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Submitted by Noel Michaels on Thursday, January 4, 2018 at 3:36 PM

HAVE A GREAT SEASON AT "THE GREAT RACE PLACE"

Santa Anita is one of the country's premier annual winter race meets, offering big purses and high-quality racing on both its turf course and on its dirt main track.  In fact, the Santa Anita winter meet's status is not only one of the best winter season race meets, but one of the year's best race meets of any season.

The California winter racing season celebrated its annual official opening day on December 26, Santa Anita will remain open throughout winter, spring, and early summer until June 24, with the main winter-spring meet ending in early April. Along the way, a long list a major stakes races will be run in every non-juvenile division, including such traditional Grade 1 features such as the Santa Anita Handicap in March 11 and the Santa Anita Derby in April.

In the jock's room, FLAVIEN PRAT won both Santa Anita meets last year, with 62 wins (23% wins) to take the winter-spring meet and then another 41 after April 9 to win the spring meet title as well. Prat will be the favorite to repeat that effort again in 2018. The only rider close to Prat last winter was TYLER BAZE who enjoyed a very good season with 52 wins (16%) to finish a clear second in the standings. The distant third-place jockey was RAFAEL BEJARANO, who won 38 races (20%). KENT DESORMEAUX also enjoyed a solid meet last season, finishing fourth in the standings with 35 wins for 20%. Those jockeys can be expected to post similar totals this winter.

When comparing last year's Santa Anita jockey standings to this season's meet, the biggest difference, undoubtedly, will be the presence of super apprentice EVIN ROMAN, who debuted in the middle of 2017 and took the southern California circuit by storm at Del Mar and Santa Anita, where he won the jockey title at the Autumn Meet with 20 victories from 123 mounts for 16% wins.  The next-leading rider was runner-up KENT DESORMEAUX, who fell five wins short with 15 victories, but nevertheless rode his heart out at the meet with a superior 25% win percentage - tops among all regular riders.

Roman should contend with Prat for the riding title this season, just as he did all throughout the 2017 Del Mar summer meet. However, one date that should be marked on handicapper's calendars will be March 11, 2018 - the date after which Roman will lose his five-pound bug weight allowance.

Disappointing jockeys last winter at Santa Anita who will need major rebounds include SANTIAGO GONZALEZ who won 47 races at the meet in 2016 but only 17 races last year (10%), and MARIO GUTIERREZ, who won only 11 races last winter for 9%, and really needs to ride for Baffert to be a factor.

MIKE SMITH doesn't accept many mounts, but certainly once again figures to make his presence felt, particularly in high-priced allowances and stakes. Expect him to approach his totals from this meet last year when he rode only 67 mounts but still finished ninth in wins with 19 for a big 28% wins and 63% ITM with purses over $2 million.

In the trainers' ranks, PHIL D'AMATO won the 2016 winter meet title with 41 wins, but was only fourth in the standings last winter with 25 wins for a still-solid 20% winners. The defending champion trainer at the Santa Anita winter meet was JERRY HOLLENDORFER, who took the title with 38 victories in the main 2017 meet.  Hollendorfer will be trying to defend his training title over a star-studded list of some of the game's best conditioners who all call Santa Anita home over the winter including (in order from last year's SA winter/spring standings) PETER MILLER (who had 35 wins for 26% after notching 34 wins the season before), RICHARD BALTAS (26 wins), and D'Amato with 25.

After the top four trainers in terms of wins last season, you had DOUG O'NEIL with 23 wins and BOB BAFFERT with 19 wins. For handicappers, however, those numbers don't tell the whole story. Baffert was a more reliable bet in the win column at Santa Anita last winter with a 24% win percentage, while O'Neil won at only a 13% clip.  Please note, however, that O'Neil had terrible luck here in 2017 in terms of wins, and actually tallied 83% in-the-money [ITM], which placed him second in the regard behind only Hollendorfer's 89% ITM. Baffert burned a lot of money in the exotics with only a 40% ITM percentage.  Based on the amount of seconds and third last year, expect O'Neil to have better luck this year and place much higher in the top 5 in the standings in terms of wins at this season's meet.

GETTING TO KNOW SANTA ANITA - THE GREAT RACE PLACE

In order to get a really good gauge on a horse's ability, you really must heavily rely on a horse's past performances specifically at Santa Anita, which are necessary for an apples-to-apples comparison of a contender's ability and chances of winning. Ignore most past performances that were established at the other California circuit tracks, particularly Golden Gate (synthetic), or Los Alamitos (lower caliber racing). Even Del Mar is different, particularly in terms of winning trends and in turf sprints which are vastly different than Santa Anita's down-the-hill staples.

