03/01/2012 9:58PM

Ron the Greek set for peak in Big Cap; Caleb's Posse may offer value in the Tom Fool


There is a widespread perception among bettors and horsemen that horses ship west to east without difficulty, but send them east to west and more than likely such runners will regress.

Some theorize it's due to the acclimation to weather; others claim you have to work over the surfaces in California.

I prefer a more logical explanation: California horses, quite simply, are usually better than their counterparts.

The key word in that statement is usually. But as handicapping relates to Saturday's Santa Anita Handicap, the usual doesn't apply.

By Big Cap standards, the race is substandard. Game On Dude, the best in the West, was kept out of the race by trainer Bob Baffert in favor of running in the Dubai World Cup, and what's left is a field that more resembles a Grade 2 than a Grade 1.

Most are slow and seemingly incapable of running a Beyer Speed Figure in excess of 100. Others, like Setsuko, too often play the bridesmaid role, and still others, like Norvsky, are turf horses being tried on dirt, largely due to the lack of a star power in the race and of course, the $750,000 purse.

By my logic, this race sets up for one of those unusual cases where an East Coast invader might register the upset. And that horse could be Ron the Greek.

Bred to stay the 1 1/4-mile distance, Ron the Greek enters the Big Cap in the best form of his career. Since being transferred to the barn of Hall of Famer Bill Mott four races ago, he has 2 wins and 2 seconds in 4 starts, with three of those races coming in stakes.

And though he doesn't own the top last-race Beyer Speed Figure in the field, he has proven consistently quickest over his last few runs.

His last two Beyers have averaged a 96, best in the field, and his last three-race average is a 95.33, again tops.

Furthermore, Ron the Greek has what I would consider deceptive class, having run a fine second in the Sunshine Million Classic, a restricted stakes Jan. 28 at Gulfstream but a race that had quality, with the accomplished Mucho Macho Man the winner.

Lastly, Ron the Greek looks poised to get a favorable stalking trip behind a lively pace -- setting him up to perhaps win one for the East Coasters.

Tom Fool: Caleb's Posse may offer value

Although made the 9-5 favorite on the morning line for Saturday's Tom Fool at Aqueduct, don't be surprised to see Caleb's Posse drift up from that price.

For a horse who won the King's Bishop and Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile last year, he has to be one of the least-appreciated horses in racing -- perhaps because of his Midwest roots.

Even off a layoff with bigger prizes ahead, underestimate him at your own peril. Already proven fresh, he's as honest a horse as you will find going around one turn, and he's the class of the race.

Look for the public to jump over to Calibrachoa, reasoning that he has a fitness edge over the comebacking Caleb's Posse, and also expect bettors to go gaga over Emcee, a 2-for-2 horse in which people will only see blue sky.

This leaves Caleb's Posse a good wager at 2-1 or higher in a short field.


Battaglia: Mr. Prankster in good spot

Finally, turning to struggling Turfway -- where the track announced a 25 percent reduction in overnight purses beginning Saturday -- a potentially rewarding wager looms on Mr. Prankster in the John Battaglia Memorial.

The best 3-year-old to race at Turfway this winter, he's facing shippers in the Battaglia, something he has seen little of in recent months, but he looks up to the challenge and might be a square price with them drawing some backing.

This is a little horse with a lot of gears who can make more than one run in a race. And he ought to sit the perfect trip, tracking just a few lengths off front-runners Phantom Fury and State of Play.

Post 6 is perfect, as well, allowing jockey John McKee to track the speed to his inside and keep Mr. Prankster comfortably away from much of the Polytrack kickback

Phantom Fury, another local, might very well complete the exacta. He showed heart to hold second in the WEBN stakes Feb. 4 after dueling through hot splits.