Santa Anita: Player-Friendly Tips

Profile Picture: D.S. Williamson

D.S. Williamson

January 22nd, 2015

As horseplayers, we’re always looking for an edge, and, as horseplayers, we can usually find that edge at our home track. For example, my brother Eddie, who lives in Phoenix, can tell you the nuances of most of the trainers who saddle horses and most of the jockeys that ride at Turf Paradise. Me? My home track is Santa Anita Park. I’ve been going to the Great Race Place since I moved to Los Angeles in 1997. I routinely visit Santa Anita on most of the big race days and I used to visit the excellent restaurant, FrontRunner, every other Saturday.

Things change, of course. So, now, I usually wager on races at Santa Anita through my BetAmerica account. It’s much easier for me since family duties call for Saturday’s filled with kid movies, ice cream, and visits to a different type of park, the one with slides and jungle gyms.
Santa Anita park Handicapping TipsBut that doesn’t mean that I haven’t developed a list of player-friendly tips for my home race track. Not surprisingly, Santa Anita has provided incredible consistency over the years in terms of who trains and who rides. There are some things that just happen at Santa Anita and some of those things seem to happen for no real good, logical, racing reason.

Betting Bob Baffert Bet the other Baffert – How many times has this happened? Bob Baffert, who received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona like I did, will saddle two or even three horses in a race and the one with the highest odds wins? This used to be a Santa Anita angle that only worked for maiden races, or seemed to work best for maiden races, but then Bob saddled New Year’s Day to that stunning victory in the 2013 BC Juvenile at odds of $10.50 to 1 while Tap It Rich, the favored Baffert horse, went off at odds of $3.10 to 1.  Then, there was Indian Charlie versus Real Quiet in the Kentucky Derby in 1998. Indian Charlie had beaten Real Quiet pretty handily; he beat every horse handily that day, in the Santa Anita Derby just three weeks before. Who won the Derby? Real Quiet did.
  • But don’t let the other Baffert angle fool you – The other Baffert angle does seem powerful, but don’t ever bet it blindly. There are plenty of situations where Baffert’s top horse will win the race going away. He just had one the other day, Global Hottie, who went off at $2.20 to 1 in an allowance optional claiming race on January 18 and destroyed the other Baffert, Be Proud, who went off at $14.40 to 1.
  • If Papa Mandella saddles the horse, that horse is “live” – Richard Mandella doesn’t saddle as many horses as he used to, but when he does, you can rest assured that the horse is live. For example, he saddled 3 horses on January 19 and all 3 finished third. Sure, none of the 3 won, but all 3 were close. So, pay attention to the horse if Mandella is saddling it. Definitely use that horse in your exotics because Papa Mandella doesn’t waste starts.
  • Corey Nakatani on the grass – I actually have to give kudos to former TVG analyst Ken Rudolph for this one. When Ken was working at TVG, he used to bring this up all of the time. Bet Corey Nakatani on the grass. Ken may not have been the first person to think of the angle or to even say it, but I first heard it from him.  Look, some jockeys are just really good riders under certain conditions. Corey Nakatani is an excellent rider on the grass. He just is. Going back to Nov. 27, according to Horse Racing Nation, Corey Nakatani has won 6 races. Out of those 6 victories, 4 have come on the turf. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t bet Corey when he rides a horse on the dirt. That’s just to say that if you’re trying to decide between two horses to bet to win on the turf and Nakatani is on one of the horses, you might want to lean towards the horse that Corey’s riding.
  • Winning down the hill requires experience – It’s rare that a horse can win going down the hill, Santa Anita’s strange downhill turf course where grass sprint races are run, without some experience. The issue for many horses is that patch of dirt that they have to run over right before the turf stretch. Mizdirection won the BC Turf Sprint in 2012 and 2013. She had more than enough experience over the downhill turf course. California Flag won the BC Turf in 2009. The gelding raced over the downhill turf course many times. When in doubt, bet on the horse that has downhill turf experience, preferably winning downhill turf experience.
  • Gary Stevens is almost always aggressive – Stevens is riding on a regular basis again at Santa Anita Park and that’s a good thing for horseplayers. He’s easily one of the best jockeys to ever race. Here’s the thing: don’t ever believe that Gary Stevens won’t push the lone speed in a race, the horse that you’ve built all of your Pick 4 tickets around, because the horse that Gary is riding has never shown speed before. Stevens is an expert handicapper. He’ll know if nobody else will go after the lone speed and even if his horse is at 30 to 1, he’ll push as hard as he can to get to the front and take on the lone speed. Stevens hardly ever lets a horse get away with an easy lead. It’s just not in his make-up. Keep that in mind if you think that you’ve got the lone speed because if Gary Stevens is on a horse in the race, you can be assured that the lone speed probably won’t be the lone speed.