Race 8 at Santa Anita | Saturday, February 1 | Post Time 7:02 PM Eastern Time

San Pasqual Stakes – Grade 2 | Purse $200,000 | One Mile & One Eighth | Four Years Old and Upward

 

Combatant (10) appears to be a great horse to be on in this race, opening at 10/1. He's going to be somewhat ignored in the betting for a few reasons, foremost among them he's been off for three months, was last seen at Churchill Downs in a second level allowance, and has only won three times in 22 races. Noting he changed trainers from Asmussen to Sadler since his last race, I'm taking a contrarian stance and have found MANY reasons to like his chances to upset. First and foremost, Combatant has earned nearly $650K in his career, so he's no slouch. That win in November before the purchase and time off came on dirt after mostly running on turf in the latter part of 2018 and most of 2019. Back in the fall of 2017 and early part of 2018, Combatant was more than competitive in stakes on dirt, on the Derby trail, finishing second in the Springboard Mile as a two year old then finishing second in the Smarty Jones, Southwest and Rebel. In the fall of 2018, Combatant missed winning the Oklahoma Derby (at the distance of the San Pasqual) by under two lengths when closing from last of 11 to get fourth.

So now we know one of the reasons Hronis Racing purchased the horse and he's in Sadler's care. The next question is how does Sadler do with these kinds of acquisitions. The answer is VERY WELL, with TWO graded stakes winners in the past few years – Stellar Wind (who won the Santa Ysabel and Santa Anita Oaks after changing trainers), and Gladding (who won the San Antonio Stakes after changing trainers). Sadler has remained consistent over the last year winning 33% of his route races, similar to the 31% rate Drayden Van Dyke possesses in dirt routes over the same period, and so I think Combatant has a big shot to post the upset in this race.

With so many horses here unproven at nine furlongs, Restrainedvengence (3) is another contender, opening at 4/1. Last seen at the end of November, he won the Zia Championship Handicap at nine furlongs. He was a winner on this circuit in 2018 on turf in the Oceanside Stakes and he finished second, beaten a head, in the Grade 2 City of Hope Mile on the course in October so there's no question of his class. The 113, 111 and 111 Equibase figures earned in his last three races are BETTER than any other horse's trio of figures, as likely favorite Roadster (1) earned a 112 figure winning the one-turn Damascus Stakes but only a 106 figure when second in the opening day Malibu Stakes (at seven furlongs) and Midcourt (5) earned a 112 figure winning the Native Diver Stakes at this nine furlong trip in November before a much poorer effort when third in the San Antonio. With a great post position to go along with tactical speed, a hot jockey in Cedillo and no knocks, Restrainedvengence is another strong win contender.

Roadster (1) has some serious factors in his favor, and against his winning this race, especially at low odds. He won the Santa Anita Derby at the trip with a 103 figure last April then after the Derby debacle was easily beaten at even money in the Affirmed Stakes (albeit to recent Pegasus winner Mucho Gusto). Then, he could not pass in the stretch in either of his last three races, either running evenly or losing ground. Blinkers added three back were no help and the only saving grace is there is no Omaha Beach (since retired) in the race so his last race, if repeated, could be good enough for a big piece and maybe the win if neither Combatant or Restrainedvengence run as expected.

For some exacta tickets I'll toss in King Abner (4) and California Street (7)¸ both who finished second with similar efforts in their most recent races. I'm going to leave the other probable betting favorite, Midcourt (5) off tickets for two reasons, the first being exactas combining Midcourt and Roadster will be paying the least of any exacta combinations and second, Midcourt could not finish in front of 24/1 shot King Abner for second in the San Antonia and I don't see anything changing in that regard in this race.

 

Betting Strategies:

Win Bets: Combatant (10) to win at odds of 3 to 1 or more.

A second win bet is justified, on Restrainedvengence (3) at odds of 7 to 2 or higher.

Exactas:

Instead of a place bet on Combatant, I prefer a $1 exacta back wheel, which is ALL over Combatant (10) and has a cost of $9 for every $1 increment if all 10 horses run.

Then, we should also play an exacta consisting of Roadster (1), Restrainedvengence (3) and Combatant (10) over Roadster (1), Restrainedvengence (3), Combatant (10), King Abner (4) and California Street (7).