually not an advantage, the two prevailing track biases on Gulfstream Park's main track are, 1) Gulfstream's dirt track favors horses with speed and tactical speed, and; 2) Gulfstream one-turn dirt races favor outside paths, while Gulfstream two-turn races favor inside posts -- except for, perhaps, the rail post #1.

Now let's move to the grass, where a large part of the action takes place each winter at Gulfstream. Like many turf courses, the Gulfstream turf usually favors horses with good turn-of-foot acceleration in the stretch. It is difficult to go wire-to-wire on the Gulfstream turf course, and Gulfstream's turf course is definitely not friendly to early speed horses. Through the last couple years the Gulftsream grass course has became one of the most difficult courses in the country on which to win going wire-to-wire.

If you must bet a Gulfstream turf front-runner, try to make sure 1) The horse is the lone speed in the race, preferably from an inside post, 2) The horse has a solid class edge on the rest of the field, and 3) Look and see if the turf rails are moved out from the hedge.

The position of the turf rails on the Gulfstream grass course, which has been divided into inner and outer turf courses to help the condition of the course stay good throughout the long meet, is key for the chances of an early speed grass horse. Since they are always moving the turf rail around, always be aware of where the turf rail is before you consider a front-runner's chances on turf.

At Gulfstream on the grass, unlike on the dirt, a horse's chances of success are based more on running style than post draw. Running style has been a key determining factor how well a horse is expected to run on the Gulfstream lawn with pressers and stalkers having the best chances overall.

TRAINER TRENDS

At the 2010 Gulfstream meet, Todd Pletcher ran away from the competition and scored a decisive win atop the trainer standings with 35 wins which was 16 wins more than the second winningest trainer Bill Mott with 19 victories. Several other trainers also had big meets including Nick Zito (17 wins), and Peter Walder, Martin Wolfson, Richard Dutrow with 16 wins each.

The trainer stats from 2010 can be further broken down into categories, such as the highest and lowest winning percentages, and wins in turf races.

2010 Gulfstream Trainers with Highest Win Percentages
(at least 12 starts)

Jason Servis 7-for-21 33%
Nick Canani 15-for-46 33%
Seth Benzel 6-for-21 29%
James Jerkens 6-for-21 29%
Danny Miller 7-for-25 28%
Carl Nafzger 5-for-18 28%
Peter Walder 16-for-61 26%
Bennie Stutts 3-for-12 25%
Gregory DiPrima 3-for-12 25%
Tom Proctor 6-for-24 25%
Anthony Dutrow 8-for-32 25%
Marcus Vitali 9-for-36 25%

2010 Gulfstream “0-Fer” Trainers
(zero wins and 20 or more starters)

Barry Rose 0-for 51
Ralph Ziadie 0-for 39
Giuseppe Iadisernia 0-for 35
Joseph Calascibetta 0-for 32
Luis Oliveres 0-for 28
Angel Medina 0-for 27
Mario Morales 0-for 27
Donna Green 0-for 25
Allen Ferris 0-for 24
Juan Arias 0-for 22
Vinny Blengs 0-for 21
Thomas Schell 0-for 21
Norman Pointer 0-for 20


2010 Gulfstream Trainers with the Lowest Win Percentages (at least one win)
(Win percentages under 5%)

Charles Fontana 1-for-53 1.9%
Timothy Hamm 1-for-53 2.1%
Joseph Cantonese 1-for-53 2.4%
Henry Collazo 1-for-53 3.0%
Pablo Andrade 1-for-53 3.2%
Phil Gleaves 1-for-53 3.3%
Jerry Bozzo 1-for-53 3.6%
Jose Garoffalo 1-for-53 3.7%
Linda Rice 1-for-53 3.8%
William Bradley 1-for-53 4.0%
Reed Combest 1-for-53 4.0%
Jonathan Sheppard 1-for-53 4.0%
Kathleen O'Connell 1-for-53 4.2%
Barry Croft 1-for-53 4.2%


2010 Gulfstream Trainers, Top Turf Winning Percentages
(12 or more turf starts)

Anthony Dutrow 6-for-13 46%
Seth Benzel 5-for-13 39%
Martin Wolfson 7-for-19 37%
Stan Hough 4-for-15 27%
Larry Bates 3-for-13 23%
George Weaver 8-for-36 22%
Angel Penna 5-for-24 21%
David Fawkes 5-for-26 19%
Gary Contessa 4-for-21 19%
David Vivian 3-for-16 19%
Joe Orseno 3-for-16 19%
Michael Maker 6-for-33 18%

In the overall trainer stats from 2010, one of the biggest stories wasn't so much with a particular trainer, but rather, with a particular owner -- leading owner Frank Calabrese, whose stable propelled Nick Canani to a 33% win percentage for the meet, and Danny Miller to a 28% win percentage. Continue to keep on the lookout for those Frank Calabrese-owned horses again in 2011 for whichever trainer they show up with (he uses several trainers). It'll be easy to spot these horses, they'll be the overwhelming favorites at underwhelming payoffs in almost every race they run in.

 

By Noel Michaels - OTB Learning Labs

20
Nov

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