Looking At The Breeders Cup

LOOK AHEAD TO THE BREEDERS' CUP BY LOOKING BACK TO THE PAST

By Noel Michaels

The 2011 Breeders' Cup is less than a week away.  The pre-entries are in, the horses are arriving, and the fields are ready to be drawn for what figures to be another memorable two-day championship event on Friday and Saturday, November 4-5. My own handicapping preparations are well underway and Jim Hurley is primed for another big two-day run of monemaking.

The Breeders' Cup returns to Churchill Downs for the second straight year, and among this year's headlines is the addition of a brand new race – the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint – which will be run at 6 furlongs on the main track to kick off the Breeders' Cup program on Friday afternoon at approximately 4:10 p.m. Eastern Time (the day's first post at Churchill will be 2:00 p.m.).  In recent years, the Breeders' Cup has stepped up its expansion, first from a one-day event to a two-day extravaganza, and from 8 races to 11 races in 2007, and then to 14 races the last few years.  Now, with the Juvenile Sprint, there will be an all-time high 15 Breeders' Cup races in 2011.  Purses have also continued to increase.  The two-day Breeders' Cup event now offers purses totaling $25.5 million including $17 million on Saturday alone.

Horse racing has been in search of superstars all season since the retirement of Zenyatta last year.  Few horses have been able to raise their game to household-name status this year, however, meaning that the 2011 Breeders' Cup will be even more wide-open than ever in several divisions.  If a horse wants to make a name finally, this will be the final real chance this season in order to do so.

The biggest name, perhaps, on the Breeders' Cup program this year will be the amazing and sensational Goldikova, who will be going for an unprecedented fourth consecutive Breeders' Cup victory this year after winning the Breeders' Cup Mile in each of the past three years.  Goldikova trains and races overseas, but she always has a trip to the States marked on her calendar and she has proven to be unbeatable so far.  Thanks to Goldikova's international star power, the Breeders' Cup Mile this year has been moved back to the next-to-last race on the Breeder's Cup Championship Saturday card, one race before the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

Speaking of the Breeders' Cup Classic, the race is setting up to be a good one this year even if it does lack a little star power.  The closest thing you could find to a star in the race, arguably, will be Uncle Mo, the 3-year-old early favorite to this year's Kentucky Derby who missed most of the year due to injury bit has since come back with a pair of big efforts to be second by a whisker in the G1 King's Bishop at Saratoga and then with a scintillating win last time out in the G1 Jerome Handicap at Belmont.  Uncle Mo's stable-mate, Travers winner Stay Thirsty, also cannot be overlooked for high-profile owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher.

The other story in the Classic will be the female Harve de Grace, who will be taking on the boys just as she successfully has done already this season in what will be her biggest test to date. Havre de Grace has the inside track for Horse of the Year honors, and can seal the deal for trainer Larry Jones with a win in the Classic.  Others in the race will include Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out, and the West Coast's hope, Game on DudeTizway, who a lot of people gave a big shot in this division, is injured and out of the Classic.

Turf stars this year, in addition to Goldikova, will also include Couargeous Cat, Canadian International female winner Sarah Lynx, multiple Grade 1 winning Stacelita, the rejuvenated Gio Ponti, and a slew of European invaders.  A couple of the United States' best turf hopes – Cape Blanco and Acclamation – will unfortunately miss the Breeders' Cup with injuries.  Last year's Turf Sprint winner Chamberlain Bridge, will also be back to try to defend his title.

With the Breeders' Cup being run back at Churchill Downs for the second year in a row in 2011, astute handicappers should be able to benefit from what they learned from 2010, and be able to scan the 2010 results for clues that may help when evaluating the 2011 past performances.

Here is a look at the 2011 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships schedule:

Breeders' Cup Friday: November 4
Race 5: Juvenile Sprint ($500,000, 6 furlongs)
Race 6: Juvenile Fillies Turf (G2, $1 million 1 mile)
Race 7: Filly & Mare Sprint (G1, $1 million 7 furlongs)
Race 8: Juvenile Fillies (G1, $2 million,1 1/16 miles)
Race 9: Filly & Mare Turf (G1, $2 million, 1 3/8 miles)
Race 10: Ladies' Classic (G1, $2 million, 1 1/8 miles)

