Southern California racing returns to Santa Anita Park with the track’s 2023 autumn meet set to begin on Sept. 29 and continue through Breeders’ Cup weekend until closing day on Sunday, Nov. 5.
Santa Anita’s autumn season is one of the fall season’s premier meets and is sure to offer prime betting opportunities, big purses, and high-quality racing on both the turf and dirt. Plus, an additional spotlight will be cast upon Santa Anita this season as the track gets ready to host the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Nov. 3-4.
In addition to daily top-notch racing at every level, Santa Anita will also feature 28 stakes races along with the 14 Breeders’ Cup championship races. Not counting the Breeders’ Cup, 17 of the meet’s 28 stakes will be graded stakes races, including two Grade 1 races: the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes on Sept. 30, which will be a prep for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic; and the $300,000 American Pharoah Stakes on Oct. 7, which will be a prep for the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Juvenile presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. Both the Awesome Again and the American Pharoah will be Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win & You’re In” qualifying races. The meet will host a total of four “Win and You’re In” races, with the other two being the Grade 2 Chandelier Stakes for the NetJets Juvenile Fillies and the Grade 2 Rodeo Drive Stakes for the Maker’s Mark Filly & Mare Turf, both to be run Oct. 7.
Get to know Santa Anita – the Great Race Place
When handicapping Santa Anita, there are several trends horseplayers should pay attention to in order to improve their winning percentage. Here are some things to watch for at Santa Anita. The main track can yield some post-position and running-style biases and angles, based on statistics from the most recent meet which ran from Dec. 26, 2022 to June 18, 2023.
On the main track, particularly in sprints, the inside post positions tend to be the best at Santa Anita. Horses breaking from inside posts 1-3 won almost exactly half of the dirt sprints at the meet (110 wins in 222 dirt sprints). Of those winners, it was inside speed horses that raced on or close to the pace within 1 ½ lengths of the lead that did the best. Closers, on the other hand, struggled in Santa Anita dirt sprints with horses closing from four or more lengths behind winning only 23 of the 222 races for 10%.
Route races at Santa Anita played much the same way as sprints, with inside post positions and horses with early speed holding the advantage. In 127 dirt routes run at the most recent meet, 70 were won by horses on or close to the pace for 55%, while closers won only 11 of the races for 9%. Inside horses did best, with horses breaking from post positions 1-3 winning 69 of the 127 route races accounting for 54%. Horses breaking from posts 7 and outward won only 7 of the routes accounting for 6%.
Santa Anita Turf Trends
Santa Anita’s turf course is home to some of the best grass racing in the country and it generally plays 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.
Obviously, it is better to save as much ground as possible and stay within a workable striking distance of the lead, but horses have a fair chance from outside post-position draws, and no matter if they go to the lead, press, stalk, or close from off the pace.
Santa Anita has long been a turf sprint epicenter thanks to its unique downhill 6 ½-furlong turf course. These days, Santa Anita also conducts turf sprints from a backstretch turf chute that accommodates turf sprints at a variety of distances. On the downhill course, the first turn in the race is actually a right turn, which essentially flip flops the gate and favors the outside posts. Inside posts 1-3 are often at a disadvantage down the hill. In terms of preferred running styles, it is pace-pressers and stalkers between 1 ½ lengths and four lengths off the pace that did the best at the most recent Santa Anita meet, winning 46% of the 37 downhill sprints at 6 ½ furlongs.
At the other turf sprint distances from the backstretch turf chute, post positions tend to play fair with horses enjoying good chances to win from any post draw. However, early speed tends to be much more of a key in the flat turf sprints at SA than in the downhill sprints. At the most recent meet, 65 of the 123 flat turf sprints were won by horses on or close to the pace, as defined throughout this article as within 1 1/2 lengths of the lead (53%). Closers coming from at least four lengths behind won 24 only of the races for 20%.
Santa Anita Trainer Trends
In the trainers ranks, Peter Miller edged Phil D’Amato 16 wins to 15 at the last Santa Anita fall meet in 2022. They were followed by Doug O’Neill with 13 wins, George Papaprodromou with 11 wins, and Bob Baffert with 9 wins from only 33 starters for 27%.
At the recently completed Del Mar summer meet, D’Amato won the training title with 21 wins, narrowly beating Baffert, who won 20 races. Notably for handicappers, Baffert accomplished his 20 wins from only 63 starters for a big win percentage of 32%. D’Amato started 134 horses at Del Mar so his 16% win clip was much lower. Other top trainers at Del Mar this summer were O’Neill (19 wins), Miller (16 wins), Peter Eurton (16 wins, 25%), and Mark Glatt (15 wins). Richard Mandella (9 for 39, 23%), Leonard Powell (9 for 47, 19%), and Michael McCarthy (12 for 68, 18%) also boasted high win percentages.
These 10 trainers mentioned above will have excellent chances to round out the top 10 at the Santa Anita autumn meet.
Santa Anita Top Jockeys
In the jockey’s room, based on win statistics from last year’s corresponding autumn Santa Anita meet, the rider to beat for the autumn jockey title could be Ramon Vazquez, who won 25 times at the 2022 meet from 119 mounts for 21%. A list of familiar Southern California faces was behind Vazquez in the other top spots, with Juan Hernandez second in terms of wins with 20 races from 92 mounts (22%), Umberto Rispoli third with 18 wins from 74 mounts for a strong winning percentage of 24%, and Edwin Maldonado fourth with 17 wins from 89 mounts for 19%. The rest of the top 10 was made up of Hector Berrios, Kyle Frey, Mike Smith, Abel Cedillo, Drayden Van Dyke, and Joe Bravo.
The more recent Santa Anita season that went from Dec. 26, 2022 to June 18, 2023 was officially two separate meets, a winter meet and the spring meet. Hernandez beat Vazquez 42 wins to 27 wins at the summer meet with Rispoli and Berrios third and fourth. Hernandez was also the runaway leading rider at the winter meet.
Two interesting bits of jockey news have transpired since the Santa Anita summer. First was the reemergence of jockey Kent Desormeaux, who rode 83 races and won 18 of them for 22%. Desormeaux also won 13 races at Del Mar, indicating he will remain a factor at Santa Anita this fall. Second was the arrival of jockey Antonio Fresu, a journeyman that has ridden in Italy, England, and Dubai and has now joined the SoCal jockey colony. Fresu made a big splash at Del Mar this summer where he was second-leading rider in terms of wins with 31 winners from 173 mounts (18%).
At the upcoming Santa Anita autumn season, we can expect Hernandez, Vazquez, and Fresu on top in the jock’s room, with Rispoli, Maldonado, and Berrios close behind. Veterans Bravo and Desormeaux will also have chances to land in the top 10.
We’re ready for a tip-tip autumn season of racing and wagering at the Santa Anita meet. Good luck and enjoy the meet.