2014 Los Alamitos Opening Day Picks and Expert Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 9/4/2014
After a most successful and exciting meet at Del Mar, California horse racing changes venues for the next three weeks. This year has been a dramatically different one than we have been used to in Southern California racing, and this meet is the latest example of the impact of the loss of Hollywood Park and the other changes that have come with it.
For more than 70 years now there has been a three-week fall meet at Fairplex Park in Pomona as part of the L.A. County Fair. That facility was old and crumbling, though, and something had to change. Instead of fixing that track, the dates have been transferred to nearby Los Alamitos. That Orange County facility was long known for their quarter horse racing, but recent investment in a one-mile track has made them a thoroughbred facility as well. Along with this meet, Los Alamitos has claimed two sets of dates from what was formerly Hollywood Park time - a meet in the early summer that featured the Los Alamitos Derby, won by super horse Shared Belief, and a winter meet happening for the first time later this year.
The move to Los Alamitos from Fairplex is a very welcome one. The track at Fairplex was neither good nor consistent, and owners and trainers of good horses frequently took a pass on the meet as a result. The track and facilities at Los Alamitos are much better, so connections will be more likely to look favorably at the races offered. From a handicapping perspective it will also be easier to deal with the track because we just saw it used a couple of months ago and we know better what to expect.
The meet is short and sweet - just 11 race days between Sept. 5 and 21. There are some intriguing highlights, though. The opening Saturday, the 6th, has real potential. The first running of the Los Alamitos Mile includes a very interesting field, and California Chrome will be posting a public work between the third and fourth races on that day. Throughout the rest of the meet there are no graded stakes, but several races that could prove to be foundational stakes races for horses that go on to big things at the Breeders' Cup or next year's Triple Crown.
Racing at Los Alamitos is on dirt, while the just-finished Del Mar meet was run, for the last time, on a synthetic surface. It is important that bettors don't get too hung up on worrying about how momentum from one meet might shift to the other. The differences in surfaces and levels of races make this a different and unique meet.
There are three races that stand out as interesting in the first two days of the meet - Sept. 5 and 6:
Sept. 5, Race 4 - Maiden Special Weight
We have a group of eight very inexperienced two year olds being introduced to the world of horse racing. These races can often be a crapshoot, but they are so fun to bet on because of the potential they represent - the whole career of these horses is still ahead of them. The horse that stands out here is Bronze Star, the second choice at 3/1. He has been training reasonably well and looked sharp last time out. He is a son of Tapit out of a Medaglia d'Oro mare, so his breeding is very solid. Most significantly, the price is right for a pairing of Rafael Bejarano and Jerry Hollendorfer - one of the top jockeys in the country and the hottest trainer in the country.
Pick: Bronze Star to win
September 5, Race 7 - E.B. Johnston Stakes
This $75,000 contest for three year olds features seven horses - including one longshot filly. Four horses have odds between 2/1 and 4/1, so it is a wide-open race. The other three runners are much easier to discard. Of the four real contenders, it is the longest odds that I find most attractive - a horse named Solid Wager is, appropriately, a solid wager at 4/1. He was lousy his two tries on the synthetic surface at Del Mar, but he won his last time out on dirt. Trainer Peter Miller is red-hot, tying for the win title with Jerry Hollendorfer at Del Mar with 20 wins. Jockey Joe Talamo was only mediocre at Del Mar, but he was untouchable the last time he was racing on dirt at Santa Anita - he ran away with the meet title. It all adds up to nice value.
Pick: Solid Wager to win
September 6, Race 8 - Los Alamitos Mile
Horses will be racing over a mile for $200,000 in total purses. The track is attempting to position this race as a stepping stone for the Breeders' Cup, and they could potentially get their wishes here. It's an interesting field. Clubhouse Ride (4/1) was last seen just two weeks ago in the Pacific Classic, the premier race of the Del Mar meet. He didn't fire at all and was pulled up in the stretch. His connections are blaming the surface above all else, and they are hoping the dirt makes a difference. This feels like a desperation move to me, though. The horse deserves better. Also back in just two weeks is Masochistic (7/5). He's a talented-but-inexperienced sprinter who has won three in a row and is now stretching out and running two turns for the first time. He should be setting the early pace and has the potential to wire the field, But I am concerned that too much is being asked of him, and I see no value at this price. The horse I like is Sky Kingdom (5/1). This Bob Baffert horse has run just twice this year - a second at Del Mar and a win here at Los Alamitos that proves he likes the surface. He is a wily veteran who is well suited to the distance, and the shape of the race suits him.
Pick: Sky Kingdom
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