Championship Saturday: November 5
Race 3: Marathon 
(G2, $500,000, 1 3/4 miles
Race 4: Juvenile Turf  (G1, $1 million, 1 mile)
Race 5: Sprint (G1, $1.5 million, 6 furlongs)
Race 6: Turf Sprint (G1, $1 million, 5 furlongs
Race 7: Dirt Mile (G1, $1 million, 1 mile)
Race 8: Turf  (G1, $3 million, 1 1/2 miles)
Race 9: Juvenile (G1, $2 million, 1 1/16 miles)
Race 10: Mile (G1, $2 million, 1 mile)
Race 11: Ladies' Classic (G1, $2 million, 1 1/8 miles)

LESSONS TO LEARN FROM THE 2010 BREEDERS' CUP
Handicappers would be wise to use what they learned from the 2011 running of the Breeders' Cup and apply it to their handicapping this year.  That Breeders' Cup was the first one held at Churchill Downs since 2006, and the first one run on a dirt track at all since 2007.

Holding the Breeders' Cup on a synthetic track had a seismic impact on the race results in both 2008 and 2009.  First and foremost, handicappers must understand that both Europeans and Southern California-based horses unquestionably benefited from the main track Breeders' Cup races being run on artificial surfaces in 2008 and 2009.  Now, that the Breeders' Cup has returned to a dirt track venue, however, North American-trained horses again will have the edge just as they did at Churchill in 2010, except for in the obvious turf spots where European shippers always have had their best chances.

First, let's look at some recent history.  In 2008 and 2009, California horses stayed home and got to run on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride surface, which was familiar only to them while nothing less than an enigma to Eastern-based shippers.  Meanwhile, European horses also benefited from running on the artificial surface, which played a lot like turf racing. The European contingent realized this advantage and dominated not only the turf races in 2008 and 2009, but they also won main track races as well – such as the 2008 Classic victory by Raven's Pass, the 2009 Juvenile win by Vale of York, and back-to-back Marathon triumphs with Muhannak in 2008 and Man of Iron in 2009.

Things were much more difficult for the European horses in 2010 than they were in 2008-09. They won two turf races, but were non factors in the main track races.  With the Breeders' Cup back on dirt at Churchill Downs again in 2011, Europeans' chances in main track races will again be minimized.

The same story applies to the West coast horses.  They must again ship east after getting the advantage of staying home in 2008 and 2009.  This hurt the West coast horses badly in 2010.  Only Dakota Phone's $77.40 upset in the Dirt Mile saved the California contingent from suffering a total shut-out in 2010. The only other California-based horses to make a dent in the 2010 exactas were Switch, with a good second in the Filly & Mare Sprint, Champ Pegasus with a surprise second in the Turf, and of course Zenyatta, who settled for a bad beat second as the even-money favorite in the Classic.

Shipping east has always been a challenge for the West coast-based runners in the Breeders' Cup, and last year was exceptionally tough on the California horses, going just 1-for-14 in the win column and scoring a total of only four exacta finishes in the 14 races. Based on the California crew doing so poorly in 2010, it seems like it will be difficult to expect too much out of the West coasters again in 2011.

Before last year when the Breeders' Cup was last run on a dirt track at Monmouth Park in 2007, horses that had their final pre-Breeders' Cup preps in New York won 7 of the 8 Saturday Breeders' Cup races.

A look at the 2010 Breeders' Cup results reveals that foreign and California-based horses struggled and Kentucky/Midwest and New York-based horses excelled.  Over the two days of the 2010 Breeders' Cup, five winners had made their last starts at Belmont/Saratoga, and five winners were based in New York (not necessarily the same horses as the ones that made their last starts at Belmont or Saratoga).

Yes, the Midwest horses did well in 2010, as expected, with the Breeders' Cup being held at Churchill Downs. However, once again in 2010 just as it was in 2007, horses based in New York and/or that made their final pre-Breeders' Cup starts in New York, had the best BC weekend overall.

One interesting thing to note in this regard happened in both of the 2-year-old turf races – the Juvenile Turf and the Juvenile Fillies Turf.  Both of these races were won by trainer Todd Pletcher with New York-based horses who both made their final Breeders' Cup preps in key divisional races up at Woodbine.  In both cases, Pletcher opted to give his top contenders in both of the 2-year-old turf categories earlier prep races than the ones offered at Belmont Park, which are both held four weeks before the Breeders' Cup.  In order to do this he had to ship out of town.  Keep this in mind in 2011 because it might turn out to be a key betting angle when trying to find Pletcher's best contenders in the turf races and/or in the 2-year-old races.

