A Brief Guide to Handicapping the 23rd Breeders' Cup
by Greg Melikov - 11/01/2006
Here's what to look for when handicapping the eight Breeders' Cup races on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs:
$2 Million Distaff, 1 1/8 miles, 3-year-olds and up: Favorites dominate -- 17 of 22 winners were less than 3-1, which probably accounts for some of the smallest fields.
However, 4-year-old Pleasant Home upset the 13-horse field by more than nine lengths last year at Belmont Park and returned $63.50 on the front end. Remember that no European-based filly or mare has visited the winner's circle while five 3-year-olds have won.
Of five Distaff contests at Churchill Downs, Spain in 2000 covered the 1 1/8 miles the quickest. 1:47 3/5, and returned the most, $113.80, when the Louisville track hosted its fifth BC.
$2 Million Juvenile for fillies, 1 1/16 miles: This is an all American race - no invader has won. Look for pedigree screaming stamina. Seven winners returned double-digit payoffs.
But a dozen favorites scored, including Folklore, who led all the way in '05 covering the distance in 1:43 4/5 at the New York track. The best time posted at Churchill Downs was in '00 by Caressing, 1:42 2/5, that paid $96.
$2 Million Mile, 3-year-olds and up: Nineteen different horses have triumphed in this turf race, including nine bred in Europe. The event averages 13-plus entries.
While crowded fields usually lead to bad trips, chalk has finished on top about one-third of the time. Second choice Artie Schiller edged favored Leroidesanimaux last year in 1:36. The fastest mile posted at the Louisville track came in '94 when Barathea zipped 1:34 2/5.
Only Lure in '92 was in front at every call. He repeated in '93, but stalked the pace until taking over near the half-mile marker.
$2 Million Sprint, six furlongs, 3-years-old and up: Every winner had a victory at six furlongs and captured a stakes race. Eleven of the 22 scored after a loss, but no winner has come into the contest off an unplaced finish since Desert Stormer in '90.
No running style has dominated. There have been four wire-to-wire victories, another four horses led at nearly every call, nine turned for home in front and six closed from back of the pack.
Last year's winner, Silver Train, challenged the fading Lost in the Fog in mid-stretch and took the lead inside the furlong marker, defeating Taste of Paradise by a head in 1:08 4/5. Fastest time at Churchill Downs was posted in '00 when favored Kona Gold set the track record: 1:07 3/5.
Most European-based runners make their first start on the dirt in this BC contest. Only Sheikh Albadou, bred in Great Britain, visited the winner's circle in '91.
$2 Million Filly & Mare Turf, 1 3/8 miles, 3-year-olds and up: Three of seven favorites triumphed, but there's no distinct pattern in the youngest BC race so it's best to rely on form and class.
All winners were less than six lengths behind at first call. Intercontinental, however, led every step of the way last year, covering 1 ¼ miles in 2:02 1/5. That was the distance several years. In '00, Perfect Sting won in 2:13 for 1 3/8 miles at Churchill Downs.
$2 Million Juvenile for colts and geldings, 1 1/16 miles: Endurance plays a major factor. Seventeen winners were among the top three choices, including '05 second choice Stevie Wonderboy who covered the distance in 1:41 3/5.
Most champions owned at least one stakes victory and only two winning 2-year-olds were sent off at odds of more than 10-1. Macho Uno nosed out Point Given in '00, covering the distance in 1:42 and returning $14.60.
$3 Million Turf, 1 ½ miles, 3-year-olds and up: A dozen European-bred horses won. Those making their last start overseas scored nine times, including the last six in a row, which is the same number of victorious post-time favorites. Class and form often point to the winner.
Eleven winners either broke from the inside three posts or from the eighth slot and outward. German-bred Shirocco broke from post 2, stalked the pacesetter, took over at the quarter pole and won by 1 ¾ lengths on a good Belmont grass course in 2:29 1/5.
Tikkanen set the Churchill Downs track record of 2:26 2/5 for the distance back in '94.
$5 Million Classic, 1 ¼ miles, 3-year-olds and up: Post-time favorites won seven times, including last year when Saint Liam surged past Flower Alley leaving the furlong marker and scored a length victory in 2:01 2/5.
Tiznow, who captured the first of two Classics in '00, covered the 10 furlongs at Churchill Downs in 2:00 3/5 and paid $20.40.
Eleven horses that visited the winner's circle returned more than $10 on the front end.
Only two horses triumphed from the rail, including Ghostzapper in '04 when he became only the second wire-to-wire winner since '91 when Black Tie Affair scored off the longest layoff - 49 days.
Late runners do well as the average lengths behind the pacesetter after a half-mile is five. So tactical speed is most important.
Outside is the place to be in the Classic. Only four horses have won from posts 1-3 while eight did from posts 10 through 14, including Saint Liam from post 12.