How to play Los Alamitos
by Scott Shapiro
The landscape changes on Thursday as the Southern California circuit moves from Santa Anita Park to Orange County for a two week stop at Los Alamitos Race Course before things get rolling at Del Mar on July 19 for their highly anticipated summer meeting.
Los Alamitos runs at night throughout the calendar year with an entertaining combination of Thoroughbred sprints and Quarter Horses, but added the daytime Thoroughbred cards when Hollywood Park closed in December of 2013.
The configuration of the track features a 1380-foot homestretch, which is 34 feet longer than the one at Fair Grounds in Louisiana, making it the longest one in the United States. It also is very wide featuring a 100-foot wide final straightaway, a 100-foot wide first turn and an 85-foot wide home turn.
There is still a limited sample to look at when diving into the history of Los Alamitos, but we are starting to compile enough races at 5 1/2, six and eight furlongs to get a real feel.
Thanks to historical data from the people at Optix EQ, I was able to determine that like most tracks it is better to be on or near the lead. However, it appears that the even more common characteristic amongst those that have had success at Los Alamitos in the daytime is the ability to finish. This makes sense given the long homestretch. Those that have tactical speed and the ability to close the deal appear to be at an extreme advantage, while those horses that lack early speed and are void of a strong late kick are at a distinct disadvantage.
Like at many racetracks in the United States, the “horse for course” angle has validity and is worth consideration during this short meeting. Previous success over the Los Alamitos surface can lead to more strong performances in the future as some runners appear to find their form when they arrive in Cypress and lose it once they leave.
For example six-year-old mare Mudge is now winless in 20 starts at Santa Anita Park after a third-place finish on Monday. On the other hand, the daughter of British-bred Suances is four-for-six when competing at Los Alamitos in the afternoon. She is an extreme example, but there are others that seem to move up considerably over this configuration.
In terms of the connections that have success at Los Alamitos, some of the barns we are accustomed to see winning a lot at the other venues on this circuit use this time as rest before Del Mar and likely only start a few over the two-weeks. Others though train a number of their horses at Los Alamitos throughout the year and will not skip a beat.
Bob Baffert, Doug O’Neill, Peter Miller and Jerry Hollendorfer all have double-digit career victories at Los Alamitos, and will send out their share of talent over the next eight days of racing. Do not assume they are only starting their second tier of runners as 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arrogate made his debut last April at Los Alamitos, where he encountered a brutal voyage and finished a tough-luck third.
On the other hand, some trainers like Hall of Famer Richard Mandella are unlikely to be heavily involved at Los Alamitos and instead will gear up for Del Mar.
With such few days of racing at Los Alamitos each year, handicappers and analysts are still learning more about the nuances of the Orange County venue, but hopefully this will help you get started on a successful two weeks.