Polytrack Prep Races
When it comes specifically to handicapping the horses coming into the Breeders' Cup main track races off of Polytrack (artificial track) prep races, you are best advised to try to learn from past history, the best place to look for results is a glance at how Polytrack horses performed at last year's Breeders' Cup at Chruchill Downs.

Horses exiting artificial track Breeders' Cup prep races in 2010 all lost in the Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Sprint, Ladies Classic, and Classic, but overall, artificial track shippers still outperformed expectations in 2010 with three Breeders' Cup victories in three of the lower-profile races, the Filly & Mare Sprint, the Dirt Mile, and the Marathon.

With two horses in the 2010 Breeders' Cup exiting Polytrack prep races in Kentucky, plus the Juvenile Fillies third-place finisher coming out of a Polytrack prep at Woodbine, it is clear that the Polytrack (and Hollywood) shippers cannot be ignored in Breeders' Cup dirt races.  Additionally, the entire superfecta in the Filly & Mare Sprint was made up of horses exiting artificial track preps.

On the flip side, however, there were also some disappointing losses suffered by synthetic shippers at the 2010 Breeders' Cup.  Three artificial track shippers finished no better than fourth in the Ladies Classic, Smiling Tiger finished a disappointing third in the Sprint, and of course Zenyatta suffered her only career loss in the 2010 BC Classic.

What About Track Biases?
Watch what transpires during the entirety of opening week at Churchill Downs, because Churchill's main track is very susceptible to major day-to-day biases, and these biases must be noted by handicappers, because they have affected big race days such as the Breeders' Cup and even Derby Day in the past.

When speaking of the day-to-day biases that can heavily affect the main track results at Churchill Downs, one needs to look no further than the 2010 Churchill Downs fall meet, when the rail and inside posts and paths were disadvantages all meet long, giving outside runners enjoying the strong edge.

Did this outside bias carry over to the spring/summer Churchill 2011 meet?  The answer is yes, and not only that, the bias may have had a big effect on the runnings of the 2011 Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.  After all, the winning exacta in the Oaks was 12-13, and the first five finishers in the Kentucky Derby were numbers 16-19-13-14-11.  Food for thought? You be the judge.

Aside from just the 2011 Derby and Oaks, the results from the rest of the 2011 spring/summer meet at Churchill were substantially marred by the same anti-inside bias that dominated the fall 2010 meet.

Has the Churchill dead rail from fall 2010 and this spring 2011 officially now carried over to the current Churchill fall 2011 meet?  It will be a distinct possibility.  And if you think it can't happen, all you have to do is look at the results of the 2006 Breeders' Cup at Chruchill Downs, and then you will know that a bias can even affect racing's championship days.

In the 2006 Breeders' Cup at Churchill, the track helped horses racing near the inner rail while hampering those on the outside.  Of the Breeders' Cup's five main track races in 2006, the first four were won by horses breaking from the 1 post.

Wet Track History At Churchill Downs
What happens if it rains for one or both days of the 2011 Breeders' Cup?  Well, there has been two past Breeders' Cups run at Churchill Downs that were impacted by wet tracks in two different ways – in 1998 and 2006.

Way back in 1988, the Churchill Downs Breeders' Cup was run under sloppy and muddy conditions with five dirt races run on the program – the Sprint, Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Distaff, and Classic.  Out of those five races, only one race, the Juvenile, was won by a horse on the pace with Is It True posting a big upset over heavily-favored Easy Goer.  All other races were won by closers who rallied wide including Gulch in the Sprint, Open Mind in the Juvenile Fillies, Alysheba in the Classic (sat fourth but came from eight lengths back), and the iconic cap-off to the perfect career of Personal Ensign, who caught Derby winner Winning Colors at the wire in the Distaff.

Sloppy and muddy advantage: Favor rally wide horses closing from off the pace.

In 2006, the Breeders' Cup was impacted by rain in a completely different scenario. That Breeders' Cup was run on a fast track, which actually was still in a state of drying out following a deluge of rain the day before the Breeders' Cup on Friday (remember that 2006 was the last of the one-day Breeders' Cups).  Unlike in the 1988 Breeders' Cup that was run over a track that was still wet and favoring outside paths and closers, the 2006 Breeders' Cup run a day after a big rain was run over a track that featured a strong rail bias throughout most of the afternoon.

