by Christopher G. Shepard - 10/11/2005
Note from Christopher G. Shepard -- It is said that legendary horse handicapper Pittsburgh Phil made $3 million betting on horses before his death in 1905. One of his notable maxims was, "Successful handicappers know every detail in regard to the horses upon which they are intending to place their money." Gamblers should note that this article was written before the news that an X-ray revealed that Afleet Alex's broken ankle is not healed therefore he has been pulled from running in the 2005 Breeders Cup Classic.
What to do when every race on the World Thoroughbred Championship Racing card is worth at least a million bucks? Pack the kids in the family truckster and head off to Belmont Park in Elmont, NY on Oct. 29 to see the 22nd running of the granddaddy of them all, the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic. One day they can tell their kids they took 'em to see Ashado, Afleet Alex and Saint Liam all on the same day.
There is less than one month until Breeders' Cup day, but it is never too soon to start prepping for the biggest thoroughbred racing day of the year. The $14 million eight race card known as the World Championship Breeders' Cup is considered thoroughbred racing's Superbowl, Stanley Cup, Final Four and World Series all at once - except they let horses from other countries race as well.
The smallest purse is $1 million in each of three races; the Breeders' Cup 1-1/16 mile Juvenile Fillies for 2 year old fillies; the six furlong Breeders' cup Sprint for three year olds and up; and the 3 year old 1-¼ filly and mare. Coming in at $1.5 million are the Breeders' Cup Mile for 3-year-olds and up and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile for 2-year-old colts and geldings at 1-1/16 miles. The 1-1/6 mile Breeders' Cup Distaff and the lengthy 1-½ mile Breeders' Cup Turf pay a purse of $2 million each. Doubling that prize is the eighth race in the series, the $4 million 1-¼ mile Breeders' Cup Classic. The maximum number of entrants in each Breeders' Cup race is 14. If more then 14 horses are entered then the race is "oversubscribed." If this is the case, then they are allowed by virtue of the Breeders Cup points system. Points are accumulated throughout the year for horses that finish first, second or third in Graded stakes races earn points.
The Breeders' Cup is building up its cache as a punter's paradise as much as any one of the famous Triple Crown races (indeed the Breeders' Cup has existed for only 21 years) and storied Saratoga stakes' races. However, it is truly amazing to see how much the Breeders Cup has achieved from a gambler's perspective. In fact the Cup has garnered an enormous gambling base at the track, in simulcast and internationally. At last year's 21st Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships held at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas four wagering records were set; total handle, Breeders' Cup-only handle, simulcast handle and international handle. Belmont Park is hosting the Breeders' Cup for the fourth time and this year should rival the wagering records set at Lone Star Park last year. A record total of $109,838,668 was wagered on the eight Breeders' Cup races at Lone Star Park and at simulcast outlets around the world. This mark breaks the old record of $108,578,049 set in 2002 at Arlington Park and is a 2.1 percent increase from 2003 figures.
Breeders' Cup Wagering Strategy
Three times I bet against Afleet Alex this year and twice I lost. Does that mean I'm not betting Afleet Alex at the Classic distance? Hell no. But something tells me Afleet Alex looks a bit too good to be true at 8/1, but we are still several weeks away from the big day. Use the same approach to handicapping the Breeders' as you would the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont (especially Belmont), but don't get too caught up with the weather trap. New York weather in October is a crapshoot at best and like most races and you should take it as that. Furthermore, when capping these races look and see if there are European imports in the race you are betting. Why? Due to the fact that over the years there has been a surge of European entrants in the dirt races at the Breeders' and have a made a difference in the outcomes of Breeders' races over the years. I think European horses are a big X-factor you get at the Breeders' more so than at the other marquee thoroughbred race so your Racing Form is an absolute must. It appears that this year there will be far fewer European imports than I have seen in recent years. This, I believe, will give you an edge because it takes a variable out of an equation that is difficult enough to solve.
I do as much research as possible before heading off to the track. I look first at Graded Stakes and past performances - these are so key; don't ask a horse to do something they've never done before. There are extensive jockey and trainer statistics for each of the Breeders' Championship races. These charts list the number of starts, wins, seconds, thirds, winning percentage, and in-the-money percentage of the jockeys and trainers you are most likely to see in those races. For example, Jerry Bailey has the most wins for a jockey in the Classic, winning 27% of the time, while Gary Stevens, a hall of fame jockey, has gone 0 for 14 in the Classic event. Does that mean you should not bet on Stevens if he mounts Commentator? I wouldn't. I mean I am not superstitious, but when something goes 0-14 I am riding that losing trend every damn day.
FYI Bailey is scheduled to ride Saint Liam who at this point has been set as the 3/1 favorite to win the Classic. Rider Jerry Bailey, No. 3 top money jockey, rode Storm Flag Flying to second place at the Distaff, UAE's Balletto to second at the Juvenile Fillies, Kela to second in the Sprint, France's Six Perfections to third in the Mile, and Pleasantly Perfect to third in the Classic, all in 2004. He actually has one other top Classic race contender this year, Roman Ruler, who was the favorite at the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile but finished fifth.
A difficult aspect betting the Breeders Cup is trying to gauge trends. The fact that the Breeders' Cup moves to a different track each year presents problems when trying to come up with a winning bet. Since this is the fourth time Belmont has hosted the Breeders' Cup more data is available than at Lone Star last year. For this reason it is essential to spend time researching the host track itself. What the facility looks like, the track's biases at each of the Cup's race distances, and a look at the effects the weather can have on those biases. Simply put, which horses like Belmont and which horses don't. Two horses that jump out are Ashado and Afleet Alex with Saint Liam a close third.
There are so many distractions at the track I can hardly think straight, let alone gulping a few Belmont Breeze's before the wife and kids notice. So I try to pick my winners at home before I get to the track. And in no small part that is due to the fact that I don't want that degenerate in the John Deere hat talking me out of my Pick 4 and then find it hits because I listened to his sorry broke ass. I then fine-tune (or check on my investment) my plays in the Paddock before the race.
Most casual bettors can't tell a canon bone from a fetlock. For this reason, fun as it may be, your presence may or may not be required at the paddock depending upon your horse-sense. In fact, if you find that for some god-forsaken reason you need to take a picture of "your" horse, or you are more enchanted with the jockey's diminutive size and colorful silks then please get the hell out of the way for those of us who still have to evaluate the horses, return to the bar for another BB and then hit the pari-mutuel window for a nickel on the 7/2 while holding a moose sized piss all at once.
Finally, last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Ashado defends his title at this year's Distaff as a 3/1 favorite. Todd Pletcher is his trainer and jockey John Velasquez will try to win their second Distaff in a row. Among his competition will be last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff third place finisher Stellar Jane at 6/1 odds. Rounding out the field are Shadow Cat, Island Sun and Sweet Symphony all at 10/1 odds. Look for Ashado to repeat, as he is the class of the Distaff crop.