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CA, KY Racing Pivot This Week - Previewing Ellis Park & Los Alamitos

by Jeremy Plonk

June 25, 2018

We are still a few weeks away from Saratoga and Del Mar, but the summer shift begins in earnest this week. Racing in California moves to Los Alamitos this Thursday, while Kentucky action heads to Ellis Park on Sunday.  Both options offer significant changes to the Santa Anita and Churchill Downs action that was present on their respective prior circuits.

First, Los Alamitos readies its short, 12-day run through July 15 with all dirt racing and a more blue-collar feel with 3 stakes offered. Note the Los Al pick four will carry a $1 minimum, bucking the trend most tracks have done in the 50-cent genre. Count me as one looking forward to the increased minimum. My theory on betting is that to be successful you must get paid when you’re right. Lower minimums help cushion losses if you bet the same combinations (though most people just bet twice as many combos for the same cost), but they also reduce winnings with more customers likely to be cashing smaller amounts. A loss is a loss if you spend $1 or 50 cents, so an increased collection ledger obviously can have a positive impact on your bottom line.

At Ellis Park, the focus in Kentucky moves to juveniles and more blue-collar performers than we’re used to seeing at Keeneland and Churchill Downs in the spring. The 30-day meeting spans through Labor Day and offers the region’s horseman an alternative to butting heads with the best at Saratoga on the road. The turf racing and 2-year-old racing at Ellis Park long have been underrated, especially when those horses move back to the more vogue circuits in Kentucky in September and October. It’s a fantastic place to develop a horses to watch list and log your bet-back specials.

To get you ready for the changes in California and Kentucky, I drove the Betmix database for some angles worth following at both venues.

At Los Al, Bob Baffert hits 29% since the return of Thoroughbred action there with 56 victories, most of any trainer. His lack of turf players doesn’t slow him down here, obviously, and that deep dirt bench provides more than enough class and surface affinity to handle their business. Other high-percentage outfits include Leonard Powel (33%), Simon Callaghan (32%), Ron Ellis (31%), Robertino Diodoro (29%), Phil D’Amato (26%) and Brian Koriner (22%).

Jockeys Tyler Baze (63 wins) and Edwin Maldonado (60 wins) score at nearly equal rates, but it’s the latter whose flat-bet profit of $54.20 from more than 300 mounts that stands out. Baze’s mounts show a loss of $187.40 despite the riders hitting at 17 and 18%, respectively. Tiago Pereira and Martin Garcia have shown flat-bet profits, while Brayan Pena has provided some whoppers. On favorites, Drayden Van Dyke (48%) and Evin Roman (46%) are superior.

The average favorite at Los Alamitos is just 1.35-to-1, and the average winning favorite just 6-5 on the toteboard. But favorites win 36% of the time, not an inordinate amount, so this is a place with a betting public that goes all in quite often. Sires to watch at Los Al include Affirmative, Awesome Gambler, Benchmark, Big Brown, Cindago, City Zip, Cyclotron, Decarchy, Desert Code, Giant’s Causeway, Good Journey, Harlan’s Holiday, Include, Kafwain, Lucky JH, Lucky Pulpit, Marino Marini, Midnight Lute, Ministers Wild Cat, Papa Clem, Square Eddie, Swiss Yodeler, Tizbud and Tribal Rule.

At Ellis Park, trainer Brad Cox hits 31% and shows a small, flat-bet profit from more than 130 starters. He’s even stronger at 33% on the Ellis turf. Kellyn Gorder offers value with 26% wins and a $69 profit from more than 80 starters. Ian Wilkes (21%), Mike Maker (20%) and Kenny McPeek (20%) all win their share, but show losing ROIs. Lower-profile barns like Marshall Godsey and Ricky Short hit around 20% with a profit showing. Tom Drury and D. Wayne Lukas hit high percentages with flat-bet profits but start fewer runners. Dale Romans owns the 2-year-olds with 36% wins and a $21 profit on 36 starters since 2013. Bret Calhoun and Eddie Kenneally are also very strong in the juvenile ranks locally.

Five different Ellis Park jockeys have between 70 and 85 wins since 2013, so there’s not a big separation. Corey Lanerie and Brian Hernandez have had the best percentages at 22% and 21%, respectively. Lanerie can be counted on strongly on turf, winning 27% here since 2013. Declan Cannon hits at 16% and shows the best ROI in the colony with a $74 profit from more than 120 mounts.

Top Ellis turf sires to watch include After Market, Blame, Bernstein, Candy Ride, City Zip, Curlin, English Channel, Hard Spun, Kitten’s Joy, More Than Ready, Rock Hard Ten, Scat Daddy, Street Sense, Tapit and Tizway. On the Ellis dirt, give extra looks to offspring by Awesome Again, Candy Ride, Divine Park, Flatter, Into Mischief, Lookin At Lucky, More Than Ready, Political Force, Sharp Humor, Smart Strike, Street Sense, Tapit, Tiznow and Unbridled’s Song.