Nine starters go to the gate in the 80th running of the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap today, covering the classic 1 ¼-mile distance for a slice of a $750,000 purse.
Two of the starters look most likely to win the “Big ‘Cap”, while two look to be completely outmatched. But making a profitable selection in this race for four-year-olds and upward seems to be a tough task.
1-Midnight Storm sits on the rail representing the lone speed in this dirt route. And a case can very easily be made for this one winning in wire-to-wire fashion, but banking on that victory will come at short odds, as Midnight Storm will be one of the two most heavily-bet horses in the field. Horseplayers who prefer this one to the others should make a sizeable win bet, but the value is just not there.
2-Gangster is one of the entries that would be better suited for a lesser graded stakes race or an allowance race. This Street Boss son has had his best success on the turf, has never tried the classic distance on the dirt and failed to hit the board in his only attempt on the Santa Anita main track. He’s a toss for me.
3-Shaman Ghost will join Midnight Storm as one of the top two most-bet horses in the Big ‘Cap. He is deserving favorite, being a bonafide Grade I runner, winning the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga and hitting the board in both the Grade I Clark Handicap and Pegasus World Cup Invitational. His speed figures are among the best in the field, and he is a very likely winner. Again, his odds will not be favorable come post time. A sizeable win bet is the way to go if this is the runner preferred. I’d suggest keying him on top in exotics.
4-Isotherm has a real nice resume and is a multiple graded stakes winner. He’s also a turf horse, making his third career start on dirt. There’s nothing to suggest this is the right move and his speed figures also dissuade one from backing him here. He could figure in the exotics, but does not project well as a winner here. Play underneath, if at all.
5-Hard Aces gets a jockey upgrade to Victor Espinoza today, but I doubt that will be enough to help this one finish ahead of the others. At seven years old, Hard Aces is on the downward slope of his career arc, and finished nearly eight lengths behind Midnight Storm the last time those horses faced each other. A win by Hard Aces would definitely be a head-scratcher for bettors. He’s useful in exotics.
6-Follow Me Crev has never raced at ten furlongs on dirt, but has won half of his eight starts on the Santa Anita main track. Although he may be a trendy upset pick, I believe this Quality Road gelding lacks the class to beat the top contenders here. He’s never registered a triple digit Beyer figure and, even if he does here, it most likely won’t be enough to beat the best. He’s another toss for me.
7-Twentytwentyvision is another that runs best on turf. However, trainer Richard Mandella retains the services of Mike Smith and this six-year-old gelding, minus his last effort, is always in the mix at the end. Heart goes a long way, and this one is a prime choice to be overlooked at the betting windows — and he represents plenty of value. An ALL/Twentytwentyvision exacta is a solid wagering strategy.
8-Hi Happy (ARG) was a world beater in Argentina, winning four consecutive graded stakes there before heading to California. He’s another turf-favoring horse, but is the proverbial wild card here. Can he win this race? Maybe. Should one bet him with any confidence? Probably not. He’s useful in exotics, but is an unlikely winner.
9-Imperative would be a top choice if this race were at a shorter distance. He’s definitely distance-challenged here and starting from the outside gate trying to keep up with the speedy Midnight Storm for ten panels isn’t something this seven year old Bernardini gelding would prefer. Imperative can still compete on a relatively high level, but going 1 ¼ miles against Midnight Storm and Shaman Ghost doesn’t scream “winner”. He’s definitely useful, but not as a win contender.
This is not an easy race to handicap, as there are two main win contenders, followed by at least five second-tier horses vying to finish second and third. My pick to win is Shaman Ghost, followed by Twentytwentyvision and Midnight Storm. I project Midnight Storm to get out to a large lead only to falter after the second turn. Shaman Ghost and Twentytwentyvision should be the two horses to pass Midnight Storm, with Shaman Ghost emerging as the victor. I won’t be playing any win bets, but will play the aforementioned ALL/Twentytwentyvision exacta as well as a trifecta partial of Shaman Ghost over Midnight Storm and Twentytwentyvision.
Best of luck!