10/27/2013 11:13AM

Santa Anita Track Profile


The right way to get a really accurate handle on the way a track is playing is to thoroughly handicap races first, and then closely scrutinize the running of those races to see if key horses might be outperforming or underperforming due to the racing surface. You have to do the work to not only tell if a perceived bias is real, but also to latch onto it early enough before too many other like-minded horseplayers start wrecking the odds of horses you think can capitalize on a bias.

Unfortunately, there are only so many hours in a day, and it is not always possible to do this. So short of that, a study of recent result charts is in order, to see if certain running styles win more frequently than the norm. And that's what I did for the last 10 racing days at Santa Anita, from Oct. 12 through Saturday, Oct. 26 (this is being written on Sunday morning, before Sunday's results are in).

Why? Because Santa Anita will host the Breeders' Cup again on Friday and Saturday, and it is worthwhile knowing if we might see a recurrence of the main-track speed bias that was in effect at last year's Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, a bias that had an undeniable impact (both good and bad) on the performances of many Breeders' Cup participants. The general perception is the main track at Santa Anita is playing much more fairly than it did at this time last year. Let's see if thats true.

Years ago, I did many track profile studies for print in columns I wrote for Daily Racing Form, and I came up with this method: I determine the success rate of speed horses in certain types of races, such as dirt sprints, dirt routes, and turf. I identify speed horses as horses who are running either first or second at the first call of the result charts, or are within (less than) two lengths off the lead at the first call. If speed horses are unusually successful, it would be a compelling argument that the track is playing kindly to speed. Conversely, if speed horses are winning well below the norm, it could indicate a closer's track. Importantly, over time, I came to find that speed as I define it won about 50 to 55 percent of dirt races, giving credence to the theory that speed is the universal bias, in U.S. racing, anyway. Speed won somewhere between 33 and 40 percent of races on turf.

So, with this in mind, I looked at the 10 most recent cards at Santa Anita to see if there is a foundation for the perception of a fairer main track there. I separated dirt sprints from dirt routes, and to be inclusive, I also looked at turf races, grouping them all together.

Let's get the turf results right out of the way because they were unremarkable. There were 31 turf races run the last 10 racing days at Santa Anita, and 12 were won by speed (including four front-running winners) for a success rate of 39 percent. There were also no special trends over the three full or partial weeks the 10 cards covered. This week, before Sunday, there were nine turf races at Santa Anita and three (33 percent) were won by speed. Last week, six of the 12 turf races there (50 percent) were won by speed, including three by front-runners. And in the three cards we looked at from two weeks ago, three of 10 turf races (30 percent) were won by speed, including one front-running winner.

Dirt is a different matter. There were 41 dirt sprints on the last 10 cards at Santa Anita, and 28 of them (68 percent) were won by what I define as speed, including seven front-running winners. Notably, speed improved from week to week. In the three cards looked at two weeks ago, speed won seven of 14 sprints (50 percent), including two front-running winners. In the full week last week, speed won 13 of 17 sprints (76 percent), including three front-running winners. And this week, before Sunday, speed won eight of 10 dirt sprints (80 percent), including two front-running winners.

Let's check out dirt routes. There were 16 such races the last 10 cards at Santa Anita, and 10 of them (63 percent) were won by speed, including four front-running winners. The week by week breakdown is as follows: In the three cards looked at two weeks ago, three of five dirt routes (60 percent) were won by speed, including one front-running winner. In the full week last week, two of five dirt routes (40 percent) were won by speed. This week, prior to Sunday, five of six dirt routes were won by speed (83 percent), including three front-running winners.

My view on this data is, the relatively low percentage of front-running speed winners to overall speed winners suggests that there is not a developing, or existing, speed bias on the main track at Santa Anita that is so dominating as to render secondary all other handicapping considerations. That said, it is undeniable that there is a trend over this given period where it has become increasingly preferable to be very close to, if not right on, the early pace on dirt at Santa Anita.

