By Noel Michaels
There is a five-way battle royal atop the Santa Anita trainer standings that should continue for the rest of the season, which still has two months to go.
Through mid-March, the action couldn’t be much closer among Bob Baffert, Peter Miller, Richard Baltas, Phil D’Amato, and Doug O’Neill. Just two wins separate them in the standings.
The co-leaders in wins through March 14 are Baffert and Miller with 22 apiece. Both have their own advantages moving forward.
Baffert steals the headlines and is the leader in win percentage — 22 wins from 79 for 28%, and 61% ITM. Among his wins are a sweep of the first four major 3-year-old events for males, the Sham, Robert B. Lewis, San Vicente, and San Felipe. If Baffert continues to win nearly 30% of his starts, he will be tough to beat.
When betting Baffert, note that 20 of his 22 wins have come on the dirt, and his win percentage is much higher in routes (37%) than in sprints (22%). Baffert’s average win payoff at the meet is $6.40.
Miller’s strength is quantity, having accomplished his 22 victories from 129 starters for a 17% win rate. The only trainer with more starters is Doug O’Neill, who is 20-for-143 for 14% wins. With so many more starters than Baffert, over the course of a long meet, Miller and O’Neill could end up being the pair that battles it out for the title, even though their win percentage is much lower than Baffert’s.
Average win prices for Miller and O’Neill are nearly identical, at $8.80 and $8.90, respectively. However, both trainers tend to win with different types of horses. For Miller, 16 of his 22 victories have come on the grass with nearly equal win percentages in routes and sprints. For O’Neill, it has been his dirt starters that have kept bettors afloat. O’Neill’s win percentage in 19% on the dirt, but only 10% on the turf, no matter if it’s routes or sprints.
The final two contenders for leading trainer, Baltas and D’Amato, who both have 21 wins, are striking a good balance between high win percentages and a fair number of starters. Baltas is 21-for-107 for 20%, while D’Amato is 21-for-89 for 24%. It is D’Amato, however, who has been the much better bet. Baltas’s average winner pays $8.80, while D’Amato’s winners are averaging a healthy $11.70. D’Amato is getting it done on the turf with 18 of his 21 wins coming on the grass while ruling Santa Anita turf sprints. Baltas is also mostly winning grass races with 17 of his 21 wins, but unlike D’Amato, Baltas wins mostly turf routes.
Not surprisingly Baffert is best with 3-year-olds with 13 winners, followed by O’Neill with nine and D’Amato with eight. An honorable mention goes to Richard Mandella, who has won with six 3-year-olds from only 15 starters (40%) as part of his overall strong meet with 11 wins so far from 43 runners for a 28% win rate.
Other trainers enjoying strong meets include Mike Puype (14 wins, 20%), Mark Glatt (12 wins, 17%), Peter Eurton (10 wins, 16%), and John Sadler, who has 15 winners averaging a $13.40 win payoff to his backers.
Of course, you can’t have the good without the bad. Trainers currently struggling at Santa Anita for bettors to be weary of include Daniel Dunham (0-for-17), Ron Ellis (0-for-16), Ruben Gomez (0-for-22), Neil Drysdale (0-for-20), Gary Stute (0-for-22), Bill Spawr (1-for-19), George Papaprodromou (2-for-39), Hector Palma (2-for-36), and Mike McCarthy (4-for-52).
Flavien Prat is on his way to another jockey title at Santa Anita. He leads with 59 wins from 217 mounts for 27% and has become highly proficient on dirt as well as his wheelhouse on turf. His average winner pays only $5.90, however, and 39 of his 59 victories have come aboard favorites. Prat has nine stakes wins.
The only other rider close is Joel Rosario with eight. Rosario has 29 wins from 137 mounts for a solid 21% win rate, and an average win payoff of $10.70. Rosario is lethal on the main track, where he’s winning 30% of his mounts.
Other jockey trends worth noting include Juan Hernandez, currently second in wins with 45. He gets more turf mounts (124) than dirt mounts (99) but does much better on the dirt with 25% winners versus 16% on turf. Hernandez also wins 25% of his sprints, but only 14% of his routes. Abel Cedillo, fourth in the standings with 31 wins, is way better on the dirt, where his win percentage is 19%, instead of the grass where his win percentage is 9%. Umberto Rispoli is the only rider staying in the same ballpark as Prat in terms of win percentage. He is third with 33 wins from 130 mounts, which is 25%. Turf is good for Rispoli players, with 24 of his wins at the meet coming on grass.
Finally, longshot players want to circle two riders in their programs at Santa Anita. Tyler Baze has 16 wins at the meet, which is only 10% from 168 mounts, but his average winner has paid $17.70. Tiago Pereira has nine wins from 127 starters for 7%, but he has made his winners count for bettors with an average payoff of $31.40.
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.