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Brad Free's Santa Anita handicapping notebook April 13
Saturday, April 12 review
SURPRISE – NO BIAS
Perhaps it was because of cooler 70-degree temperature Saturday, but the racing surface was different from early in the week. The times were slightly slower, and on Saturday the track was fair to all running styles (every dirt race was a sprint).
This was a marked difference from Thursday and Friday, when temperatures were in the 80s and speed won everything.
It was nice to wager bias-free for a change. Similar temperatures are expected Sunday; it could be a bias-free weekend.
Two late-runners perceived vulnerable would have had a chance in the first two races. Both scratched. Time For Angie was listed at 4-5 for race 1; she was reported sick. Italian Baba was 5-2 in race 2; she also was reported sick. Considered vulnerable due to closing styles, they would not have been compromised Saturday on the fair track.
A surprising trend is unfolding at Santa Anita – the meet’s five leading trainers are in the middle of uncharacteristic cold streaks. The top five went 0 for 13 Sunday; since the start of April they are a combined 3 for 90.
The past two racing weeks (April 3-12), Jerry Hollendorfer is 1 for 19; Bob Baffert 0 for 10; John Sadler 0 for 19; Doug O’Neill 1 for 24; and Peter Miller 1 for 18.
Statistics like these are giddy fodder for conspiracy theorists. Have to believe the short-term streak is just that – short term. Stay tuned.
STREAK ENDS, CONTINUES
Trainer Kristin Mulhall was happy Saturday. She ended a meet-long 42-race losing streak when Disregarded ($12) wired race 3, a mile turf race for 3-year-old maiden fillies. Disregarded, under Martin Garcia, set the pace, kicked away late and won by 3 3/4 lengths.
While the main track was fair, the turf course generally promotes speed. Deep closers can have a tough time making up ground over the firm course. (The exception Saturday was even-money closer Intoxicating Move mowing them down in race 7.)
While one losing streak ended, another continued. It was yet another underachieving effort by odds-on closer Star Act. She trailed early in race 3, rallied wide into the lane, and was up for second while never a threat. Star Act seemed a “can’t-miss.” But her runner-up finish was her fourth in-the-money finish at this meet. No wins. The maiden has ability, but was overrated by this handicapper.
It looked like a good group of allowance-caliber 3-year-olds sprinting seven furlongs in race 6, but only two showed up – winner Ferocious ($12) and runner-up Chelios.
The other eight runners disappointed, including Top Fortitude. He was dead on the board and ran accordingly. Top Fortitude was the 3-1 program favorite, opened at 10-1, closed at 6-1, and finished last. He is not the same horse that was such a decisive debut winner in November – on synthetic.
The other disappointment in the field was True Ten, second favorite. He struggled home sixth, without a visible excuse.
As for the winner, Ferocious dueled two wide in a four-way jam, shook off his pace rivals into the lane, opened up and won by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:22.94. The final time translated to an 85 Beyer. It was a low-rated race.
The favorite Chelios ran well. Quick from the gate, he was purposely rated. He gradually eased back, found himself in and among horses, took dirt, cut the corner and finished willingly inside. Good comeback in his first start since Jan. 26. One has to like Chelios moving forward and stretching out.
Chelios is a Distorted Humor half-brother to distance graded winner Old Time Hockey.
Big Macher ($6.20) outgamed Wild Dude to win the Grade 2, 6 1/2-furlong Potrero Grande by a nose. The runner-up had dead aim but was second best. Trained by Hollendorfer, Wild Dude ran well with a perfect ride, and got beat. It happens.
Big Macher, meanwhile, trained by Richard Baltas, finished in 1:14.97 and earned a 101 Beyer (Wild Dude earned the same number). Big Macher has been the best claim ever made by Baltas, who took the gelding for $20,000 out of his seventh-place debut at Del Mar last July. Big Macher has earned $316,178 since.
Cyclometer finally broke well and ran well at the crazy price of 16-1. After three straight “off poorly,” he proved what a good horse he can be, battling until deep stretch and tiring to finish a close third.
