Santa Anita Handicap 2017 Preview

Each year, one of the premier races on the West Coast is the GR 1 Santa Anita Handicap at the classic distance of 1 ¼ Mile. This year’s event features some very good horses with some very fast Numbers. In post position order:

1. 8-5 Midnight Storm : Short layoff. Here is the morning line favorite and the likely pace setter. Most of his previous success was on the Turf; however he has dominated in his last 2 in Graded Stakes company on the dirt, in gate to wire style, posting a 2.3 Best one race back. Connections have excellent stats, and jockey Bejarano is one of the very best in rating a front runner on the lead. Distance is a question, as this guy is stepping up in class and stretching out. Very Dangerous gate to wire threat!

2. 30-1 Gangster: Even pattern. With a 7.4 Best, and never having run in a Graded Stakes race, he seems ambitiously placed. Connections have fair stats, and this guy is not especially bred for the distance. Would surprise me.

3. 2-1 Shaman Ghost: Marching pattern. This guy shows the epitome of the Marching pattern as he improved to his 1.5 Best in his most recent, a runner up effort to last year’s BC Classic winner, Arrogate in the GR 1 Pegasus going 1 1/8 Mile at Gulfstream Park in January. I am a huge fan of trainer Jerkins and jockey Castellano is as good as they get. He has had 6 weeks to freshen, so another improvement is in the cards. My main concern is that this is his first trip to the West Coast and there is a possibility that he may not take to the track. I expect him to run well!

4. 12-1 Isotherm: Even pattern. He essentially paired his Best with a 7.6 in his most recent, a very nice win in the GR 2 San Marcos at 1 ¼ Mile on Santa Anita’s Turf course. Jockey Prat is having a sensational meet and trainer Weaver has OK stats. Distance is not an issue; however speed and surface are concerns. Needs a big step forward.

5. 15-1 Hard Aces: Even pattern. He ran a distant 2nd in this event last year; however this group appears tougher and his Numbers have not been improving. He will likely need to improve on his recent 3.6 Best. Solid connections. Will need to turn things around.

6. 8-1 Follow Me Crev: Long Circle Back pattern. He returned to the races after a 7 month vacation to win an Allowance event, posting a decent 7.5, in a lengthy Circle Back to his previous 5.2 Best. Connections have very nice stats. A step forward is likely after the layoff. He will need sharp improvement.

7. 12-1 Twentytwentyvision: One race regression. His 6.2 Best one back is a very modest Number with these. I have deep respect for the connections; however he will need big a big step forward.

8. 12-1 Hi Happy: One race regression. He regressed off his US debut 5.3 Best; however he is being given Lasix, so that decline may have a legitimate excuse. Connections have nearly non-existent US stats, and this guy has done nearly all of his racing in Argentina on the Turf. Still that 5.3 is a quick Number, especially after nearly a year on the bench. Worth possible longshot consideration.

9. 5-1 Imperative: Long Circle Back pattern. Last year, I thought this guy was one of the up and coming stars as he ran competitive seconds behind California Chrome and Hoppertunity, and posted a 1.9 Best. After that his Numbers tailed off; however after a recent 2 month freshening and a move to the Hess barn, he posted an improving 2.9 in winning a Stakes race at Gulfstream. Very Dangerous!

The chalk looks tough in here. I expect top efforts from Shaman Ghost and Imperative, and Midnight Storm is a gate to wire threat.