Game Day: On Santa Anita’s opener, tips for racing fans old and new

Editor’s note: This is the Monday, Dec. 26, edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Good morning. Happy new year to thoroughbred racing fans, who celebrate the opening of Santa Anita’s winter-spring season with a high-class card starting at 11 a.m. today. If this makes you want to start – or re-start – following horse racing, read on for some ideas on how to do it.

First, other headlines:

The Rams buried the Broncos 51-14 in their best performance of a lost season, climaxed by rookie Cobie Durant’s 85-yard interception runback.
The Chargers are in position to clinch a playoff berth by beating the Colts on Monday Night Football.
The Lakers lost a lead to Dallas and their fourth game in a row. And Kathy Whitworth, whose 88 victories were the most by a golfer on any pro tour, died at age 83.

Now, out to the racetrack.

When I got interested in horse racing in the 1970s – after seeing the sport in person for the first time at the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona – it was pretty clear how to learn about it. I learned from local newspapers’ daily racing coverage and handicaps. I learned from at least two national magazinesfor horseplayers. I learned from a constant supply of new books about the game.

But someone drawn to racing now might wonder how to learn about it. Few U.S. newspapers carry year-round, daily racing coverage, results and picks. The horseplayers’ magazines are defunct. Recent books on gambling are about sports betting and poker.

Fortunately, the 11 papers of the Southern California News Group still offer regular coverage in print and online of Santa Anita, Del Mar and Los Alamitos in correspondent Art Wilson’s Friday column and big-race coverage, full result charts, Bob Mieszerski’s selections and a consensus box with four handicappers. The consensus is available in the Ponies Express email newsletter (sign up here).

But what other media can racing fans look to?

I asked several racetrack regulars whom I’ve known since I covered racing in the 1990s and early 2000s to add their ideas to my own suggestions. Here’s a partial list.

The Daily Racing Form remains the indispensable source of past-performance data and coverage. The Form costs $10 or more on newsstands, and past performances start at $4.25 per track per day online at, and most reporting is free online.

BloodHorse magazine and its website provides national and international racing and breeding coverage.

The Paulick Report (, run by Kentucky-based – and formerly L.A.-based – Ray Paulick, has original reporting and is the sport’s best news aggregator.

Horse Racing Nation ( is a voluminous and mostly reliable source of handicapping analysis of upcoming big races.

Although the publicity notes and news releases on Santa Anita’s, Del Mar’s and Los Alamitos’ websites (, and are meant to promote, not report, they provide basic previews of upcoming events.

All three Southern California tracks’ websites offer selections and analysis by respected handicappers free of charge for each day’s races.

National TV coverage on FanDuelTV and New York tracks coverage on “America’s Day at the Races” has some excellent commentators whose work is instructive in how to watch races and who are good at explaining why they like the horses they pick. They include Kurt Hoover, Christina Blacker, Rich Perloff and, on the New York races, Andy Serling.

On radio, “Thoroughbred Los Angeles,” on KLAA 830-AM at 9 a.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Sundays, features handicappers Mieszerski, Bob Ike, Jon Lindo, Bruce Finkelstein, Scott Shapiro and Toby Callet.

Two good books about handicapping that start with the fundamentals – and are reasonably current – are “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies,” by Richard Eng, and “Handicapping 101,” by Brad Free of the Daily Racing Form (and at one time of the Pasadena Star-News).

The must-read handicapping book remains “Picking Winners: A Horseplayer’s Guide,” written in 1975 by Andrew Beyer, the Washington, D.C., racing columnist whose Beyer speed figures are the sport’s leading analytic tool. “Picking Winners” is both a handicapping primer and an entertaining account of Beyer’s lifelong “affinity for games of chance.”

“My fondest memory of Strong Vincent High School (in Pennsylvania),” Beyer writes, “was sitting in the physics class of grim-faced, humorless Mr. Armagost when a messenger came into the room and handed the student council president a note reading, ‘Your parlay at Aqueduct paid $74.’ Mr Armagost was not impressed.”

Another book from the 1970s whose handicapping philosophy still applies is “Gordon Jones to Win!”, by then-Los Angeles Herald Examiner handicapper and racing writer “Professor” Gordon Jones.

Jones describes playing the races as a challenge to rival the adventures of historic explorers and Mount Everest climbers: “Nowhere in these urban-centered, semi-civilized times does man have a better chance to test himself and come away with psychic as well as real income as at the racetrack.”

But enough about learning horse racing through various media.

When I asked racing press-box veterans for ideas for new racing fans, former San Diego Union-Tribune racing reporter Hank Wesch suggested starting by skipping media altogether.

“Go see (racing) live with an open mind,” Wesch said by email. “Get as close as you can to the horses and the people who care for and about them. The horses are much more impressive in real life than on screen — you may realize they have names and personalities as well as ever-changing numbers. The people are of varied backgrounds and status but share a common interest in the sport and the equine athletes in itthat provide their livelihood.”

Do that, and you might leave with questions about the sport to be answered by reading and listening.

Santa Anita’s opening-day card features, as it has for decades, the Malibu Stakes. Taiba, winner of the Santa Anita Derby in April, is favored in the 7-furlong race for 3-year-olds.

Racing continues at the Arcadia track most Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays through June 18.


Chargers visit Indianapolis in a meeting of teams going opposite directions (5:15 p.m., Ch. 7, ESPN). Matchup analysis.
Clippers go to Detroit play the NBA’s worst team (4 p.m., BSSC).
Santa Anita opens its season with six Grade I and II stakes on an 11-race card (11 a.m.).


If you’re a gambler, do you prefer to bet on horse racing, sports, cards, casino games or other forms of gambling? Share your answer and reason by email ( or on Twitter (@KevinModesti).


“The Rams aren’t headed to the postseason, but they’re competing and many young players are taking advantage of the opportunities with two games to go.” – Rams beat writer Gilbert Manzano (@GManzano24) after yesterday’s blowout win.

1,000 WORDS

Footloose: Rams tight end Tyler Higbee, who had nine catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns, gets away from Broncos cornerback Damarri Mathis during the Rams’ victory yesterday at SoFi Stadium. Photo is by AP’s Marcio J. Sanchez.


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