Southern California racing returns to Santa Anita Park with opening day of the track’s 18 race-day fall meet set for Sept. 30 through Nov. 6. Santa Anita’s fall meet is one of the season’s premier meets, offering prime betting opportunities, big purses, and high-quality racing on both the turf and dirt.
In addition to daily top-notch racing at every level, Santa Anita will also feature 26 stakes races and will be an important stop for horses making their way to the 2022 Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be held on Nov. 4-5 at Keeneland. The meet will feature several Breeders’ Cup prep races including a “Win & You’re In” qualifier on Oct. 1 – the Grade 1, $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes on the main track. All told, opening weekend will be headlined by 10 stakes races.
When doing your daily handicapping at Santa Anita, there are some trends horseplayers should pay attention to in order to improve their winning percentage. Here are some things to watch for at Santa Anita. Best of luck!
Focus on Trainer Trends
The leading trainer at the previous Santa Anita meet was Phil D’Amato who racked-up 63 victories and a 22% win percentage to win the meet title by a 23-win margin over second-leading trainer Doug O’Neill with 40 victories (15%). John Sadler was third with 38 wins (18%) and Mark Glatt was fourth with 37 wins (22%).
While D’Amato has to be a favorite to lead all trainers in wins at the 2022 Santa Anita fall meet based on this year’s results, it will be O’Neill who may actually be the most likely leading trainer based on his runaway training title at last year’s corresponding 2021 Santa Anita fall meet when he scored 21 wins and had a 27% win percentage.
The other two most prominent trainers at Santa Anita this fall should be Bob Baffert and Peter Miller. Baffert missed a portion of this year’s Santa Anita summer meet but he still won 27 races from only 79 starters for huge win percentage of 34%. Baffert also was formidable at Santa Anita’s 2021 fall meet when he won with 8 of 25 starters for 32%. Miller, meanwhile, took a hiatus from training earlier this year but he was the second-leading trainer at Santa Anita last fall with 11 wins and a 16% win percentage
After O’Neill, D’Amato, Miller, Baffert, Sadler, and Glatt, the rest of the top 10 trainers at the upcoming Santa Anita fall meet should include Richard Baltas and others such as Jeff Mullins, Richard Mandella, and George Papaprodromou.
In terms of the ideal times to bet the ideal trainers, take note that 57 of D’Amato’s 63 wins at the last Santa Anita meet came on the turf (24%) while he won only six races for 12% on the dirt. Baffert won 27 races, all of which were on the dirt, and trainer Sean McCarthy won 23 races, all of which were on the dirt. He was 0-for-14 on the turf. Mullins has been much more of a turf winner this year than a dirt winner with 18 grass wins versus only four on the main track. Sadler, on the other hand, was much better on the dirt with 23 wins (29%) than he was on the turf with 15 wins (11%). It’s difficult to cash a good price on Baffert ($5.10 average win price) and Sadler ($6.70), but Baltas’s winners ($10.20 average) and Papaprodromou’s winners ($10,00) tend to pay better at Santa Anita.
Jockeys to Watch
Flavien Prat has flown the coup and is no longer a regular rider in Southern California. At Del Mar, this left Juan Hernandez to rule the roost with 49 wins this summer. Umberto Rispoli was second with 27 wins and newly arrived Ramon Vazquez assumed the third spot in the standings with 24 wins. Veteran Mike Smith rode only 83 mounts but won 24% of them which was good for 20 wins and fourth on the Del Mar leaderboard. The rest of the Santa Anita fall top 10 should include Hector Isaac Berrios, Abel Cedillo, Joe Bravo, Edwin Maldonado, and Kyle Frey.
Hernandez also led the way in the standings by a wide margin earlier this year at Santa Anita with 104 victories (23%). It should be noted that while he is more than capable of winning on any surface, he’s a much better bet on the dirt (29% wins at SA) instead of the turf (18%). Likewise, Cedillo (19% dirt, 8% turf) and Diego Herrera (14% dirt, 5% turf) are much more likely to win on the main track than on the lawn. Conversely, the riders you want to bet in turf races are topped by Bravo (18%) and Rispoli (17%).
Getting To Know Santa Anita – The Great Race Place
In order to get a really good gauge on a horse’s ability, you really must rely on a horse’s local past performances at Santa Anita, which are necessary for an apples-to-apples comparison of a contender’s ability and chances of winning because some of the past performances that were established at other California tracks, including the preceding meet at Los Alamitos Race Course, will not help you pick winners at Santa Anita. Even Del Mar winners might lose at Santa Anita when facing horses that have preference for the local layout and track surface.
Santa Anita’s main track is not well known for having a lot of post position biases and angles, but the track did favor certain posts at certain distances during the past season’s meet, which went from Dec. 26, 2021, to June 19, 2022. On the main track, particularly in sprints, the inside post positions were the best, with horses drawn in post 1 winning 15%, post 2 winning 21%, and post 3 winning at an 18% clip. At the coming meet therefore, you can expect the the inside posts 1-3 to be the preferred starting spots in dirt sprints.
Dirt route races at Santa Anita usually don’t tend to show much bias in terms of post positions and this year’s meet was no exception. Horses should have fair chances to win from anywhere in the starting gate.
Santa Anita’s two-turn routes are mostly run at distances from one mile to 1 ¼ miles. The one-mile races start in mid-stretch, and the 1 ¼-mile races start in a small chute all the way at the top of the stretch. Not surprisingly, the prevailing bias in these two-turn routes favors horses with inside posts that can work themselves into ground-saving position by the time they hit the first turn. In this way, horses do benefit from drawing one of the inside and middle posts, as horses breaking from outside posts often cannot get over toward the rail in time for the first turn, particularly at the one-mile distance. Statistically, the inside posts in 1 1/8-mile races have the greatest advantage at Santa Anita, and the outside posts at 1 1/16 miles are at the greatest disadvantage.
Santa Anita Turf Trends
Santa Anita’s turf course is home to some of the best grass racing conducted in America 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 with wide rallying moves.
Obviously, it is better to save as much ground and possible and stay within a workable striking distance of the lead, as these horses tend to win the majority of the races. Deep closers often lose too much ground making wide moves, giving the front-runners a better-than-average shot at holding on in the relatively short Santa Anita grass stretch run.
Post positions are of utmost importance at Santa Anita in both grass routes and sprints. Santa Anita turf sprints used to be all about the downhill 6 ½-furlong course, and while that is still in the mix, the track has added a turf chute on the backstretch to accommodate turf sprints at a variety of flat 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 a disadvantage down the hill. At the other turf sprint distances from the backstretch turf chute, inside posts have proven to do exceptionally well, with horses breaking from posts 1-4 enjoying the highest win percentages by far.
In Santa Anita turf routes, the inside five post positions produce most of the winners, as could be expected with a relatively short run to the first turn. If you are deciding between two horses in a Santa Anita turf route, a post position 1-5 should be the deciding factor over a horse drawn in an outside post.