Friday, June 24, 2016

Handicapper's Corner: Santa Anita Gold Cup (G1)

Santa Anita Gold Cup Anyone's Race

By: Jeffery Cobb a/k/a Chalk Eating Weasel

Your humble Chalk Eating Weasel is back, and today I'll be looking at the Grade 1 Gold Cup from Santa Anita.  The field of 8 appears to be highly competitive and at first glance it is difficult to just give anybody the old heave ho. But, we can't bet them all, so some will have to go.

I don't know much about the Santa Anita track as I tend to focus more on East Coast racing.  To get a feel for the how the track plays the first place I looked was at the track bias stats in the Brisnet PP's.  Speed rules at the 10 furlong distance with 50% of the winners going wire to wire. Unfortunately, that statistic is based on only two races. Two races is not exactly a legitimate sample size so I scrolled through the PP's to find the truth.

At 7 furlongs, speed rules with 40% wire to wire winners. At 8 furlongs, speed rules with 32% wire to wire winners. At 6 furlongs, speed rules with 43% wire to wire winners. Hmmm, I'm detecting a pattern here.

So let's get back to the actual race and see who's fast out of the gate and who's not.

The two who stand out in the early speed department are #4 Lieutenant Colonel who is an obvious need to lead type. Not surprisingly, he has won 2 races in 5 tries at Santa Anita. On the down side, he has underwhelmed at the stakes level although in his last grade 2 race he was a respectable 3rd.  The down side is he was a beaten favorite and also beaten by two others, Second Summer and Hard Aces. Lieutenant Colonel has never been the distance and his last race was a lifetime best for him. He hit a triple digit Brisnet speed figure 3 races back and regressed a little off that effort, so I look for another little regression here and this one can't afford to regress.

The other early speed stand out is #7 Melatonin. Melatonin is now a horse at 5 years who seems to be peaking. Two races ago he won the Santa Anita Handicap (G1). He was only carrying 115 lbs in that race. He'll be carrying 9 extra lbs for this race, so you can be the judge about the importance of weight. Unlike the Colonel, Melatonin shows a little more diversity in his running style able to go to the lead or rate off the pace if needed. In addition, he is 3 for 3 at Santa Anita including a win a this distance. Definitely a contender.

Rafael Bejarano left the Colonel for #8 Imperative.  Last race (Charlestown Classic G2) Imperative tried to go from 9th out of a 10 horse field and never really got in the race. That kind of running style won't work at Charlestown, and, by all appearances, it will only work at Santa Anita if the race totally breaks down on the front end. FYI, Imperative is 0 for 12 at Santa Anita.

#6 Hoppertunity is a heckuva horse with an amazing, considering his late running style, 9 times in the money out of 10 tries at Santa Anita with 3 wins. I'm always a little leery about horses coming back from Dubai, but he's had 3 months off.  Hoppertunity has a chance here, but I think he is more likely to pick up the pieces and would be good to use in your vertical exotics.

Now that we are taking a closer look at the race, #5 Win the Space is just not as fast as some of these and doesn't really fit here.

#3 Hard Aces won this race last year out finishing Hoppertunity. Hard Aces is another legitimate contender along with Hoppertunity and Melatonin. Have to note that the Gold Cup win last year was his only win in 8 tries at Santa Anita.  Also note he's racing back after a life time best. Every time he has done that he has regressed dramatically in the next race, so I have to ask myself why he wouldn't do the same here.

#2 Second Summer is another, like Melatonin, who seems to be hitting his stride this year. Winner of his last 3 including a Grade 2 last out, he has moved forward speed figure-wise every race this year. The good news is that he has been moving forward in baby steps and has been off sufficient time to think a bounce unlikely. The real question is only if he has topped out or if he has more to give. I like this one and think the race will set up good for him giving him a real chance for top honors.

#1 Bal a Bali is a turf horse making the switch to dirt. 23 races with 13 wins shows this guy knows his way to the winner's circle. What I note about this horse is 1) his trainer Richard Mandella is 24% going turf to dirt and 2) A look at his pace figures shows that this one, despite his turf success, has a running style more suited for a dirt horse than a turf  horse.  Bal a Bali is 9/2 in the morning line but could go for more in the actual betting. He's never raced on dirt before and his speed figures don't make him look competitive against others in this field. However, you can't really compare turf figures with dirt figures making this one a bit of a mystery.

Bottom line
This race should shape up with Lieutenant Colonel on the lead being tracked closely by Melatonin. I've seen Martin Garcia try to, and sometimes succeed in stealing races on the front end, so I think Joe Talamo will try to keep the pressure on the Colonel resulting in the possibility that both of these guys get cooked. However, Melatonin has a little more proven staying power to get the distance.

If things get too hot on the front end then the race really sets up for a horse that can come from not far off the pace such as Second Summer and maybe one of the deep closers, Bal a Bali or Hoppertunity get up for the show.

So, I think Second Summer gets first run on the leaders and prevails in this race. Melatonin will hang on for a piece along with Hoppertunity or Bal a Bali.

I would put $70 on Second Summer for the win.
Then a $10 exacta with Second Summer over Melatonin, Bal a Bali, and Hoppertunity might look attractive.

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