Key Horse Races & Expert Handicapper Bets - December 26, 2020

American Oaks – Race 9 at Santa Anita – Post Time 6:17 PM Eastern (3:17 Pacific)

Going to Vegas offers great value in a wide open race, opening at 8/1. The 3/1 morning line favorite is Sharing, who isn’t totally suspect and who must be used on most tickets involving this race such as exactas, trifectas, doubles and pick 3s. However, Gong to Vegas doesn’t have the same question marks Sharing has as that one hasn’t run farther than a mile and one-sixteenth while Going to Vegas just nearly won the Grade 3 Red Carpet Stakes at 11 furlongs, leading at the 10 ½ furlong mark before coming up a half-length short to another monster from the Chad Brown barn. Before that she missed by a neck in the Grade 3 Autumn Miss to Warren’s Showtime, who opts for the shorter (one mile) Lady Shamrock Stakes (Race 11). Although winless in five races since the Baltas claim, Going to Vegas has run very well in four of those, beaten for the win by a head, a neck, a half-length and three-quarters of a length. Her Autumn Miss effort earned a 112 Equibase figure as good as Sharing’s best and just shy of the 117 figures Red Lark and California Kook earned when one-two in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks (at high odds). The best thing about Going to Vegas is she LOVES SANTA ANITA, with a 3-2-0 record in six turf starts here.

Red Lark and California Kook were 19/1 and 27/1, respectively, when one-two in the Del Mar Oaks in August. Red Lark only ran once since when a decent fourth (beaten under two lengths) in the Queen Elizabeth II at Keeneland, while California Kook finished fourth (against males) in the Del Mar Derby, then fifth and just behind Red Lark in the QE II before a seventh place finish in the Red Carpet. Like Going to Vegas, California Kook moves from older to just three year olds and I will say the trip she got in the Red Carpet was pretty bad so if I like Going to Vegas coming out of that race, I cannot toss California Kook.

Luck Money also changes to her own age group after beating older twice, the most recent at 12 furlongs in a non-graded stakes. The 103 figure earned won’t cut it if any of the three previously mentioned run their best but she’s got some heart and has never missed the board in 10 races so at the least must be used on exacta and trifecta tickets. However, opening at 7/2 she’s not a good win bet compared to others.

Similarly, Sharing (like I mentioned in the first paragraph) isn’t a good win bet at 3/1. She’s five for eight and a three time stakes winner, one of those in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf just over a year ago. She was beaten under a length in the Matriarch last month in a fine effort and even though this is also a grade 1 race the difference is these are just three year olds so she can win, but doesn’t have to.

Handicapper Picks


Going to Vegas to win at 7 to 2 or more

For a smaller amount, I would absolutely bet Red Lark and California Kook to win at 9/2 or more.

When making multiple win bets, use a “Dutching” tool to do the work of allocating your wagering dollars for the best edge. A Dutching tool lets you set the amount you want to bet or the amount you want to win, then based on the odds your bets are proportioned accordingly. AmWager has a great dutching tool available, among many other great features.


Box Red Lark, Going to Vegas, Sharing and California Kook

Box Red Lark, Going to Vegas, Luck Money and California Kook

(the two bets above split the favorites and try to maximize profit)

Going to Vegas over Red Lark, Luck Money, California Kook and Sharing

Red Lark, Luck Money, California Kook and Sharing over Going to Vegas


Box Going to Vegas, Red Lark, Luck Money, California Kook and Sharing


Race 9Going to Vegas, Red Lark, Luck Money, California Kook and Sharing

Race 10 Nashville

Pick 3:

Race 9Going to Vegas, Red Lark, Luck Money, California Kook and Sharing

Race 10 – Nashville

Race 11 – Miss Extra, On Mars, Nasty, Warren’s Showtime

Malibu Stakes – Race 10 at Santa Anita – Post Time 6:30 PM Eastern (3:30 Pacific)

This year’s Malibu Stakes is Nashville’s to lose. His effort in the Perryville Stakes last month at Keeneland was scintillating, winning by three and one-half lengths when galloping the last few yards after having run his opponents off their feet. The track that day was fast but fair and the 115 Equibase Speed Figure bears that out. Having earned a 106 figure winning his debut in September at Saratoga, then 113 five weeks later, Nashville is lightly enough raced that we have likely not seen his best yet. Since the Perryville, Nashville has put in three sizzling workouts at trainer Steve Asmussen’s winter base at Fair Grounds in Louisiana consisting of three five furlongs workouts, the most recent in :58.8 which was the best of 20 on the day. With the trainer’s number one jockey Ricardo Santana in the saddle for the Malibu as he was for the Perryville, and with no horse in the field faster in the first quarter mile, Nashville may be running against the record book in terms of time in this year’s race.

Independence Hall is the only horse I could see beating Nashville, based on how the race is likely to be run and based on the fact he’s making his second start back after seven months off as well as coming off a career-best effort. Independence Hall won the first three races of his career starting back in September, 2019. His second and third career wins came in stakes, all around one turn including the Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct last November with a 107 figure. Next winning the Jerome Stakes and putting himself into the early Derby picture, Independence Hall finished second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, before a poor fifth place effort in the Florida Derby. Away from the races from the end of March until last month, Independence Hall changed trainers to Mike McCarthy and came back better than ever with a new career-best 108 figure effort at six and one-half furlongs. Likely pointing to this race with that prep, Independence Hall has put in two best of the day workouts since then, the most recent :59 flat for five furlongs which was the best of 83 at the distance on the day. He gets a good outside post in case the pace is hot and with logical improvement off his 108 last race figure could potentially post the upset.

