03/01/2010 12:00AM

Big hit in the Big Cap


Apparently every other barn at Santa Anita imagines its horse can win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. A full field of 14, plus also-eligibles, is shaping up, a rare circumstance in Southern California. The prospect of cashing a munificent exacta, trifecta, and superfecta as a result of a single superior act of in-depth handicapping is rarely as palpable. Why not prepare to make the bonanza bet of the season?

Handicappers excited by the size of the field will be less excited to know that:

w None of the 14 is a multiple Grade 1 winner

w Only one qualifies as an authentic 1 1/4-mile horse

w None even appears among the country's top 10 older males, as compiled by Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker. Nonetheless, it's an event, and as legions of punters across the decades have been heard to declare in even the most dire of circumstances, someone's got to win, and the good news may be that the superfecta will be easier to tackle than picking the winner.

At Handicapping Expo '07 at Wynn Las Vegas, on an exotic-wagering panel moderated by Andy Beyer and comprising panelists Gibson Carothers, Steven Crist, and Barry Meadow, all four of those brave bettors agreed that in superfecta wagering the three and four holes are best regarded to be random. Fundamental handicapping no longer applies. It's a position I have long espoused, with one glaring exception - one so unusual in the modern game it typically can be found on only Breeders' Cup cards and the other occasional stakes-filled event days at the major tracks.

Several elements must be present:

* A large field, 10-12 horses

* Half the field contentious, half the field dubious

* Among the contenders, one horse is strongly preferred

* The key horse is a non-favorite

In these favorable situations, the superfecta strategy is simple. Eliminate the dubious half of the field, key the preferred contender to win, and box the other contenders to finish second, third, and fourth. When the key horse comes shining through, or so goes the thinking, chances of covering the undersides correctly will be better than good. That is, the three and four holes are no longer random, but the province of genuine contention. When the key horse has won as a non-favorite, as an attractive overlay in the best of situations, the payoffs will be huge.

Applying the strategy to the Santa Anita Handicap presents a stumbling block agonizingly difficult to circumvent. While half the field might readily be regarded as dubious, the hard part is finding the non-favored key horse that should be much preferred. Alas, no such animal can be detected, at least as a matter of fundamental handicapping.

Handicappers who care to disagree might have patience with the following array of data, specifically the speed and pace figures compiled by the putative contenders in their recent races. Keep in mind the speed and pace par for the Santa Anita Handicap on the Quirin-style scale is a 114. To begin with a useful comparison, the winner last season was the shipper and excellent Grade 1 winner Einstein, an older and rugged hard-knocker on turf and dirt that had never stepped foot on a synthetic surface. Einstein's victory looked like this on the Quirin scale:

ParPaceSpeedRace Shape


The main contenders for Saturday's event are the filly St Trinians, the turf horse Loup Breton, the 4-year-old Jeranimo, and Neko Bay. All other horses in the race have speed and pace ratings lower than these four.

St Trinians comes out of the Grade 2 Santa Maria Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the main track:

ParPaceSpeedRace Shape


Loup Breton comes out of the Grade 2 San Marcos Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on turf:

ParPaceSpeedRace Shape


Jeranimo comes out of the Grade 2 Strub Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the main track:

ParPaceSpeedRace Shape

111110109 Average-Average

Neko Bay comes out of the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the main track:

ParPaceSpeedRace Shape


The San Antonio Handicap, the traditional prep for the Santa Anita Handicap, is at 1 1/8 miles with a par of 111. The shape of the race was 106-108, Slow-Slow, with the winner, Richard's Kid, headed to the $10 million Dubai World Cup, and good luck to him there.

If Neko Bay is downgraded as not sufficiently fast early or late, a variation on the superfecta strategy presents itself. The filly St Trinians, the turf horse Loup Breton, and the 4-year-old Jeranimo might be distinguished from the others as good horses still on the improve, and they might serve best as a trio of betting keys to win. Each has a handicapper's right to press another forward move on Saturday and the three definitely belong in the contentious half of the field.

As for the additional members of the contentious half, handicappers no doubt will be pleased to proceed on their own. DRF's Santa Anita beat handicapper Brad Free published his version of the Santa Anita Handicap's top 10 in the Feb. 27 edition of DRF Weekend. Borrowing from Free, apart from the three key horses, the superfecta wager would cover on its undersides, in order, Misremembered, Neko Bay, Dakota Phone, and Philatelist.

The cost of the part-wheel superfecta with three key horses to win and four additional horses to finish second, third, and fourth is easily calculated, and surprisingly affordable using 10 cent bets.

The ticket (3 x 6 x 5 x 4) contains 360 combinations, a prohibitive $360 cost at the standard $1 but a reasonable $36 at 10 cents a combo. Try it. The 10-cent tickets have the fantastic advantage of avoiding the tax bite until the payoff exceeds $50,000, a wonderful thought that will apply to the great majority of single-race wagers, and almost assuredly to this one. At 10 cents a combination, aggressive bettors can hit the repeat button as often as they prefer, and still elude the tax bite.

A second variation of the strategy uses a single key, with a partial wheel of all the double-digit horses to finish second, third, and fourth. Now the key horse can be the favorite, but the field should be otherwise unpredictable. Handicappers who believe they have isolated the probable winner of the Santa Anita Handicap can pursue this path, and at the 1 1/4 miles few of these horses have experienced, will have quite an excellent chance to benefit from the presence of longshots in the other slots.

To be sure, it's possible to walk out with a magnificent windfall in this single significant event if the 14 go as expected. Exactas, trifectas, and the supers all will be in play. Now, if only one of these horses looked particularly capable of winning the Santa Anita Handicap.