From the weights assigned, though, you'd think Shared Belief was in with a field that could actually give him some serious competition. The Candy Ride gelding is topweight at 125 pounds. Moreno is next with 121 pounds, and the rest of the field has from 114 to 117 pounds. The other two at 114 are Catch a Ride, an Argentine import whose top performance was third in a Brazilian Group I race, and Cool Samurai, who has been out of the money only once in six starts but has yet to earn black type.
Anything can happen in a horse race, and Shared Belief's competitors can always hope that the gelding either has a spectacularly bad day or gets a repeat of the terrible trip he suffered in the Breeders' Cup Classic (USA-I). Nonetheless, the assigned weights are ludicrous. Many observers believe Shared Belief is the best racehorse on the continent right now, yet he is not even being asked to pick up the standard 126-pound package of scale weight for an older male. As for the 11-pound spread against this kind of competition, the only legitimate reason for not assigning some of the other horses less -- much less -- is that they'd probably have trouble finding jockeys who could make the weight.
Unfortunately, the Santa Anita Handicap is only the latest in a long, long list of handicap races where the weights seem more governed by the desire to not upset the connections of a star horse than to fulfill the theoretical intent of a handicap: to give every horse in the race as nearly equal a chance of winning as the handicapper can contrive. It is getting rarer and rarer to see a top male asked to carry much over 120 pounds, and five-pound spreads in a graded handicap are not all that uncommon.
These races make handicaps pretty much meaningless as such. It meant something when a Discovery or a Forego could give away chunks of weight to high-class competitors and still win, and few fans felt a champion was disgraced by dropping a race to a lightly weighted rival -- something that happened just often enough to keep the longshot players hoping. It means much less when the spread of weights is such that the best horse looks like a shoo-in anyway, and such lopsided contests create the lack of betting interest that handicaps were supposed to address to begin with.
When handicaps neither serve the original purpose of encouraging bets and increasing handle nor provide a true measure of the superiority of the best horses against their competition, then it is time to let them go, at least so far as the best races are concerned. We would lose very little by requiring that all graded races be staged under level weights, weight for age or allowance conditions, and might well gain in the eyes of most of the rest of the racing world by eliminating the perceived possibility that an inferior horse can use a weight break to gain graded black type it really doesn't deserve.