Santa Anita Fall Horse Racing Meet Begins With Awesome Again Stakes

They’re approaching the gate for the 18-day horse betting fall meet at historic Santa Anita Park.

And on Friday, they’re off.

The famed Arcadia oval site of many historic Kentucky Derby prep races and host of the 2023 Breeders’ Cup will get a blazing start with 11 stakes races, seven of them graded, this weekend.

Situated about 20 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, Santa Anita will conduct its fall meet from Sept. 30-Nov. 6. The overall program features 26 stakes races, 15 of them graded.

Racing begins Friday at 1 p.m., Saturday at 12:30 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. All eyes will be on Santa Anita for horse betting in California.

The cards will unfold Friday-Sunday throughout the meet. There will be occasional tweaks, as in live racing being run on Columbus Day, Oct. 10, and not on Friday of that week.

The $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes, a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifier, anchors the opening weekend on Saturday  with a wide-open field that has taken turns beating each other.

Here’s a primer to get you ready for horse betting at Santa Anita Park.

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High-Reward Races on Friday

There are two elements that please many purists.

Five of the races will be on turf, an exciting contrast to the dirt races.

And the fields won’t be large. Some will have six horses, the biggest will have eight. 

Many bettors consider eight- and nine-horse fields the sweet spot, meaning they are just large enough to ensure a reasonable payday and small enough to handicap a potential winner.

In the short fields, a win bet and exacta boxes (picking the top two finishers in exact order) will be the way to go. Trifecta wagers in six-horse races rarely pay well.

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Awesome Again Stakes Headlines Saturday’s Races

The feature race, the Awesome Again Stakes, showcases horses known both on the California and national circuit, as horsemen seek one last all-expenses paid berth into  racing’s biggest weekend, Nov. 4-5 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

Other big races in Saturday’s  lineup:

  • Eddie D. Stakes (Grade 2), 3 & UP, 6 1/2 F (Turf Hill) – $200,000
  • Santa Anita Sprint Championship (Grade 2), 3 & UP, 6 F – $200,000
  • John Henry Turf Championship (Grade 2), 3 & UP, 1 1/4 Mile (Turf) – $200,000
  • City of Hope Mile (Grade 2), 3 & UP, 1 Mile (Turf) – $200,000
  • Unzip Me Stakes, 3 YO Fillies, 6 1/2 F (Turf Hill) – $85,000

    Here’s the field for the Awesome Again Stakes. Horses are listed from the rail out. Betting odds will be finalized at post time, per pari-mutuel regulations.

    Azul Coast

    Was a  long-forgotten fifth in the San Antonio and hasn’t run this year. Faded badly in that race after being competitive to the turn. Should not be able to beat this field.

    Royal Ship

    Ran his biggest race of the year in notching the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar in July.

    He stalked outside a hot early pace set by Defunded and Stilleto Boy. When he glided around the turn, he had something extra in the tank and outgunned favored Country Grammer at 9-to-1.

    Was later beaten handily by Country Grammer, when they both ran a zip code behind Flightline in the TVG Pacific Classic. On his best, he could win. Would do best with a stalking trip.

    High Connection

    Has some local pedigree, winning in the Los Alamitos Derby. He was nosed in the Shared Belief Stakes at 4-to-5 at Del Mar. That was a class level below this and was a small field. Would need to improve to hit the board.

    Country Grammer

    Had been expected to beat the San Diego Stakes field after winning the  $12 million Dubai World Cup in March. But he ran second. Country Grammer was in the right spot and he ran hard. He was simply bested by Royal Ship.

    Ran a better race in the TVG Pacific Classic, notching a best-of-the-rest second behind Flightline, and beat Royal Ship there.

    Runs well every time out. The most consistent horse in the race.

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    Tripoli

    Hasn’t been in the money in four trips since winning the Pacific Classic in 2021. That’s four races and four dull finishes. No longer on his best. Probably over his head now.

    Defunded

    Was a good allowance level horse, but has been badly beaten in stakes company. May compromise another speed horse, but that should be about it.

    Express Train

    Returns to where he’s done his best running.

    Consecutive victories at this track in the San Antonio Stakes, Santa Anita Handicap, and San Pascual Stakes project him as a perfect fit for this venue. His most notable run was the thrilling stretch duel with Belmont Stakes runner-up Hot Rod Charlie, whom he beat by a head bob at the wire in the San Antonio last year.

    After a layoff of several months, he was in a different zip code than Flightline in the TVG Pacific Classic, finishing fourth. May not be back at his top form yet.

    Slow Down Andy

    Has enjoyed a strong 2022 season.

    He survived a blistering speed duel to win the Sunland Derby, a Kentucky Derby qualifier, in the spring.

    The rest of his campaign has unfolded in California, where he has run well.

    Slow Down Andy was second in the Los Alamitos Derby to High Connection and was second in the Real Good Deal stakes at Del Mar. His connections then shifted him to the turf, where he won the Del Mar Derby at 6-to-1 on the day of the Pacific Classic.

    Sometimes gets outclassed but has two wins and two seconds in four 2022 outings.

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    Stay for the End on Sunday

    Sunday features another blockbuster card, including:

    • Zenyatta Stakes (Grade 2), 3 & UP, F/M, 1 1/16 Miles – $200,000
    • Tokyo City Cup, 3 & UP, 1 1/2 Miles – $100,000
    • Chillingworth Stakes (Grade 3), 3 & UP, F/M, 6 1/2 F – $100,000
    • Speakeasy Stakes, 2 YO, 5 F (Turf) – $100,000

    Bettors who clamor for big fields and sizable payouts can hone in on the 10th and 11th races. Both have double-digit sized entries.

    A field of 12 goes in a $61,000 maiden special weights race.

    A field of 11 follows in the Un Zip Me Stakes for $85,000.

    At this level, there is rarely a prohibitive favorite and most of the horses are competitive. The exotics won’t be easy to hit, but they should pay fairly well.

    Big Names Line Up

    Top jockeys and trainers will be part of this meet.

    Juan Hernandez, with 104 wins, was a runaway winner of Santa Anita’s 2021 Winter/Spring Meeting, finishing 31 wins clear of the departed Flavien Prat through 76 racing days. Hernandez also led in stakes won with 24 added money victories, nine better than Prat and 18 clear of five other riders.

    Hernandez repeated the feat in the Del Mar meet. With Prat gone, he’s the man.

    Hall of Famer jockeys Victor Espinoza and Mike Smith are back for this meet.

    Abel Cedillo, Edwin Maldonado, Joe Bravo, Tyler Baze, Kyle Frey, Mario Gutierrez, and others lend A-list depth to the riding lineup.

    In the trainer’s division, Phil D’Amato, Bob Baffert, Doug O’Neill, and Peter Miller will vie for training honors, along with the highly esteemed John Sadler, who trains Flightline.

    Baffert, who trained the past two Triple Crown winners in American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018), just notched a victory with Taiba in the Pennsylvania Derby last weekend. He also tied with D’Amato for the training title in the Del Mar summer meet.

    About the Author

    Dave Bontempo

    Dave Bontempo is a writer for California Casinos, and has covered the horse racing and boxing industry extensively since the 1980s. He was an award-winning writer at the Press of Atlantic City. As a broadcaster, he has won the Sam Taub Award for Excellence in Boxing Broadcasting, issued by the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has called major fights for HBO, ESPN, Showtime, and other networks since the 1980s. He is in the New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame. Dave shifted gears to cover the emerging legalized sports-betting industry in 2018.