by Johnny D
December 31, 2020
Welcome to 2021! The New Year and the horses are off and running at Santa Anita. Below is one man's humble handicapping opinion regarding the last four races at Santa Anita Saturday. It's an interesting collection of puzzles anchored by the second start for what appears to be an absolute superstar from the Bob Baffert barn…(Where have we heard that phrase before?)
Also kicking off Saturday is the 2021 version of Beat the Host. Posted below Pick 4 analysis and a suggested ticket is an introduction to the 2021 version of the popular handicapping tournament. Xpressbet's Jeremy Plonk is the host to beat this week.
Santa Anita Saturday Late Pick 4
This $62,500 Optional Claiming race is such a mixed bag of runners that there doesn't seem to be an obvious solution to this puzzle, so we'll provide snapshots for the entire field without really ‘loving' anyone.
#1 Fortune Ticket makes his first start for trainer Jonathan Wong, who is 37% with runners making their first starts for him. That lofty number was accomplished mainly in Northern California. This 4-year-old colt has been running at Remington Park for trainer Steve Asmussen. These would seem to be tougher foes than he's previously faced.
#2 Bold Endeavor was claimed for $50k last out after finishing second behind #6 Kershaw. Seven-pound apprentice Jess Pyfer takes over from journeymanTyler Baze. This 5-year-old gelding's last win was accomplished for a $32,000 tag at Santa Anita. These are tougher.
#3 Tizmagician is a 4-year-old colt from the Richard Mandella barn. He's always been well-regarded and, after breaking maiden in his sixth start, he was pitched in the Gr. 3 Bob Lewis. He hurdled the first level allowance in September at Del Mar and then was a well-beaten second in the Gr. 3 Tokyo City at Santa Anita going one mile and one-half. He likes to be close to the early pace and has trained ok for this.
#4 Ekklesia is a 4-year-old colt with 2 wins in 9 starts—but both wins came in just 3 dry dirt races. He hurdled the first level allowance condition in October at Santa Anita and was third by a neck in an $80k Optional Claimer last out. Top jock Flavien Prat rides for Pete Eurton (5-1-3-0 this meet). He's another that appreciates being close to the early pace. A bullet :47 1/5 half-mile workout--best of 43--is a positive sign.
#5 Potanico was second at this level last out in November. He has acted with some of these foes in the past and fits in here, as do they. The 5-year-old is competitive but not dominating at this level and is a great example of a horse than could win this race but is one that's difficult to completely embrace.
#6 Kershaw won nicely and was claimed for $50k last out in November at Del Mar. He's one of a few that have acted with #5 Potanico and each other on several occasions. They seem to be close in ability, as Kershaw has been close at this level several times for the $62,500 tag after winning the condition in Feb. of 2020. New trainer Victor Garcia is 0-2 with first out claims.
#7 Kanderel is another Mandella-trained starter in here. Last year, as a 3-year-old, he faced mostly stakes competition on turf with mild success. He makes his first dirt start here. How will he handle it? Good question. Perhaps this is a case of Mandella just trying dirt before offering the gelding for a tag?
#8 Paladar is a 6-year-old gelding with 1 start since August of '19. He's won 2 of 6 fast dirt starts (and is 1-1 over an off track). All 3 of his wins have come in wire-to-wire fashion, so expect jockey Joel Rosario to look for the lead in here. He has trained well since his last race with works at San Luis Rey and Santa Anita. Trainer Baltas and jockey Rosario bat 19%. Consider this fellow a threat in here.
#9 Shooters Shoot has 2 wins and they both came while going wire-to-wire. Jockey Abel Cedillo will need to hustle this guy from the 9-hole to get to the front in here and likely will need to go too fast early or be forced wide. This newly turned 4-year-old was last seen setting the pace in the Santa Anita Derby before fading to fifth. He has a strong series of works for his return.
#10 King Abner is a 7-year-old earner of over $400k in 26 starts. He hasn't raced since June and hasn't won since November of '19 but has faced some graded stakes and state-bred stakes competition since. If this wasn't such a wide-open race, there's no way we'd use a 7-year-old off a layoff from the 10-hole going two turns at Santa Anita. But…we have next to no clue in this race and this guy is making his first start for a tag for an outfit that's 23% off layoffs.
The Grade 2 San Gabriel is at one mile and one-eighth on turf and has attracted a group of usual suspects. There are a few fresh faces and interesting possibilities. One of those may make the lead in a paceless field and pull off a surprise.
#1 Cleopatra's Strike was claimed last out for $62,500. That's not strange because he was being dropped out of decent efforts in graded stakes races. What is unusual is that he is an 8-year-old gelding. Now, we're all for AARP, but how much punch can this guy have left in his tank?
Against mostly Grade 1 and Grade 2 foes, #2 Next Shares is just 1 for 10 on Santa Anita turf but 7 for 10 in the money. Once in a while this 8-year-old gelding finds his way into the trifecta, like last out when he was third at 20-1 in the Grade 2 Seabiscuit at Del Mar. In March and May, he was third and second, respectively, in the Gr. 1 Kilroe and Gr. 1 Shoemaker.