However, it is also critical to keep in mind that track biases can be fickle, and can often disappear as quickly as they surface due to weather (which is not a factor right now in Southern California), or adjustments in track maintenance. So while we can enter Breeders' Cup week at Santa Anita with the thought that speed is good on the main track, it will be incumbent on us horseplayers to watch what happens Thursday and early Friday to see if that remains the case.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well I took a look at the charts today and although I realize it's only one day the bias looks worse this year than last year.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Mike, Have you had a chance to ask Santa Anita's linemaker how he feels about the post-race 'defections' of Verrazano and Paynter?
jttf More than 1 year ago
The track super has the power to control track bias. Last years breeders cup was set up for bafferts game on dude. The two Santa Anita breeders cups in 2008 and 2009 were set up for zenyatta's closing style. California tries to cash in by making their star horses shine brighter than they really are. Brad free wrote an article in last years form stating that Santa Anita isn't a frontrunner's track anymore. This year, he did a very similar article.
Ann More than 1 year ago
The track at SA was AW when Zenyatta was running on it, not dirt. AW gives the advantage to stamina which Big Z had.
Albert More than 1 year ago
If they get out fast they save ground. If they save ground they finish better. If a jockey has the courage to stay on the rail and save ground his late running horse has a shot (thank you Calvin.)
anthony f More than 1 year ago
the biggest speed bias ever ever ever ever , it was a disgrace. the proof of it all is that not one horse came back and won their next race.. they are trying to make super stars in a sport that lacks them
Mike B More than 1 year ago
Nice topic. My early years I focused on the horse. When I bought in and had monthly fees, I focus on the track. Because it often depends on whether I pay a car payment type fee for partial ownership of a horse. Yes, SA is a speed horse paradise in my view. And many days 1-2-3 in the stretch is 1-2-3 at the wire, in about every race, with very little variation. Never paid attention to this until I started taking ten percent of this or that horse. Now, I wold be really hesitant to go in on a closer claim heading into SA meet or in SA meet (except maybe at end for another track). Closer will not pay their way on the dirt at SA. Turf is fair, however. I feel for the owners--with solid horses unable to get in the money because they aren't early speed horses or do better on synthetic. Like to see Los Al be what SA is not--a deeper, softer, tiring surface where closer have a good shot and those owners can get enough purse money to at least get a few month off from what I last checked is the about same monthly for Harvard (or more if your kid gets financial aid/partial scholarship).
Two400 More than 1 year ago
Speed is just an asset in dirt racing in general, whether it's Santa Anita, Belmont, or wherever. It has nothing to do with Santa Anita having a bias. Dirt racing has a bias towards speed.
Classhndicapper More than 1 year ago
Let's face it, successful bias determination is highly dependent on your ability to evaluate the horses properly to begin with and then your ability to interpret the results to determine if it was a bias or trip that impacted various horses. Given that even very knowledgeable and experienced handicappers often disagree about the relative merits of the horses going into the race and then further disagree about the impact of various trips, it's going to be hard to get a consensus about a bias on any given day unless it's extreme. Furthermore, those bias determinations then feed into the evaluation of the horses next time around in a loop. So what does this all mean? If you are actually good at bias determination, profits await you.
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
From my notes from last year's BC: Over two days, in ten dirt races with two turns, the horse had to be within a length and a half of the lead at the quarter mile to have a chance to win. (not including the marathon). That speaks for itself. And track maintenance more than likely will speed up the track again, because what happened last year was not typical Santa Anita. Here's Baffert about his home track over those two days: "You had to come back completely clean,” said Baffert, referring to the fact that speed horses don’t get dirt kicked at them. “If I had known the track would have been like that, we would have gone in the [Dirt] Mile." If anything is clear from many of the comments it is that people don't understand what a track bias is, and what causes it. Someone even referring to geometry to disprove a bias. lol
Chris Grabowski More than 1 year ago
When Baffert admits that he was 0 for 11 during last year's 2 BC days because of the tight security and drug monitoring, then I'll consider reading his other comments.
Kenneth Porteous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely! Also Plecher's horses really bite the dust when they don't get their feel-good drugs. Baffert and Pletcher are definetly ones to bet against this weekend.
Dee R. Eff More than 1 year ago
You may notice he has given Dude extra time between for this race. If you can't do the one thing, then try the other thing. There is a reason, not surprisingly, he's added weight, stronger, etc. Last year it was easy to draw a line through all Bafferts entries, this year he's experimenting with this new tactic and may have a chance, but unlikely.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
I would bet serious money on there being a speed bias on breeders cup day. Especially on saturday.the track crew loves to turn the dirt into a concrete paved highway...lets hope nobody gets hurt.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
It's management that wants record times, Ray.