Tips for handicapping Los Alamitos

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TwinSpires Staff

September 6th, 2017

by Scott Shapiro

After a challenging yet safe and successful summer at Del Mar, the Southern California circuit wastes no time as racing commences at Los Alamitos on Thursday, September 7, and runs through Sunday, September 24, before moving north to Santa Anita Park on September 29.

Los Alamitos daytime racing began after Hollywood Park closed in December of 2013. The track spent well over a million dollars to expand its five-eighths of a mile racetrack and it has hosted a series of short Thoroughbred meets ever since.

The data is still somewhat limited given the lack of history, but here are a few thoughts that hopefully can help lead you to success over the next three weeks in Orange County.

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The “Horse for Course” angle

Los Alamitos is a unique surface and configuration, and for that reason some horses seem to thrive over it while others are unable to translate their form from elsewhere. Therefore, looking at career records over the main track at Los Alamitos is a useful tool.

One example of this is a six-year-old mare named Mudge.

The daughter of British-bred Suances is winless in 20 starts at Santa Anita Park, but she 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 as well.

A look at the 6TH race on opening day shows us a runner that ran a career-best effort at Los Alamitos, but that race at this point appears to be an outlier.

Papa Royale (#1) was zero for 10 before his July 8 start at Los Alamitos, but he looked like a different horse in that mile maiden claiming $20K event. Sure he was the 3-5 favorite, but watching him finish that day almost made you think he was a different animal than the one that had struggled to run late and burnt the public’s money several times at Santa Anita during the first half of 2017.

I thought Papa Royale may have figured things out that day, but he ran rather poorly twice at Del Mar, suggesting that maybe he just loves the Los Alamitos surface.

Normally I would toss him as the 2-1-morning-line favorite on Thursday, but that may not be wise based on the way he ran in his only try locally. I ended up picking him for second.

The inside is not the place to be

At some racetracks the rail can be “golden,” but that is not normally the case at Los Alamitos.

As a handicapper it can be nearly impossible to envision which horses will be on the outside during the latter stages of a race, but there is little doubt that being off the rail was advantageous during the Thoroughbred racing in July.

One example of this involves two horses competing in the 5TH race on Thursday.

Passion for Papa (#1) and Just Be Held (#7) ran over this surface on July 13 when Passion for Papa finished a hard trying second and Just Be Held ended up an even fourth.

In that race nearly two months ago, Passion for Papa moved along the inside into the stretch and appeared to be spinning her wheels a bit until jockey Brayan Pena got her off the rail, where she finished with some energy despite being unable to hold off Besides the Point’s four-wide rally.

On the other hand, Just Be Held appeared to have some run at the top of the stretch, but when apprentice Evin Roman dove down to the rail she flattened out and failed to hit the board.

Interestingly, I gave this filly out as my top pick in her lone race at Del Mar on August 9 since she raced over an unfavorable portion of the track in her prior start and she nearly came through getting headed in the final strides at odds of 14-1.

Like I mentioned, it is hard to know who will be on the inside or outside when they hit the stretch, but I do tend to favor horses drawn to the outside with tactical speed at Los Alamitos since they will more than likely be on the better portion of the racetrack from start to finish.

Top trainers on the circuit still win a significant percentage of races at Los Alamitos

When daytime racing commenced at Los Alamitos, I convinced myself that top trainers in Southern California were highly unlikely to send their best horses to Orange County and that it was worthwhile to try to play against the big name connections at short prices.

I learned quickly that is not necessarily a winning formula.

The best example of that is Bob Baffert. Not only has Baffert been willing to run horses like Arrogate in maiden events at Los Alamitos, but his overall numbers are extremely strong.

Over the past three years the Hall of Fame conditioner has won with 28 percent of his runners (44 for 156) and while he is not produced a profit, his $2 ROI is a solid $1.86.

Over the same period of time he is just 24 percent with an ROI of $1.52 at Santa Anita and 22 percent with an ROI of $1.35 at Del Mar.

Baffert has two entrants on Thursday. Both are in the seventh race with Jeweled (#5) being the 5-2-morning-line favorite. She has a big chance, but I prefer Cool Munnings (#4).

Some conditioners like Richard Mandella and Keith Desormeaux will save their stock for Santa Anita and Del Mar, but do not be fooled like I was in past years that playing against top trainers is a wise investment at Los Alamitos.

I look forward to opening day. Hopefully these tidbits will help make it a profitable meet!