(Personal wagering note: The price on Cyclometer was ridiculous. I bet him straight, and under Big Macher and Wild Dude in exactas. The bets lost, but it was the best of the day. I did not have the Big Macher-Wild Dude-Cyclometer trifecta, which paid $38.90 for $1. Call me stubborn, but I normally do not bet a trifecta unless a field has at least 10 starters. The Potrero Grande had eight.)
After his Tribal Spy ($25.60) upset the Grade 3 Las Cienegas on Sunday, trainer Adam Kitchingman noted that horses by Tribal Spy’s sire, Tribal Rules, “are doing great on the grass right now.”
In addition to Tribal Spy, other recent turf winners sired by Tribal Rule include A Toast to You, Anniversary Kitty and Ciao Bella Luna. Looking forward to the Grade 3 San Simeon on Sunday, only one Tribal Rule was entered in the turf sprint – Chiloquin.
Sunday, April 13 preview
A rare Sunday card with two graded stakes includes the Grade 3 Santa Barbara Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/4 miles on turf, which is race 4, and the Grade 3 San Simeon for turf sprinters, race 8.
Although the winter portion of the extended Santa Anita meet concludes next weekend, the track will be dark Monday through Friday. The next day of racing is Saturday, April 19. If there are any carryovers from Sunday, they will be in play on April 19.
Perhaps there are reasons to be wary of 2-1 favorite Stormy Lucy at a short price. Last out, she won with a perfect trip. Since then, she was sold and changed trainers. And, she stretches from a 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/4 miles.
Maybe Rafael Bejarano will give Stormy Lucy another perfect ride. Maybe new trainer Ed Moger knows precisely what makes her tick. And maybe the distance is up her alley. Stormy Lucy is the one to beat, but after an $11 payoff last out, 2-1 seems mighty short.
One potential upset candidate is Miss Serendipity, third to Stormy Lucy in her last start. A Group 1 winner at 1 1/4 miles in South America, Miss Serendipity has improved each start in the U.S. Ron McAnally trains the mare, who should love the trip.
McAnally has won 113 stakes at Santa Anita; Miss Serendipity would be his first in the Santa Barbara.
READING THE BIAS
Track biases are simple. The racetrack is either for or against a horse on a particular day.
The tricky part is the next start after a bias-influenced performance. That is the dilemma facing Big Kick in race 5. Last out in a $40,000 claiming race, he rode the crest of an inside bias to a blowout win. Sunday he moves up in class to N2X.
The main track Saturday seemed bias-free, based on the five sprints. The one-mile race Sunday in which Big Kick is the likely pacesetter will be a test. If the last-out win by Big Kick was legitimate, he can win again. If it was because of an inside-speed bias, he will get beat.
For the record, this handicapper picked Big Kick, with reservation. At least Big Kick is a decent price, 5-1 on the line. His rivals include Bob Baffert trainees Govenor Charlie and Cat Burglar.
The scratch of 2013 San Simeon winner Chips All In softens the 2014 edition, and makes Sweet Swap all the more formidable. Freshened for two months, working well, he figures to be forwardly placed in a turf sprint without much speed.
Sweet Swap’s trainer, John Sadler, has not won a race since March 30, which is bizarre. Racing is a game of streaks, and a good horse will end a bad streak. Sweet Swap is a good horse, and he also is the surprising second choice on the morning line. This handicapper thought Sweet Swap was a standout.
Meanwhile, deep closer Lakerville is the 2-1 program choice. It might be difficult to rally from the back in a slow-pace sprint.
OLIVER’S TALE (#1, 7-2) misfired in his comeback, but has worked fast since then for trainer Mark Tsagalakis. The inside post does him no favors in a turf sprint, but he has enough speed to establish position. Tsagalakis trainees often outrun their odds.
SWEET SWAP (#5, 5-2) likes the hill, gets a favorable pace scenario, and will have the jump over the favorite. Trainer John Sadler is due to bust out of a springtime funk.