Five things to watch for at the upcoming Santa Anita meeting

Profile Picture: John Mucciolo

December 19th, 2020

The fantastic Winter/Spring Meet at Santa Anita will get underway on Saturday, December 26, and run through June 20. A total of five graded stakes races will highlight an exquisite opening-day card at "The Great Race Place." I have made notes of a few of the things to look for at Santa Anita.

Dirt Racing:

Early speed is often a key to success on the main surface. Compiling numbers from the previous meeting at Santa Anita, dirt sprints yielded a hefty 46% win rate for horses that had the advantage at the first call. The strip customarily is kind to forwardly placed runners, and I am expecting more of the same during this stanza.

Pace was also good in the route events with 33% of the winners leading throughout, but horses forcing and pressing the pace also endured a decent measure of success when running long on the dirt.

Drawing an inside post was also of importance in the last meeting, as the two innermost slots accounted for a combined 38% of the wins. Some of this is surely due to the abundance of small fields that have been assembled as of late, but saving ground is still a key on the main strip.

Turf Racing:

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Santa Anita - © Benoit Photo

Gate speed on the green is also a good thing to be equipped with, especially in sprint events where 33% of the turf dashes saw the first-place finisher lead at every call. And while the right horse could wire a field going long on the sod for sure, early pace is more dangerous in one-turn contests.

From a post position standpoint, drawing inside is not of great importance on the turf, however. Starting near the fence in sprints on the lawn was not of great benefit, with slots 1-through-3 combining for just 24% of the winners. That number bumps up to 33% in route tilts, although both figures are lower than what can be expected, especially with relatively small fields going postward.


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Bob Baffert (Coady Photography)

Nearly all of the maiden and dirt stakes races go through living-legend Bob Baffert in the Golden State. The 2009 Hall of Fame inductee continues to reload his star-studded stable, and his presence will surely be felt from opening day at Santa Anita.

Peter Miller is always a threat to bag a trainer title, as the top horseman has a well-balanced stable of juveniles, claimers and stakes horses. Miller continues to improve his numbers with his turf runners, as well, and his horses are seemingly always live, overall.

Two-time Kentucky Derby-winning conditioner Doug O’Neill is also sure to saddle a plethora of winners. O’Neill can be found sending out horses in all types of races, and he has never been shy about aiming his horses at the biggest prizes at the meeting.

A darkhorse to make noise at the stanza is Craig Lewis, who compiled a fine 17-5-6-2 line at the previous meet. While it will be next to impossible to repeat his 76% in-the-money rate, I expect him to have his entrants ready to roll early on at the meeting.


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River Boyne and jockey Flavien Prat win the Mathis Brothers Mile (G2) on December 26, 2018, at Santa Anita Park © BENOIT PHOTO

Flavien Prat has become the prime pilot in Southern California and is the one to beat once again during this meeting. The French import won with 27% of his mounts in the autumn, and he had a robust 71% in-the-money rate, as well.

Juan Hernandez was a clear second in the riders’ race and has to be considered a live rider as he continues to impress. Abel Cedillo concluded the previous meeting with a head of steam, and he is another who continues to get important mounts.


Santa Anita offers the best racing in Southern California. From a blockbuster opening day, to a superb series for sophomores on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, and a bevy of Grade 1 events for top handicap horses and turf stars alike, it doesn’t get much better than “The Great Race Place.”