On most dirt tracks, water drains away from the 'crown' in the center of the track down towards the inner rail. When it rains, excess water drains toward the inside rail. As a result, the rail tends to be the last part of the course to dry completely. This can create an advantage for the speed horses that use the rail.  Think of it like running on the sand at the beach. You are much more likely to run fast on the wet, packed-down part of the sand closest to the water, but you will run much slower on the dry part of the beach away from the water. This is exactly what happened at the Breeders' Cup in 2006 until late in the afternoon when all moisture had finally completely left the track surface by the time of the running of the Classic as the last race of the day at 5:30.

In that 2006 Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs, there is no denying that four of the five races run on dirt were won by horses breaking from the inside post. Dreaming Of Anna used the rail to wire the field in the Juvenile Fillies field by a wide margin.  Street Sense famously hugged the rail under Calvin Borel and ran away from the competition in the Juvenile paying $32.40 to win. Thor's Echo, another 15-1 longshot, broke from the rail and dominated the Sprint, even though he ran part of the race in the 2-3 path.  Finally, Round Pond broke from the one-hole in the Distaff and rode the rail to victory paying $29.80. These four rail-riding wins came in the first four of five races on dirt in the Breeders Cup program between 12:34 and 3:59. The track had finally completely dried out in the hour-and-a-half between the Distaff at 3:59 and the Classic at 5:30 when the  only dirt race in the Breeders Cup program without a rail winner was won by 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor.  Incidentally, Brother Derek, who had broke from the rail in the Classic, finished a respectable fifth.

Drying out track rated 'good' or 'fast' advantage:  Favor horses with inside posts, especially if they have the speed to get to the rail.

Breeders' Cup  Turf Races
Churchill Downs' turf course is generally fair to horses breaking from all post positions no further out than post 8. Posts further out than post 8 are at a bit of a disadvantage. The main turf distance that is affected by post position draw is a flat mile (impacting three Breeders' Cup races, the Mile, Juvenile Turf, and Juvenile Fillies Turf!).  Win percentages for outside posts drop to an extremely poor average of 3-4% winners at this distance. Therefore, generally speaking, posts outside No. 8 are not great, and can be downright disastrous in turf races run at one mile. Take note also, that at a mile, middle posts 4-7 have, in the past, had an average win rate of nearly 20% making them clearly the best at that distance.

In turf sprints at Churchill Downs, the inside six posts seem to enjoy an advantage, and any post outside 6 is a disadvantage. This is in stark contrast to the turf sprint races run in New York at Belmont and Saratoga, which favor outside posts and where the rail, and perhaps post 2, are both disadvantages.

The rail post #1 certainly turned out to be an advantage in 2010 at Churchill Downs for the first-ever running of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint on the Churchill turf course.  The winner of the 2010 Turf Sprint, Chamberlain Bridge, broke from post 1 and closed in time to get up for the victory paying $15.80 to win.

Breeders Cup Jockeys To Watch
This is the Breeders' Cup, so you can count on all of the country's and many of the world's best jockeys being on hand at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4-5.  If a jockey is riding at this level, you can pretty much count on him being more than capable of winning a race on any horse you like on Breeders' Cup weekend.

That being said, just in case you are seeking some additional information to base your opinions on, here are some jockey statistics as it might pertain to the 2011 Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs.

First off, several jockeys earned wins at Churchill Downs for the 2010 running of the Breeders' Cup, including Edgar Prado, Eibar Coa (retired), Kent Desormeaux, Frankie Dettori, Garrett Gomez (3 wins), Olivier Peslier, Joel Rosario, Jeffrey Sanchez, Jamie Theriot (2 wins), and John Velazquez (2 wins).  Of that group, Gomez, Rosario, and Velazquez are at the very top rung of American racing and should be favored to win on one or more horses again in 2011.  Peslier again plans to be stateside from France to ride Goldikova as she goes for an unprecedented fourth straight win in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

There's going to be great racing at Churchill Downs on Friday and Saturday and you'll enjoy it all the more if you're making money in the process. Get on board and get with Jim for his 1-2-3 order of finish in all 15 Cup races, plus all seven races on the undercard.

 

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Aug

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