We all put different degrees of emphasis on different aspects of handicapping. Some people focus largely on pace. For others, class is a bigger deal. And then you add in recent form, connections, track conditions, trips, and all of a sudden you’ve got six handicappers identifying six different horses as the most likely winner of a race. We’ve all seen it happen.
For a long time, I’d have to say class was the first thing I looked at. It wasn’t the only thing. But it was how I liked to start my handicapping approach. “Who has been defeating or losing to whom?” And that began the process. And over the last couple of months, I’ve started to move away from that approach. And yesterday’s 7th race from Santa Anita is a prime example of why.
I’m taking about the Grade 2 San Gabriel at 9 furlongs on the grass. The race was won by Grade 1-winner Next Shares. The runner-up, beaten a whisker, was Cleopatra’s Strike, making her first start in California after a career at Woodbine. Below are the PPs for both, and the chart of the race. And then we’ll continue the discussion.
Keep in mind, this race was a Grade 2. Next Shares, in addition to his Grade 1 win, has multiple Grade 1 placings. Cleopatra’s Strike took nine tries to get through her second allowance level, and both of her last starts came with a $60k price tag which gave her connections the luxury of removing 2lbs from her back. That’s right. After seven tries to break the condition, they said “Eh, let’s put her up for sale for we can lose 2lbs and maybe get a win. If we lose her, we lose her.”
Yes, I see there was a barn change after the Woodbine win. And no, I’m not so stupid as to ignore the possibility that a trainer change combined with a major change of scenery and some really fast workouts can move a horse up. That’s why I told LoneSpeed contributor Steve Decaspers yesterday afternoon that Cleopatra’s Strike was my play in the NHC Qualifier at Santa Anita/Xpressbet. Steve can vouch for this. But when the wagering opened and the 8-1 odds I felt sure I’d get at a minimum dropped to 5-1, I went in another direction specifically because of what I perceived to be a class edge by another horse. That horse was Big Bend who ran butt-naked last.
My point is that yesterday at Santa Anita, a horse than had twice recently run for a $60k claiming price and that spent the last 18 months running Beyer Speed Figures in the 80s almost beat Next Shares. Ed DeRosa recently said to me over text “Speed is class” when I asked him about a horse he had picked in an online tournament that appeared to be at a major class disadvantage but won anyway. And one of the things I liked initially about Cleopatra’s Strike was that in a paceless race, according to TimeformUS numbers in DRF she appeared to be forwardly placed in the race. So as I look to make changes to my game in 2019, I have to say that now is the time to downgrade the importance of class. Finally.