Breeders' Cup Recap
by Trevor Whenham - 11/10/2009
The 26th Breeders' Cup is now in the books after two great days of racing at Santa Anita this past weekend. As is almost always the case with the event, this one was packed with drama, heartache, riches, and surprises. In case you missed all of the fun here's a recap of the betting highlights:
All Zenyatta, all the time - This amazing mare was unquestionably the biggest story of the event, and one of the biggest stories in the history of the Breeders' Cup.
Zenyatta was undefeated in 13 career starts before this race, but the Classic was a new challenge for her. She had never run a mile and a quarter, never run against boys, and never faced a race as deep or tough as this one.
She went off as the favorite because she was racing at home, but she was very contentious for handicappers. She shouldn't have been.
As she usually does, Zenyatta settled well off the pace as the race began. Coming around the final turn she was still way back and I thought that she could be in trouble. How wrong I was. She exploded as she rounded the corner, moved to the outside as she weaved through traffic, and blew past the hard running Gio Ponti like he was standing still.
I was breathless as she crossed the finish line, and my pulse jumps now just thinking about it. It was a historic win on may accounts, and should be rewarded by a Horse of the Year honor. She paid better than 5/2 to win - a fair price in retrospect.
Longshot parade - Three longshots - horses at 21/1 or longer - won during the eight races that were run on Saturday. That created an interesting and unique betting situation.
There were 88 different horses that entered the gate on the day. If you had bet $2 to win on each of those horses - a bizarre way to bet, but just go with it for a second - then you would have bet a total of $176. The winners in those eight races paid a total of $192.20. You would have made a profit of $16.20, or a return on investment of about nine percent.
That's not bad considering you couldn't have lost a single race. I'm not suggesting for a second that you should actually have made that bet. It's an indicator, though, of just how tough this card was to handicap - you won't find a return on investment anywhere close to that at any tracks on a normal day.
Not all longshots, though - Far from it, actually. Here's where it gets really difficult - the five races on Saturday that weren't won by longshots were won by the favorite. So, either the public was dead on in their assessment of the race or they were totally clueless. There was no middle ground. No favorites won on Friday, but there will still five winning favorites in 14 races - a higher winning clip than normal. That makes it even more surprising that a bet on every horse was profitable.
Not a fair fight - The Breeders' Cup is supposed to be a true World Championship, but when it takes place on a synthetic track it is anything but. There were largely two kinds of winners here - European invaders or horses with a home track advantage.
Six of the 14 races were won by horses based in Europe where they run on turf and synthetic surfaces. Four more were won by horses based in California, including three on Saturday.
The only horses that were successful who came from the eastern U.S., except for Tapitsfly who won on Turf, were horses that had been most successful on synthetic tracks in the east. It seemed too simplistic to be true coming into the event, but the right thing to do when handicapping the Breeders' Cup was to totally ignore every North American horse that runs primarily on dirt. That's a joke, but it would be somewhat acceptable if California had by far the best horses in the country. They absolutely do not - they are just used to the quirky synthetic surface at Santa Anita.
Like all handicappers I tried to compensate for this trend in advance, but it wound up being even more pronounced than would seem to be logical. Thankfully, the Breeders' Cup is heading back to dirt at Churchill Downs next year after two years at Santa Anita. It can't happen soon enough as far as I am concerned.
Experience counted - The best preparation for winning a race last weekend was, it seemed, to have won a Breeders' Cup race previously.
The four Juvenile races can't be won by repeat winners because the horses in those races are only two years old. In the other 10 races, though, there were three repeat winners. Goldikova in the Mile and Conduit in the Turf won consecutive versions of their races, while Zenyatta added this year's Classic to last year's Ladies' Classic crown. Beyond that, Turf Sprint winner California Flag had run in his race last year.
When races involved older horses it made sense to look for familiarity with the race. It's also worth noting that not only were the four horses mentioned all experienced in their race, but they were all favored to win. Two other experienced horses were favored as well - Ventura was second in the Filly and Mare Sprint, and Forever Together was third in the Fill and Mare Turf. Six experienced favorites, and all of them factored into the trifecta.
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