Using history to handicap the 2019 Breeders’ Futurity

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The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues this weekend at Keeneland in Kentucky with four “Win and You’re In” qualifying races, including the $500,000 Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity, a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” prep race, broadcast live on NBCSN on Saturday starting at 5:30 p.m. ET.

What does it take to win the Breeders’ Futurity? A good horse, that’s for certain. Four of the last five winners have gone on to finish first, second, or third in the prestigious Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, so there’s a good chance you’ll see a serious Breeders’ Cup contender (and a potential division champion) in the Keeneland winner’s circle on Saturday.

But how can you identify the Breeders’ Futurity winner before he’s an established star? These tips and trends based on the last ten editions of the Breeders’ Futurity can help point you in the right direction:

Any running style can win (but maybe favor speed horses)

Over the last ten years, we’ve seen front-runners and deep closers alike prevail in the Breeders’ Futurity. The race has drawn 11 or more starters every year since 2009 and over time large fields can produce just about any kind of result.

Since Keeneland transitioned from a Polytrack racing surface to dirt in 2014, the Breeders’ Futurity has generally favored horses with tactical speed. Four of the last five winners were racing within three lengths of the pace after the opening half-mile, with the lone exception being Brody’s Cause, who rallied from far behind to win over a muddy track in 2015.

Assuming the Keeneland main track comes up dry on Saturday, look for horses with tactical speed to perform best in the Breeders’ Futurity. By securing forwardly placed positions, they’re better able to stay out of traffic and receive clean trips.

Year Winner Position after first 1/2-mile 1/2-mile & 3/4-mile (track condition)
2018 Knicks Go 1st by 1 length (13 starters) 47.59, 1:12.68 (fast)
2017 Free Drop Billy 5th by 3 lengths (11 starters) 47.11, 1:12.66 (fast)
2016 Classic Empire 3rd by 1.5 lengths (12 starters) 46.63, 1:11.17 (fast)
2015 Brody’s Cause 10th by 7.25 lengths (11 starters) 47.33, 1:11.66 (muddy)
2014 Carpe Diem 2nd by 0.5 lengths (12 starters) 48.09, 1:12.16 (fast)
2013 We Miss Artie 9th by a 5.5 lengths (12 starters) 46.84, 1:11.94 (fast)
2012 Joha 1st by 0.5 lengths (13 starters) 48.41, 1:12.86 (fast)
2011 Dullahan 9th by 10.25 lengths (13 starters) 46.15, 1:11.03 (fast)
2010 J. B.’s Thunder 1st by 1 length (11 starters) 48.64, 1:13.40 (fast)
2009 Noble’s Promise 3rd by 1 length (14 starters) 47.73, 1:12.18 (fast)

 

Saratoga shippers hold an advantage

Some of the best young two-year-olds compete at Saratoga each summer and when they ship down to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Futurity, it’s wise to pay attention. Seven of the last ten Breeders’ Futurity winners prepped at Saratoga, along with 14 of the last 30 trifecta finishers. More specifically, two of the last three Breeders’ Futurity winners (Free Drop Billy and Classic Empire) exited the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga.

Churchill Downs has also been a productive prepping ground for Breeders’ Futurity contenders. Since Churchill Downs introduced its September meet in 2013, the track has produced eight of the 18 trifecta finishers in the Breeders’ Futurity, including 11-1 winner Brody’s Cause in 2015.

Favor stakes-experienced runners

While maiden winners occasionally step up in class and emerge victorious in the Breeders’ Futurity, it’s more common for experienced stakes runners to come out on top. Seven of the last ten Breeders’ Futurity winners (Knicks Go, Free Drop Billy, Classic Empire, We Miss Artie, Joha, Dullahan, and Noble’s Promise) contested a stakes race in their previous start. Also noteworthy? Six of the seven were defeated in their stakes effort.

The other three Breeders’ Futurity winners (Brody’s Cause, Carpe Diem, and J. B.’s Thunder entered the race off maiden victories.

Longshots often prevail

Although three favorites (Free Drop Billy, Classic Empire, and Carpe Diem) have won the Breeders’ Futurity in the last decade, the large fields tend to produce upset winners. Six of the last ten Breeders’ Futurity winners started at 8-1 or higher, including 70-1 shocker Knicks Go in 2018. Furthermore, 17 of the last 30 trifecta finishers started at 8-1 or higher. If you like betting longshots, both on top and in the exotic wagers, the Breeders’ Futurity is a great race to play!

Classic-winning trainers Dale Romans and Todd Pletcher have enjoyed ample success in the Breeders’ Futurity. Romans has saddled three winners over the last ten years (Free Drop Billy, Brody’s Cause, and Dullahan), while Pletcher has saddled two winners (Carpe Diem and We Miss Artie) plus two runners-up during the same timeframe.

Among jockeys, watch out for John Velazquez. He doesn’t ride in the Breeders’ Futurity very often, but he’s nevertheless gone 2-for-2 over the last decade, winning aboard Carpe Diem and We Miss Artie.

Conclusions

On paper, the horse to beat by most measures is By Your Side. Winner of the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, By Your Side failed to fire when trudging home fifth in the Hopeful Stakes, but the Hopeful has been a productive prep for the Breeders’ Futurity, and By Your Side has the tactical speed to secure a clean trip at Keeneland.

But By Your Side will face some formidable opponents in the Breeders’ Futurity, including Todd Pletcher’s Gouverneur Morris. With John Velazquez in the saddle, this son of Constitution won his debut at Saratoga by nine eye-catching lengths, a sharp performance that has marked Gouverneur Morris as a very promising prospect.

With his tactical speed, strong connections, and big maiden win at Saratoga, Gouverneur Morris’ form resembles that of 2014 Breeders’ Futurity winner Carpe Diem. If Velazquez travels to Keeneland to retain the mount, watch out – another victory could be in the offing.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with Fall Stars Weekend from Keeneland on October 5 at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and October 6 at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBC.