Breeders' Cup Handicapping: Santa Anita Racing Surfaces Don't Favor Front-Runners
by Greg Melikov - 11/2/2009
If the 2009 Breeders' Cup plays out like last year's silver anniversary renewal at Santa Anita Park, don't expect front-runners to do well.
In fact, none of 14 races were won wire-to-wire on the main track or turf. Leading up to the two-day event, only five percent of the 14 winners at 1 1/16 miles on Pro-Ride led all the way.
Midshipman came closest to bucking the trend in the BC Juvenile. He broke a bit slowly, but rocketed to second after a quarter-mile and gained the lead by a half-length after four furlongs en route to winning by 1 ¼ lengths.
The son of Unbridled's Song man is going in the Dirt Mile on Saturday against a pretty good field including Mastercraftsman, Cowboy Cal, Regal Ransom, Bullsbay, Chocolate Candy and Pyro, the only returnee aiming to improve his sixth-place finish.
Last year, 18 percent of 11 winners were in front at every call at a mile on the main track before the BC races.
Albertus Maximus on that same Saturday afternoon, Oct. 25, rallied from ninth more than six lengths back after six furlongs, angled out five wide from fifth for the drive and scored by 1 ¼ lengths.
This year at a mile, 37 percent of 19 winners won on the front end with early speed performing best and inside the place to be, according to Brisnet.com. When it comes to 1 1/16 miles. 19 percent of 26 winners have gone wire to wire. Closers again have done well while racing inside was preferred.
Stalking was the most successful running style in many races before last year's two-day event. This year it's a mixed bag.
For example, last year from Sept. 24 to Oct. 11, only 12 percent of 32 winners led at every call of the six furlongs. The number jumped to 27 percent with inclusion of the next 11 races. Stalkers and breaking from mid-post positions were best.
Midnight Lute got off a bit slowly in the '08 Sprint, stalked the pace fifth more than three lengths back after a half-mile of the six furlongs and ran down Fatal Bullet in the stretch to repeat by 1 ¾ lengths. Fatal Bullet is the only returnee.
In 47 races at the distance this year, 21 percent of winners were on the front end. Closers again have performed well while the best posts were in the middle and outside.
Of last year's four BC routes on the turf, the winner closest to the pace after six furlongs was Goldikova in the Mile. The filly was 1 ½ lengths and a head behind in third, dropped to fourth in the stretch, but gained the lead with a quick burst of speed to triumph by 1 ¼ lengths.
The only returnee to take on the defending champ is Whatsthescript, who trailed in the stretch before rallying from 11th to finish third 4 ¾ lengths behind.
For the 41 races on the grass in '09, only 17 percent of winners have gone wire to wire.
Desert Code came roaring from more than 10 lengths behind in 11th after a half-mile to register a half-length victory in the last year's Turf Sprint at 6 ½ furlongs.
Three horses that finished off the board are hoping to unseat the defending champ this year: Fleeting Spirit, fourth; Get Funky, ninth; and California Flag, 10th.
In 24 sprints on the grass during the current meeting, 25 percent of winners led at every call.
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