Jeff Siegel's "Added Money"

It was recently reported that pari-mutual wagering in the U.S. was down 7.2% in 2008 when compared to similar figures from the previous year. Although it is generally accepted that the poor state of the economy was the major contributing factor, critics of synthetic surfaces believe that the loss in business can partially be blamed by the lack of confidence in the new surfaces by veteran horse players. While it is true that certain handicapping methods don’t work as well on the synthetics as they do on conventional dirt – and that some players have been resistant to tweaking their methods - most sharp handicappers during the first nine days of the 2008/2009 Santa Anita meeting seem to have adjusted just fine. The field sizes have been solid – a tad over eight horses per race on the main track and a shade under nine per race on turf – yet the percentage of winning favorites has been unusually strong. Here’s how it all shakes out: • Main track sprints: 17 for 41 (41%) • Main track routes: 7 for 19 (36%) • All main track races: 24 for 60 (40%) • Turf sprints: 5 for 6 (83%) • Turf routes: 3 for 14 (21%) • All turf races: 8 for 20 (40%) I doubt these high percentages will be maintained over the course of the long meeting, but so far the form hasn’t been terribly difficult to decipher – unless you’re strictly playing turf routes. The high percentage of winning favorites on the main track is a bit surprising since – except for contested speed going long - it’s been playing pretty much bias free. Over the years I noticed that when a track became particularly biased for front runners, the percentage of winning favorites usually went up (not surprising since just about anybody can figure out who the speed of the field is going to be). So far this season, there has been no such crutch to lean on. While the Pro Ride surface seems to have been fairly kind to the horse player, there certainly has been some growing concern among trainers that the surface may be developing some unevenness. A number of breakdowns occurred during the first nine days of the meeting, and management is working diligently to determine whether the unusually cold weather or some other factors might be proving detrimental to safety of the track. Obviously, I haven’t interviewed every trainer on the backstretch but the majority that I have talked to still believe in the new surface. “It’s a lot better than the old one,” is a comment I mostly get, although admittedly this conclusion falls into the back-handed compliment category. Returning to the track bias issue, one factor that I have examined closely this season is “speed going long.” During the first nine racing days, there have been 19 races around two turns on the main track. Only four have won by horses that were leading after second call (the half mile call in Equibase charts). The half mile fractions in these races were: 47 1/5, 47 1/5, 48 4/5 and 49 4/5, which is to say two of the races had normal early splits and two were usually slow. Contested two-turn speed during the Oak Tree meeting wasn’t any good either, a fact apparently not lost on the local jockeys, who for the most part have being riding these route affairs like long distance turf marathons. In the 19 race sample this season, only seven have had opening half mile splits of: 47 flat or faster. In these races every pacesetter except one (a third place finisher) faded to finish off the board. For the week ending Jan. 4 - The Carla Gaines-trained Red Sun turned in a promising performance in Sunday’s 6th race and this California-bred gelded son of Redatorre seems sure to improve with racing, distance, and in due time, grass. . .Trainer Richard Mandella apparently let one slip through the cracks when he ran Tizfiz for $50,000 in November. On paper, it seemed like a logical move, what with claiming activity shrinking due to the economy and the daughter of Tiznow having had a gap from November of ’07 to August of ’08 followed by an uninspired comeback sprint. Trainer Rafael DeLeon took a shot and claimed her – Tizfiz won the day she was haltered – and since then the 5-year-old daughter of Tiznow has won two of three including the Queen of the Green Handicap at Turf Paradise and the Grade 2 San Gorgonio Handicap Sunday at Santa Anita. Tizfiz looked like the lone speed on paper and that’s how it turned out, but give her (and jockey Agapito Delgadillo) credit for quickening when set down (final 3/8ths in :35 1/5) to hold off Marzelline and Solar Miss. Favored Valbenny was compromised by the race-shape and could only muster a fourth place finish after being somewhat victimized by her outside post, which necessitated a take-back-to-last-and-make-one-run strategy. While Mandella may have lost a graded stakes winner via the claiming game in Tizfiz, there’s no chance of that happening with Jan. 4th, 8th race winner Serra Song, a lightly-raced 5-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song who won his third race from just six career starts. Although the margin of victory was less than a length, Serra Song may not have been fully extended – he seemed to start idling once he hit the front in mid stretch – and with further improvement he might be able to contribute to the somewhat shallow local older handicap division. Trainer Barry Abrams had a right to be frustrated when Lethal Heat became blocked in the upper stretch and never really got clear until near the shadow of the wire when finishing third (beaten a length) in the Grade 2 Monrovia ‘Cap down the hill on Saturday. It was her first start since August and it couldn’t have been a taxing effort – she never really had a chance to accelerate – and the race should set her up nicely for a start on Sunshine Millions day Jan. 24. The $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff over the Pro-Ride surface (which also figures to draw Paseana ‘Cap winner Victorina) could be the next start for the daughter of Unusual Heat who seems equally effective on any distance or surface. Trainer Mark Casse, who will sell a horse, more likely already has been fielding offers for Shafted, impressive winner of his California debut in a good first level allowance race Jan. 2. The Woodbine shipper overcame a poor start to produce a good late kick while rallying into the teeth of slow fractions to win going away, and in a year in which the leaders in the Derby division don’t scare anybody, this 3-year-old son of Mineshaft has suddenly become a hot commodity. . . Saturday’s 10th race, a maiden $40,000 claiming sprint for 3-year-old California-bred fillies, was a faster than par race and should prove productive. The winner turned out to be the Jeff Mullins-trained Jaylo’s Mark, who took heat and came away to win in fairly convincing fashion and likely will surface next in a starter’s allowance event. It’ll be interesting to track horses exiting this race. . . The John Sadler-trained Miss Dolce, who was so impressive winning her debut in late November at Hollywood Park, flopped badly in her first start back when fading to finish last of five at 4/5 in the 2nd race Dec. 31st won by the late running Canadian invader Deeveetee. Miss Dolce failed to show the kind of intense early speed that she displayed at Hollywood Park and was off the bridle after a half. It would be a logical conclusion that she simply ran too fast and too hard in her debut and “bounced.” Maybe you could use the same explanation for Life By RR, who wound up fourth in the same heat after breaking her maiden in quick time across town 24 days earlier. . . I