Using history to handicap the 2019 Awesome Again Stakes

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Looking for horses with the ability to challenge for victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park? Look no further than Santa Anita’s own $300,000, Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes, which takes place Saturday, Sept. 28.

This 1 1/8-mile “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic has produced two of the last six winners of the year-end championship — Accelerate in 2018 and Mucho Macho Man in 2013 — along with 2016 runner-up California Chrome.

The 2019 renewal of the Awesome Again is expected to attract a small, but elite field of Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders. The race will be broadcast live on NBCSN starting at 6:30 p.m. ET, so be sure to mark your calendars and get a head start analyzing the expected starters.

Fortunately, the recent history of the Awesome Again demonstrates that you can count on certain types of runners to excel time and time again. Should you be betting longshots or favorites? Local runners or out-of-state shippers? And which trainer has the strongest record of success in the Awesome Again?

We’ve done all the work to answer these questions so you can handicap knowledgeably with history in mind. Here are the tips and trends we’ve come up with using the last 10 years as a guide:

Don’t Worry About Running Styles

For various reasons, it’s difficult to analyze which running style is the most effective in the Awesome Again Stakes. The race was held on a synthetic surface in 2009 and 2010, and while it’s been contested on dirt since 2011, the composition and depth of the dirt has changed considerably through the years — over the last couple of seasons, the track at Santa Anita has been playing much slower than before.

With this in mind, it’s worth noting the last two winners of the Awesome Again Stakes rallied from the back half of the field to prevail. Perhaps it’s wise to upgrade runners who have shown the ability to close from off the pace … or maybe it’s wiser not to draw conclusions based off such a small sample size. Viewing the results of the last decade as a whole, it seems clear any running style can succeed in the Awesome Again under the right circumstances.

Year Winner Position after first 1/2-mile 1/2-mile & 3/4-mile (track condition)
2018 Accelerate 4th by 3.5 lengths (6 starters) 46.17, 1:10.35 (fast)
2017 Mubtaahij 6th by 4 lengths (7 starters) 47.06, 1:11.56 (fast)
2016 California Chrome 1st by 0.5 lengths (5 starters) 46.08, 1:09.28 (fast)
2015 Smooth Roller 2nd by 2 lengths (8 starters) 48.64, 1:12.25 (fast)
2014 Shared Belief 4th by 2.25 lengths (7 starters) 46.52, 1:10.59 (fast)
2013 Mucho Macho Man 5th by a 3.5 lengths (10 starters) 47.45, 1:11.48 (fast)
2012 Game On Dude 2nd by 1 length (9 starters) 48.02, 1:11.94 (fast)
2011 Game On Dude 2nd by a head (8 starters) 45.28, 1:09.03 (fast)
2010 Richard’s Kid 6th by 9 lengths (7 starters) 47.97, 1:11.84 (fast)
2009 Gitano Hernando 5th by 2 lengths (10 starters) 48.54, 1:12.64 (fast)

Del Mar is a Key Proving Ground

Not surprisingly, the majority of recent Awesome Again Stakes winners were exiting races at nearby Del Mar in Southern California. Seven of the last 10 Awesome Again winners prepped at the seaside oval, where the Grade 1, $1 million TVG Pacific Classic Stakes is held each summer, and indeed, six of those runners were exiting the Pacific Classic. Four of them (Accelerate, California Chrome, Shared Belief, and Richard’s Kid) managed to complete the Pacific Classic-Awesome Again double, while the remaining two were beaten at Del Mar before rebounding in the Awesome Again.

Favor Proven Top-Level Runners

Generally speaking, it takes a proven high-class competitor to prevail in the Awesome Again. Six of the last 10 winners had already secured victory in a Grade 1 race, while two more had placed at the Grade 1 level. The lone exceptions were Smooth Roller (who had finished fourth in his lone prior stakes start) and Gitano Hernando (who was Group 3-placed in England).

Don’t Be Afraid to Play Favorites

Looking for longshots? You really shouldn’t. Since Santa Anita returned to dirt in 2011, favorites have won six of the eight editions of the Awesome Again, a striking 75% success rate. What’s more, the two non-favored runners started at just 3.30-1 and 5.50-1, and only one runner offering double-digit odds (10-1 shot Nonios in 2012) has managed to crack the exacta. It pays to follow the money when handicapping the Awesome Again Stakes.

Bet on Bob Baffert

Over the last decade, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has dominated the Awesome Again Stakes. From 15 starters, he’s secured four wins, five seconds, and two thirds, including three victories in a row from 2010 to 2012. Blindly betting all of his starters to win would have yielded a small profit.

Conclusions

Judging from recent history, the 2019 Awesome Again Stakes will be a two-horse battle between McKinzie and Higher Power. For the most part, these two talented 4-year-olds match the profile of a typical Awesome Again winner — they’ve both won Grade 1 races, they’re versatile in terms of running style, and they’ll be heavily supported in the wagering.

But while Higher Power is exiting a victory in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar — the key steppingstone toward success in the Awesome Again — the overall trends suggest McKinzie might have the advantage. An impressive winner of the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga, McKinzie is conditioned by Bob Baffert and will almost certainly be favored in the wagering. Having previously won a Grade 1 race at Santa Anita, McKinzie is the early favorite to claim victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and should be tough to beat in the Awesome Again.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Awesome Again Stakes from Santa Anita Park on September 28. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.