Thursday, March 9, 2017

Handicapper's Corner: Santa Anita Handicap (G1)

Shaman Ghost a Reluctant Choice in Santa Anita 'Cap

By: Reinier Macatangay, ThoroFan Member

Years ago, the Santa Anita Handicap (GI) was the premiere spring race for older horses to point towards. Then about a decade ago, the Dubai World Cup (GI) (now worth $10 million) sprang up overseas and began to weaken the race. The “Big Cap” is still important today, but is seen as a lesser event now by the media and most fans. 

Unless the trainer is conservative, the top-of-the-line stars are probably going to take the Pegasus World Cup (GI) to Dubai route, just as division-leader Arrogate is doing this year. 

Nevertheless, the show goes on, and a field of nine horses are set to run 1 ¼ miles on the Santa Anita main track this Saturday to compete for a $750,000 purse. 

The bulk of wagering dollars will go towards Midnight Storm, who possesses excellent speed and owns a two-race win streak. The 6-year-old horse also has won five out of his last six starts, with the one loss coming in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (GI). For those who follow TimeformUS, his recent numbers are dominant compared to this field.

So what is the problem? 

His only attempt at 10 furlongs resulted in a 36-length drubbing in the 2015 Pacific Classic (GI). A more forgiving handicapper might reason Midnight Storm improved since then, but the fact is still a concern. If trainer Phil D’Amato had confidence in Midnight Storm going longer, he would try his horse 1 ¼ miles or 10 furlongs more often. 

The Pacific Classic remains Midnight Storm’s only attempt at going farther than nine furlongs.

For convinced skeptics, the main alternative is Shaman Ghost, the 5-year-old horse who comes into this race off a runner-up finish to Arrogate in the Pegasus at Gulfstream Park. 

Trained by Jimmy Jerkens, Shaman Ghost is regularly entered in longer races. He even won the Brooklyn Handicap (GII) at 12 furlongs, as well as the 1 ¼-mile Queen’s Plate at Woodbine. East coast rider Javier Castellano flies across the country for this mount, which is nice. It would be a long way to travel for a clunker.

Can he overcome the pace scenario?

It is hard to predict. Shaman Ghost might be encouraged to pick up his feet earlier, as Castellano is great at judging pace, but it could also flatten out his late run. Shaman Ghost could also stay patient and hope Midnight Storm quits. 

If someone put a gun to this handicapper’s head and forced a decision, Shaman Ghost would get the slight nod because of his reliability at the distance. He certainly does not get a confident nod. Just a slight nod. 

Two other legitimate contenders are Imperative on the far outside, and Follow Me Crev. 

Most racing fans know Imperative. Once in a while, he fires with a nice effort. The now 7-year-old gelding also tends to pick up checks, as good closers pass tired horses if nothing else. 

The 5-year-old gelding Follow Me Crev looks a little more exciting because he is not a familiar horse to the casual bettor. Yet, his 121 TimeformUS Speed Figure in the Feb. 20 race is fast and not too far away from the top horses. 

For those hoping for a mega longshot, Gangster is not the worst stab at 30-1. Just make sure to limit him to underneath slots. 

Not every race is a good race to handicap or bet though, and this Big Cap presents a lot of question marks while offering little value. Think about whether this is the right race before pouring money into verticals. 

Handigambling ($100):

Rather than give a weak suggestion, I’m going to pass on betting.

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