Regarding Charlatan, who is likely to be either the betting favorite, or second betting favorite behind Nashville, there are some serious concerns in my opinion about his probability to win compared to others. First, he hasn’t been seen since winning the Arkansas Derby nearly eight months ago and in spite of some excellent workouts, he doesn’t stand out based on his best efforts. In the race prior to the Arkansas Derby at Santa Anita in March, Charlatan earned a 108 figure just on par with the figure Independence Hall earned last month and much lower than the 113 and 115 figures Nashville earned in his two most recent races, as well as shy of the 116 figure Collusion Illusion earned winning the Bing Crosby Stakes this summer. Next, in spite of having won this race three times previously, Bob Baffert just does not have a good record with horses coming back from layoffs in the two big races for three year olds on opening weekend – the Malibu Stakes and the La Brea Stakes (for fillies). According to a query I ran using STATS Race Lens, Baffert has not won in seven tries over the last five years with horses coming back from layoffs longer than two months. His most recent win in this race, with McKinzie, came off a layoff of just under two months. Particularly, horses which last ran in May similar to Charlatan fared poorly, such as Lord Nelson (2015), Mor Spirit (2016) and Solomini (2018). With those results in mind I’m taking a stand against Charlatan, also noting he has led from start to finish in all three races to date and there’s little doubt he’s not going to have the early lead against Nashville.

earned a career-best figure of 112 when second at a mile in late September over the track before a failed attempt on turf and could return to competitive form back on the main track so could get a piece. rallied from seventh to win the Bing Crosby with a 116 figure and before that won the Lazaro Barrera Stakes at the distance of six and one-half furlongs so he could be making up ground late and is another with a shot to finish in-the-money. Thousand Wordsran the second worst race of his career when last seen in October, finishing eighth in the Preakness Stakes. His best efforts winning the Shared Belief Stakes and Robert B. Lewis Stakes earned 107 figures but both were two-turn races so he would need to run better than he ever has to beat many of these.

Handicapper Picks


Independence Hall to win at 3 to 1 or more. (This is a token win bet, say $10, in case Nashville doesn’t fire)

Nashville has about a 70% probability to win in my opinion, but I won’t bet a horse at 1 to 2 odds to win so we’ll have to rely on the pick 3s and doubles started in the last race plus the exacta and trifecta in this race to make any kind of profit off him winning.


(As Nashville will be low odds, we can try to improve on the payoff we would otherwise get making a win bet by playing an “exacta as a win bet” as below, leaving Charlatan out of second as that exacta will underpay):

Nashville over Collusion Illusion, Thousand Words, Express Train and Independence Hall

Then, I’d play Nashville over Independence Hall again


Nashville over Independence Hall over ALL and also Nashville over ALL over Independence Hall


Race 10Nashville

Race 11Miss Extra, On Mars, Nasty, Warren’s Showtime

Lady Shamrock Stakes – Race 11 at Santa Anita – Post Time 7:25 PM Eastern (4:25 Pacific)

adds first time Lasix for her second North American start. This IS NOT going to be about the hot topic of Lasix but is going to be about WHY, particularly at this point in North American racing, it is significant to note when horses get Lasix for the first time. This filly is a perfect example. She ran eight times in her native France, with a 3-1-1 record in the first seven including the important Group 2 Prix de Sandringham Stakes in June at a mile, where she won ALL three times she ran the distance. Then she ran in the Group 1 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) in July and finished ninth. Whether she bled or not I don’t know, but like many Europeans if she did she would have had to take time off before racing again, so the decision was made to send her to the U.S. and to Dick Mandella. She was still highly regarded so her first stateside start was in the Del Mar Oaks, but she finished ninth just like she had in the French Oaks. Lasix is given today, and if that’s the key to returning to her spring and summer form she can win this. Mandella is NOT one to put his horses on Lasix automatically, particularly imports, and a query I ran from STATS Race Lens bears this out as he has a pretty nice 5 for 22 record with turf horses getting Lasix for the first time.

Warren’s Showtime makes a home at this level, at a mile and at SA, having won the Surfer Girl last October at a mile at SA and the China Doll in March at a mile at SA and most importantly the G3 Autumn Miss Stakes in October at a mile at SA. She’s run okay in the rest of her most recent races, never off the board in her last five, either tougher graded stakes (grade 2 or 1) or Cal-bred stakes on dirt. As such, she’s going to be tough against these.

On Mars and Nasty to be a cut below the top two but I can’t count them out as contenders. On Mars ran the best race of her career last month at this mile trip and the 104 figure earned is well shy of the 111/112 the top two have earned but if she improves she can outrun her 6/1 starting odds. Nasty led late in the Autumn Miss and was beaten just a half-length for the win then disappointed badly as the favorite in an allowance race since. However, the big race was at SA and the poor one at Del Mar and as she’s reunited with Gonzalez, who rode her well in the Autumn Miss, that effort could be the one we see today and its 111 figure is good enough to post the mild upset.

Handicapper Picks


Miss Extra to at 5 to 2 or more.

(Warren’s Showtime opens at 7/2 and that’s a bit marginal for me but if she does hold those odds I’d be interested)

For smaller amounts, On Mars and Nasty can be considered for win bets at 4 to 1 or more.

This is the perfect race for using a “Dutching” tool like the free one at Amwager, because it will allocate the win bets based on odds, putting more on the lower odds horse (in this case Miss Extra) automatically. That is just one of many other great features and perks at


Box Miss Extra, On Mars, Nasty and Warren’s Showtime


Box Miss Extra, On Mars, Nasty and Warren’s Showtime

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Ellis Starr

Ellis is a well respected handicapper and contributor of AmWager. He has been a public handicapper for more than twenty years, educating racing fans of all skill levels with detailed commentary few other handicappers provide.

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