Crunching The Santa Anita Numbers

CRUNCH TIME FOR SANTA ANITA NUMBERS CRUNCHING

By NOEL MICHAELS - OTBLearningLabs.com

The Breeders' Cup is only about three weeks away and the prep season is in full swing with Belmont, Keeneland, and host track Santa Anita all rolling out their best stakes races for horses pointing to the World Thoroughbred Championships on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2-3.

This will be the third Breeders' Cup to be held at Santa Anita in the past five years, but nevertheless, this will be vastly different Breeders' Cup than the ones held in Southern California in 2008-2009 when Santa Anita was a synthetic surface and the main track races were overwhelmingly dominated by West Coast horses and Europeans.  This year's (and next year's) Santa Anita Breeders' Cup main track races will be contested over a dirt surface. This fact should result in a fairer and more form-full Breeders' Cup where the best horses from all parts of the country and the world will all have a fair chance to shine. This includes the Eastern-based horses, which should be able to do at least a little bot better after they were largely shut out of the top finishes the last time the Breeders' Cup visited Santa Anita in '08-'09.

The Santa Anita Breeders' Cup prep race schedule is of obvious importance with the SA main track BC races now back on a dirt surface, and all of Keeneland's prep races this month occurring on a synthetic track.  The multiple Breeders' Cup preps run over the same track and surface that the Breeders' Cup will be run over are always key, so Santa Anita's BC preps will be paramount for Breeders' Cup handicappers.

The long list of Breeders' Cup prep races at Santa Anita have all been re-named (because they were previously run at the defunct Oak Tree meet), including races such as the Yellow Ribbon (now the Rodeo Drive, won by Marketing Mix), the Clement Hirsch (now the John Henry, won by Slim Shadey), the Oak Leaf (now the Chandelier, won by Executiveprivilege), the Lady's Secret (now the Zenyatta, won by Love and Pride), , the Goodwood (now the Awesome Again, won by Game On Dude), and the Norfolk (now the Frontrunner, won by Power Broker).

Lessons From Breeders' Cups '08 And '09

First and foremost, handicappers must understand that both Europeans and Southern California-based horses will unquestionably have the greatest impact on the results of the 2012 Breeders' Cup, just as they did in the 2008-09 Breeders' Cups. This year, horseplayers must be willing to adjust their handicapping accordingly, factoring local form as taking on added importance when the Breeders' Cup is run on the West Coast. This dates back even further than the 2008-09 Breeders' Cup to the last SoCal Cups run on dirt tracks, when California-based horses had unparalleled success.

This news might be difficult for East Coast horseracing fans to swallow, but the numbers don't lie. The East Coast horses nearly blanked at Santa Anita in 2008, and then did so again in '09. Some of this was due to the main track races being run on an artificial surface, it's true, but not all of it based on historical factors that indicate Eastern horses have difficulty in West Coast Breeders' Cups.

The best news for handicappers in this regard in terms of the 2012 Breeders' Cup is that horsemen realize that what happened in 2008-09 could, and probably will, happen again in 2012 unless they get their horses preps over the track at Santa Anita. This, however, with a few key exceptions, is rare.  Eastern horses make the trip west far less frequently than their West Coast counterparts come East.

Therefore, horses based in Southern California - along with European horses in the grass races - will again have the advantage this year just as they did when they dominated the Breeders' Cups in 2008 and 2009, and before.

Getting To Know Santa Anita - The Great Race Place

The current Santa Anita meet is in full swing, and it will behoove handicappers to pay attention to what is happening there, not just for the Breeders' Cup preps, but also for the day-to-day racing as well. Watching the day-to-day racing at Santa Anita can give handicappers valuable insights as to the winning track profiles for all of the various distances to be run on Breeders' Cup weekend.

First, let's look at the Santa Anita dirt surface. According to the track superintendant, the Santa Anita dirt track consists of nine inches of sand and clay on top of an eight-inch base. This track composition makes the surface very similar to the dirt tracks at places like Churchill Downs, Gulfstream, and the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga.  The main difference between all of these tracks and Santa Anita, however, is that Santa Anita receives much less rain than those other tracks, particularly during its fall race meets. This phenomenon tends to "bake"the track and often make it conducive to early speed and vulnerable to inside/outside track biases.

In other words, you've gotta pay attention to track biases throughout the current Santa Anita fall meet, and you must be diligent in this regard, taking note of how the track is playing on the day before the Breeders' Cup (Thursday, Nov. 1), as well as early on the card on both Breeders' Cup Friday, Nov. 2 and Saturday, Nov. 3.

One big example of how track bias information could come in handy at the current Santa Anita meet was on Saturday, Sept. 29, which was the day of Santa Anita's "Super Saturday"major Breeders' Cup preps.  That day featured a speed bias in the dirt races.  In my opinion, this is a good reason to slightly downgrade the front-running winners of that day including Power Broker (won the Frontrunner for 2-year-olds), and even Executiveprivilege (won the Chandelier for 2-year-old fillies), who will be the prohibitive favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.  Meanwhile, I will upgrade late-running horses that fell short against the speed bias that day, hoping to get a price on horses including Capo Bastone (3rd in the Frontrunner) in the Juvenile, and Include Me Out (3rd in the Zenyatta for fillies and mares) in the Ladies Classic.

Of course, this could all change on Breeders' Cup weekend if you notice a speed bias once again in place on the Santa Anita main track on Thursday, Nov. 1 and especially in the early races on Friday and Saturday Nov. 2-3 . . .
 

