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Using History to Handicap the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Distaff

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Get ready, racing fans! The $2 million, Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff is shaping up to be among the biggest highlights of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park.

The 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares is expected to attract a high-quality and competitive field of established Grade 1 stars. Virtually every corner of the U.S. racing scene will be represented as horses from California, New York, and Kentucky square off in a battle for divisional supremacy.

Looking to get a head start handicapping this exciting showdown at Santa Anita? We’ve got you covered! By analyzing the history of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, we have identified seven tips and trends to point you in the direction of the most likely winner when the race is held for the 36th time Nov. 2.

Let’s dig in and examine the data:

Tactical Speed is an Asset

It pays to back a horse with some degree of tactical speed. Eight of the last ten Breeders’ Cup Distaff winners were in the front half of the field after the opening half-mile of the race, and going back even further, only eight horses in history have closed from the back half of the pack to win the Distaff. In other words, like in most dirt races, early speed tends to be an advantage.

At the same time, you want to play a horse with the ability to relax off the lead if necessary. Over the last decade, only one Distaff winner (Royal Delta in 2012) was leading after the opening half-mile. The rest were racing at least a length behind the pacesetter.

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

(track condition)

2018 Monomoy Girl 2nd by 1 length (11 starters) 47.57, 1:12.11 (fast)
2017 Forever Unbridled 6th by 4 lengths (8 starters) 48.08, 1:12.50 (fast)
2016 Beholder 3rd by 3.5 lengths (8 starters) 47.16, 1:11.14 (fast)
2015 Stopchargingmaria 6th by 1.75 length (14 starters) 47.28, 1:11.49 (fast)
2014 Untapable 6th by 4.5 lengths (11 starters) 46.73, 1:10.95 (fast)
2013 Beholder 3rd by 1.5 length (6 starters) 46.30, 1:10.28 (fast)
2012 Royal Delta 1st by 1 length (8 starters) 45.81, 1:09.80 (fast)
2011 Royal Delta 4th by 3 lengths (9 starters) 49.00, 1:13.72 (good)
2010 Unrivaled Belle 5th by 5 lengths (11 starters) 49.09, 1:13.75 (fast)
2009 Life Is Sweet 8th by 17.5 lengths (8 starters) 45.78, 1:09.74 (fast)

Bet Bill Mott

No trainer has enjoyed more success in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff than Bill Mott, who has won the race five times with four different horses. After nabbing back-to-back editions with Ajina in 1997 and Escena in 1998, Mott returned to the Distaff winner’s circle with Unrivaled Belle in 2010 and subsequently sent out future Hall of Famer Royal Delta to win the race in 2011 and 2012. Mott also sent out the Distaff second-place finishers Mushka in 2009 and Close Hatches in 2013, making it clear that when Mott has a runner in the Distaff, it’s wise to pay attention.

Avoid Bob Baffert

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won countless major races through the years, but surprisingly, he’s 0-for-7 in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Only one of his starters has even cracked the top four, that being Abel Tasman, who rallied to finish second in 2017.

Bet the Favorites

While there have been some very big upsets in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, most notably Spain at 55.90-1 in 2000, overall the race has been dominated by favorites and short-priced contenders. Favorites have gone 15-for-35 (43%) in the Distaff, and 26 of the 35 winners (74%) went off at less than 5-1. In addition, 26 of the last 30 horses to finish in the Distaff trifecta started at single-digit odds.

A Recent Victory Isn’t Critical

To win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, you need a horse that is ready to peak on the day of the championship – not four or five weeks prior. Six of the last ten Breeders’ Cup Distaff winners were beaten in their final prep run, proving that a last-out victory isn’t critical.

Don’t Overlook the 3-Year-Olds

While older mares typically attract a lot of attention in the Distaff, 3-year-olds have proven more than capable of holding their own against their elders, winning 11 of the 35 editions of the Distaff. In fact, at least one 3-year-old filly has finished in the Distaff exacta every year since 2010, so if you’re overlooking the sophomores, you’re probably overlooking winning wagers.