Santa Anita's main track is not particularly well known for having a lot of post position biases and angles, but the track does actually favor certain posts at certain distances. During the Santa Anita meet, some post position preferences spring up at various distances.  Where post positions are concerned, based on the statistics, you can expect the rail and the inside posts (1-3) to be the preferred spots, overall, in dirt sprints.

Route races at Santa Anita usually do not tend to show much bias in terms of post positions until you get to the far outside posts, which can occasionally be a disadvantage outside post 8 in two-turn races.

At the one-mile distance, for the most part, horses benefit from drawing one of the inside and middle posts, with any gate from 1-8 expected to do okay. Unexpectedly, however, the innermost posts do not have as much of an advantage at this distance as they have at the other route distances at Santa Anita, and the outside posts are not at as much of a disadvantage at a flat mile as they are in longer Santa Anita main track routes. This is true all the way out until you start to finally see a disadvantage starting at Post 9. This is surprising because the run-up to the first turn is obviously shortest at one mile, so therefore the disadvantage for outside posts and the advantage for inside posts should be greatest at this distance.  Instead, however, it is the inside posts in 1 1/8-mile races that have the greatest advantage at Santa Anita, and the outside posts at 1 1/16 miles that are at the greatest disadvantage.

Santa Anita Turf Racing

Santa Anita's turf course is home to some of the best grass racing conducted in America, particularly over the winter. Santa Anita's grass course generally plays very fairly to all running styles and running paths, with horses routinely being able to win races both on the lead and from off the pace with wide rallying moves. Obviously it is better to save as much ground and possible and stay within a workable striking distance of the lead, as these horses tend to win the majority of the races. Deep closers often must lose too much ground making those wide late moves, and that gives the front runners a better-than-average shot at holding-on in the relatively short Santa Anita grass course stretch run.

Perhaps the course will favor early speed horses and pressers more when temperatures are hotter and the climate is drier. Come-from-behind horses might have slightly better chances during rainy season when the lawn can be a little bit softer.  When the turf is wet and rated less-than-firm, that is the best chance to bet that the front-runners will cave-in up front, setting the races up for winners from farther off-the-pace.

Post positions are of utmost importance at Santa Anita in both grass routes and sprints.  With the short run to the first turn on the Santa Anita turf course, you would expect that runners from the outside posts would do exceptionally poorly and that you would see a drop-off in winning percentage for horses starting outside post 7, with posts 11 thru 14 rarely ever winning but seeing very little action.  This downgrade of the posts 8 and wider is the biggest factor at one mile, and gets less important as the turf distances get longer at the longer. In grass races run specifically at one mile, the inside advantage is even stronger with the five inside posts producing the most winners.

Santa Anita Turf Sprints

Santa Anita is unquestionably the North American capital of turf sprints thanks to its unique and picturesque down-the-hill turf course, which allows the track to card its signature 6 ½-furlong downhill turf races. These races offer wide appeal for both horsemen and bettors, and have long been a part of what makes the Great Race Place so great.

Due to the uniqueness of the course, these races are often won by tried-and-true horses for the course who often have already won one or more turf sprints down the hill on this course. Some other horses, meanwhile, repeatedly have trouble crossing over the main track coming into the stretch and don't find the downhill races to be their cup of tea.

The down-the-hill 6 1/2-furlong turf sprints tend to play fairly to all running styles, and also tend to pose problems over the years for horses that draw far inside posts. Santa Anita's downhill turf course features North American racing's only right-hand turn, which comes up quick about a half-furlong out of the gate. Since the first turn in these races is a right turn, instead of a left turn, the inside posts essentially become the outside 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 the best in order to win a 6 ½ furlong turf sprint from an inside post, and this disadvantage gets worse and worse as the field sizes get bigger and bigger. A look at the long term statistics from Santa Anita shows that inside posts perform poorly on a consistent basis.

If you must bet a horse from any of the inside posts, at least let it be in a race with a relatively small field. In small fields, the inside posts are not quite as bad.  In races with 8 or more horses, the chances of the runners from these post positions drops sharply.

Wrap-Up
Pay close attention to the winning profiles at Santa Anita and you will have a leg-up on the betting public.  Have a great season at The Great Race Place, and best of luck!

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