Santa Anita Dirt Track Trends

Aside from the different surfaces and bias, the next strategy you'll want to use to get ahead of the betting public will hinge on horses' running styles.

On Santa Anita's main track, we usually look for an emphasis for early speed in sprints, especially at the two most popular sprint distances of 6 furlongs and 6 1/2 furlongs.

At Santa Anita, roughly 38 percent of the 6 furlong races can be expected to be won in wire-to-wire fashion, and at 6 1/2 furlongs, 32 percent of the races can be expected to be won wire-to-wire.  At 7 furlongs, that win percentage for wire-to-wire front-runners jumps back up to roughly 38 percent.

The average beaten lengths at the first call in races at these sprint distances is about 2.08 lengths behind at the quarter-mile mark.  In other words, horses definitely didn't want to be too far back early in Santa Anita main track sprints. This is based on the stat that 93 percent of the dirt sprint winners at Santa Anita race within 5.00 lengths of the lead at the first call (quarter mile). Therefore, throughout the Santa Anita meet, expect it to be difficult for a horse to win from very far back in the pack. Clearly it helps immensely for a horse to have at least tactical speed if it wants to win with any regularity in Santa Anita main track sprints.

In Santa Anita dirt track routes, roughly 23 percent of the dirt route races are won wire-to-wire, and 66 percent are won by horses classified either as early speed horses or pace pressers.

If these numbers are too general for you, perhaps you should instead look at the results of past Breeders' Cup races specifically for your Breeders' Cup winning dirt track profile.  This is particularly true in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, which, in its short history, has been dominated by late runners who can sit off a predictably blazing fast pace and rally past the front-runners in the stretch.

Where post positions are concerned, take a look at the statistics for the current meet once the meet reaches the end of October/beginning of November to decipher if any post position trends have developed at the specific distances of the Breeders' Cup races. Based on past figures, I would expect the rail and the inside posts (1-3) to be the preferred spots in dirt sprints.  Route races usually tend to not show much bias in terms of post positions at Santa Anita until you get to the far outside posts, which can occasionally be a disadvantage outside post 8 or 9 in two-turn races.

Shippers And Horses That Excelled At Del Mar

When handicapping Breeders' Cup dirt races, only take into account a horse's past performances and form on dirt tracks, concentrating on the dirt past performance lines as opposed to the synthetic races. This should lead to a lot of overlays because the majority of the betting public will be relying too heavily on horses' most recent past performances, which may, in some cases, have been on artificial surfaces such as Keeneland or Del Mar.  If the recent past performances were not on dirt, their relevance realistically, is limited only to evaluating a horse's current form and/or fitness.

Just as you wouldn't want to handicap turf races by looking at a horse's dirt form, and you wouldn't want to handicap a dirt race by looking at turf form, the same holds true for artificial tracks. You don't want to end up handicapping dirt races by using anything but dirt-race past performances.

Santa Anita Turf Racing

With all of this talk of synthetic racing and dirt races, at least one element of Breeders' Cup racing at Santa Anita that will not be impacted (thank goodness) will be turf racing, and that is certainly good news.

Post positions are very important on the Santa Anita turf course, because the course is smaller and the turns are tighter than at any other Breeders' Cup venue.  The other important aspect about Santa Anita's grass course is its unique downhill turf course, which will play a major role in not only the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, but also in the long distance turf races - the Breeders' Cup Turf and Filly & Mare Turf - because both of those races will begin up the hill before the field races downhill, crosses the dirt track, and then makes one full circuit around the oval to the finish.

Because of the unique aspect of the Santa Anita grass course, the handicapping preference should be given to local "horses for the course"as well as European horses that will largely be unfazed by any kind of quirky North American turf course.  Horses for the course will be particularly enticing to bet in the Turf Sprint, so watch the entries on Breeders' Cup Day for horses that have already won down the hill on turf at Santa Anita.

Getting back to post positions, they are of utmost importance at Santa Anita in both routes and sprints.  Santa Anita turf sprints feature the only right turn in North American racing, and as a matter of fact, the first turn in the race is not a left turn, but a right turn. This essentially flip flops the gate, making the outside posts basically the inside posts, and vice versa.  Outside posts have long been considered an advantage in Santa Anita turf sprints, while conversely, the inside posts - particularly posts 1, 2, 3 - are considered a bad disadvantage.  A horse will need to be much, much the best in order to win the Breeders' Cup turf sprint from an inside post.

In Santa Anita turf routes, inside posts are good, but middle posts are just fine as well, all the way on out to posts 8 or 9. However, the far outside posts, particularly posts outside post 9, and major disadvantages at most distances on the Santa Anita grass. This impacts a lot of races, including the Turf, the Mile, the Filly & Mare Turf, the Juvenile Turf, and the Juvenile Filly Turf.  The worst races for outside posts will definitely be the Mile and the two Breeders' Cup turf races for Juveniles.

Again, just like the inside-drawn horses in the Turf Sprint, a horse will need to be much the best in the race in order to win the Mile, the Juvenile Turf, or the Juvenile Filly Turf from a post position 9 or wider.  In those races, give favoritism to the horses from inside and middle post positions.

The Breeders' Cup is only a few weeks away, and it is never too early to start looking and trends and angles to help you get ready to handicap the two biggest days of the year in Thoroughbred racing.  I recommend spending as much time as possible in the coming weeks watching and wagering on the races from Santa Anita, and the remaining prep races, in order to get the feel for the big event.  If you do this, you will have a great advantage over your fellow horseplayers on November 2-3.  Best of luck, and enjoy racing from Santa Anita!

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