#3 Bob and Jackie is an interesting play in here. Like #2 Next Shares, he's trained by Richard Baltas. This lightly raced 5-year-old horse ran into tiger Mo Forza in his last 2 starts, both Gr. 2 events. Blinkers were added last out and produced a respectable third-place finish after he forced a blisteringly hot pace. This race appears lacking in early speed, so look for this guy to flee the gate for the lead under jockey Omar Figueroa, the only rider he's ever known and a 20% winner with Baltas. With 4 wins in 8 starts, Bob and Jackie ought to be very dangerous setting the pace in here.
#5 Count Again absolutely exploded last out to win the Gr. 2 Seabiscuit at Del Mar. That was his first start in Southern California after racing mostly at Woodbine. A repeat of that effort will make him tough in here. However, there doesn't seem to be much speed in here to set up his closing kick. He's sharp and must be respected but a repeat of his last seems like asking too much.
#6 Anothertwistafate has been a disappointment to this horseplayer. Last out he tried turf for the first time to finish fourth behind Count Again in the Gr. 2 Seabiscuit after changing barns to Pete Miller from Blaine Wright. He won the Gr. 3 Longacres Mile in Sept.
#7 Bowies Hero is an honest 7-year-old that hasn't had much success at this distance—1 for 8. He does well at Santa Anita 3 for 11 and 7 in the money tries. He may be a bit past his best stuff but gets top jock Flavien Prat for a turf journey and that's very positive. Prat and trainer D'Amato click at 29%.
It's often a sharp move to take a stand against an overhyped, impressive maiden winner starting at short odds while trying something for the first time. Maybe not so much in here, though. #5 Life is Good was awesome in his first race and has returned to work like a beast. He seems a FREE Bingo Spot on PickN wagers.
#5 Life is Good will attempt to parlay a six and one-half furlong nine and one-half length romp in a maiden race at Del Mar into a Gr. 3 Sham Stakes tally going a mile and one-sixteenth around two turns. He ought to be able to do it. He has worked extremely well since his last race—topped by a six furlong move in 1:10 3/5 two days after Christmas at Santa Anita.
Saturday festivities conclude with a spin around Santa Anita's new turf layout at six furlongs. They certainly haven't raced enough of these for anyone to establish a bias or an angle on how to play these heats. For example, coming down the hill at six furlongs on turf, the race used to favor milers more than six-furlong sprinters.
#1 El Tigre Terrible hails from the Peter Miller barn and has top jock Favien Prat aboard. In an open race that might be enough for a player to use this one right off the bat. The duo hits at 28%. El Tigre Terrible has won 4 of 10 starts, including 1 for 3 at Santa Anita. It's worth noting that 3 of those 4 wins came on the dirt and this gelding is just 1 for 4 on turf and races from off the pace.
#2 Ghoul returns to Santa Anita after spending the summer and fall in Kentucky and New York. He's still with the Peter Miller barn and Joel Rosario rides—a 21% combo. Ghoul has a win at Santa Anita and is 6 for 17 on turf. The 6-year-old is in for the $62,500 tag. He comes from off the pace.
#3 Ultimate Bango has 3 wins, 3 seconds and a third in 11 starts over Santa Anita turf. He is 0-6 this year and last won going one mile on the Santa Anita turf June 8, '19.
#4 Mesut is a 7-year-old that seems more likely to run second than first. He does have a victory over the downhill six and one-half furlong Santa Anita course. That suggests he may prefer more than the five and one-half furlongs he's been trying lately. Still, he's 7 and has just two wins in 13 tries over Santa Anita green.
#5 Brandothebartender hasn't won in his last 14 starts but he's been close. He has been in the money on 12 of those occasions. May be best for exacta and trifecta players.
#6 Prodigal Son spend much of 2020 in the UAE without much success. He has a sparkling 1:12 2/5 gate work going into this. Still, he's just 1 for 7 on turf.
#7 Sparky Ville is a 5-year-old starting for the $62,500 tag. He's got some fast Beyer Speed Figures established in stakes races, but he's 0 for 5 over Santa Anita turf and just 1 for 7 on grass overall. This drop in class and longer distance could help his cause. His last out at Los Alamitos against allowance foes wasn't too bad. That was his second start in blinkers. Jockey Mike Smith is familiar with this gelding and is the last to have won on him.
#8 Lincoln City is a 5-year-old horse that closed some ground in a Los Alamitos sprint last out. He's not special in here but he has a touch of speed that might prove helpful in this paceless bunch. He's a reach but the trainer is unbeaten in 2 starts at the meet.
#9 Oiseau de Guerre is a 7-year-old that has been off since May. We'd like to see one before using him.
#10 Encoder is the youngster in the group and will be making his first start at 4. He's won 3 of 7 overall and 3 of 6 on turf. He's 1 for 3 at Santa Anita. Most of his races have been stakes against his age group. He was good enough to win the Eddie Logan at one mile on turf in Dec. ‘19. Hot riding Ricky Gonzalez (2 for 10) pilots this colt for the first time for trainer John Sadler. Only drawback with this one is that he's been off since Feb. He's been working every 7-8 days so he could be ready. Trainer Sadler is 10% off 180 or more days off.
$.50 Suggested Late Pick 4 Play
Race 6: (All) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Race 7: 3
Race 8: 5
Race 9: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10
TICKET COST: $30 FOR 50-CENTS