Using History to Handicap the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Turf

0 Comments

If turf racing, top-class international competition, and longshot winners are all elements of horse racing that you find appealing, then your favorite race of the upcoming Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park should surely be the Grade 1, $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf.

The 1 ½-mile turf race typically draws a large and competitive field featuring a handful of horses shipping in from Europe, making it a classic case of “America vs. the World” in a championship showdown.

Of course, handicapping a field filled with foreign runners is easier said than done, particularly when you consider that favorites have enjoyed a surprisingly poor streak of luck in recent editions of the Breeders’ Cup Turf. With this in mind, we’ve taken a look at the history of the Longines Turf to uncover a few noteworthy tips and trends that can be used to help narrow down the list of contenders.

Let’s examine some of the key data to consider:

Don’t Count Out Deep Closers

While horses with a wide variety of running styles have been successful in recent editions of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (Highland Reel even went gate-to-wire in 2016), deep closers that rally from the back of the pack have enjoyed more success than one might expect. Conduit (2009), Magician (2013), and Found (2015) all rallied from at least 14 ½ lengths back after a half-mile to win, proving that with a proper setup (a fast pace helps), big late rallies can be successful in the Turf.

Year Winner Position after first 1/2-mile ½-mile & ¾-mile times

(course condition)

2018 Enable 6th by 5 lengths (13 starters) 49.11, 1:14.22 (good)
2017 Talismanic 5th by 3.5 lengths (13 starters) 48.33, 1:12.86 (firm)
2016 Highland Reel 1st by 2.5 lengths (12 starters) 48.00, 1:12.70 (firm)
2015 Found 7th by 26.75 length (12 starters) 48.38, 1:12.64 (good)
2014 Main Sequence 9th by 4 lengths (12 starters) 47.76, 1:11.15 (good)
2013 Magician 11th by 14.5 length (12 starters) 46.94, 1:10.67 (firm)
2012 Little Mike 3rd by 3.5 lengths (12 starters) 46.77, 1:10.80 (firm)
2011 St Nicholas Abbey 5th by 3 lengths (9 starters) 50.09, 1:14.67 (good)
2010 Dangerous Midge 2nd by 2 lengths (7 starters) 50.17, 1:15.91 (firm)
2009 Conduit 7th by 16 lengths (7 starters) 45.14, 1:09.24 (firm)

Favorites Haven’t Been Winning

Although plenty of well-bet horses have won the Breeders’ Cup, the race has not been kind to favorites in recent years. Since 2003, when High Chaparral and Johar (neither of them favored) finished in a dead-heat for victory, 15 of the 17 Breeders’ Cup Turf winners were not favored in the wagering. The lone exceptions were Conduit (0.90-1 in 2009) and Enable (0.80-1 in 2018); overall, the odds available on those 15 upset winners averaged about 9.50-1.

That said, you don’t want to entirely exclude favorites from your tickets. The betting choice has finished fourth or better for 11 consecutive years, so if you’ve been playing against the favorites entirely, you haven’t been cashing any superfecta tickets.

Bet Foreign-Bred Runners, Especially Irish-Breds

No country has dominated the Breeders’ Cup Turf as thoroughly as Ireland. Over the last 25 years, 13 Breeders’ Cup Turf winners have been bred in Ireland, with all but one of them shipping in from overseas to secure their Breeders’ Cup victory. Great Britain, France, and Germany have also produced winners of the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and all told, 21 of the 36 Breeders’ Cup Turf winners were bred in Europe.

Foreign interests have also enjoyed Breeders’ Cup Turf success with horses bred in North America, and overall, 17 of the last 21 winners of the Turf were based overseas at the time of their Breeders’ Cup victory, leaving very few wins for the home team.

Much of Ireland’s success in the Breeders’ Cup Turf is owed to Ireland’s leading trainer Aidan O’Brien, who has won the race a record-setting six times (all with Irish-breds), including four of the last eight renewals. Furthermore, 13 of O’Brien’s 23 Breeders’ Cup Turf starters have finished in the top three, including seven of his last 12.

The record of Sir Michael Stoute is just as impressive with four wins and two seconds in the Turf from just 15 starters, including back-to-back wins with Conduit in 2008-09.

Repeat Winners Are Rare

The Breeders’ Cup Turf is a very competitive race, and it has been difficult for horses to win the race in back-to-back years. High Chaparral narrowly pulled off the feat in 2002-2003, and Conduit matched the achievement in 2008-2009, but over the last twenty years horses like Talismanic, Highland Reel, Found, Little Mike, St. Nicholas Abbey, Red Rocks, Better Talk Now, Buck’s Boy, and Chief Bearhart have fallen short in their attempts to win multiple editions of the race.

A Recent Victory Isn’t Critical

A major key to winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf is to peak in the championship event, not in your previous race. Seven of the last ten Breeders’ Cup Turf winners were actually beaten in their final prep run, often while facing tougher competition in the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in France. Five of the last ten Breeders’ Cup Turf winners contested the Arc a few weeks prior, though only Enable managed to prevail in both races.

Conclusions

With defending champion Enable skipping the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Turf, the race figures to be wide-open, with U.S. star Bricks and Mortar looming as the possible favorite.

But history suggests we should still favor European runners, even in the absence of Enable. One to keep an eye on is Aidan O’Brien’s Irish-bred 3-year-old Anthony Van Dyck. Winner of the historic Grade 1 Investec Derby at Epsom, Anthony Van Dyck also matches the typical profile of a Breeders’ Cup Turf winner and even enters off a defeat, having finished third behind Magical in the 1 ¼-mile Grade 1 QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes on Sept. 14. The return to 1 ½ miles (the same distance as the Investec Derby) should enhance his chances – and take note, three of O’Brien’s six Breeders’ Cup Turf winners were 3-year-olds. (Note: Magical was originally going to be shipped to the U.S. for the Breeders’ Cup but developed an elevated temperature on Oct. 25 and will be retired, according to the Racing Post).

Watch NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup starting with Future Stars Friday on Nov. 1 from 4-8 p.m. ET (NBCSN) and continuing with Championship Saturday on Nov. 2 from 3:30-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN until 8, NBC from 8-9).