Bet Fillies Exiting the Cotillion Stakes

The Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes at Parx Racing has been a key prep race for the Distaff in recent years. The 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies has produced 10 of the last 27 trifecta finishers in the Distaff, including two of the last five winners.

Conclusions

A strong field is shaping up for the 2019 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, with the Grade 1 winners Midnight BisouElateParadise WoodsBlue PrizeStreet BandSerengeti Empress, and Dunbar Road all looming as possible starters.

The 4-year-old Midnight Bisou is 7-for-7 this year and figures to be clearly favored in the Distaff, but if you want to think outside the box, history suggests Elate and Street Band could be dangerous rivals. Elate was beaten in the Grade 1 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes on Oct. 6 but is trained by Bill Mott, while the 3-year-old Street Band was an impressive winner of the Cotillion Stakes on Sept. 21 at Parx Racing.

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). 

Finding comfort zone for 2019 Breeders’ Cup while eyeing huge payout

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Ask any handicapper and they’ll tell you nirvana in horse racing is actually spelled B-R-E-E-D-E-R-S-C-U-P.

It’s unquestionably the best two days of the year when it comes to shopping for value and chasing some gargantuan payoffs.

Yet, to be frank, those big paydays can be very elusive. So, come Nov. 1-2 at Santa Anita Park, while there should be no fear in betting those 20-1 shots, there are times when betting the favorites makes all the sense in the world – especially in the sequence, or horizontal, wagers.

As much as $4 payoffs for a $2 bet are a tad vanilla, because of the larger fields in the Breeders’ Cup – and the willingness of some gamblers to go deep in some races searching for a live longshot – sometimes a very logical sequence will pay more than it would on a typical Wednesday at your favorite racetrack.

Let’s look at last year’s Breeders’ Cup as a guide.

If you liked Monomoy Girl ($5.60) in the Longines Distaff and Enable ($3.60) in the Longines Turf and bet them in the double you got $13.60 which wasn’t bad but wasn’t great either.

But if you played them in the Pick 3 with Mile winner Expert Eye ($13.80) then your Pick 3 return was a much better $99.60 for a $2 bet. If you used them to start the Pick 3 and concluded with Accelerate ($7.40) in the Classic your payoff was $75.60 for $2.

Again, these prices are hardly huge but attacking these sequences does not take a thick bankroll and accounted for a rather nice profit.

Beyond that, extending the length of the sequence does magnify the reward.

The Pick 4 with those four winners paid $631.80, which is great for ticket that included three winners that paid less than $8.

And if you took those three standouts in the final three races, added a handful of horses from the Mile and started with another three or four from the Sprint, including the victorious Roy H ($7.40), the Pick 5 returned $2,254.40.

As for this year, here’s the schedule: Filly and Mare Sprint, then Turf SprintBig Ass Fans Dirt MileMaker’s Mark Filly and Mare TurfSprintTVG MileDistaffTurf and Longines Classic.

There will be rolling doubles and Pick 3s, plus Pick 4s on the Filly and Mare Sprint, Turf Sprint, Dirt Mile, and Filly and Mare Turf; the Dirt Mile, Filly and Mare Turf, Sprint, and Mile; and Mile, Distaff, Turf, and Classic.

There’s also a Pick 5 with the Sprint, Mile, Distaff, Turf, and Classic.

Given some solid favorites such as Come Dancing or Covfefe (Filly and Mare Sprint), Omaha Beach (Dirt Mile), Sistercharlie (Filly and Mare Turf), Mitole and Imperial Hint (Sprint), Midnight Bisou (Distaff) and Bricks and Mortar and Magical (Turf), there are certainly plenty of opportunities to stay in your comfort zone and assemble a ticket that will not empty your wallet and will allow you to head home with a satisfied feeling that you turned a profit on racing’s biggest day.

And you did it without hitting a $50 winner.

Yes, it can happen. Even in the midst of the nirvana for handicappers.

Even in the midst of the Breeders’ Cup.

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). 

Using History to Handicap the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Turf

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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).