Breeders’ Cup 2014

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Derek Simon

October 31st, 2014

Well, it’s finally here.

Ever since the first Saturday in May came and went, horse players have been looking forward to the Breeders' Cup like kids look forward to that chubby guy and his sleigh every December 25. 

As early as June, when I was still sunning myself by the pool (provided my neighbor wasn’t at home to boot me off his property), folks were writing me, asking me who I liked in the BC Classic.

The festivities start on Halloween day, with four championship events highlighted by the $2 million Distaff. The fun continues on Saturday, with nine more Grade I events culminating with the granddaddy of them all — the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.

In today’s column, I’ll discuss some things to keep in mind as you are watching and wagering on the big races.

* Seek Value

If ever there was a case study as to why value wagering is important, the Breeders’ Cup is it. Played out in the classrooms of Belmont Park, Santa Anita, Churchill Downs and other venues, the Breeders’ Cup races demonstrate why Vince Lombardi would have made a terrible gambler. Winning isn’t the only thing on Breeders’ Cup day.

Price matters.

For this reason, I implore handicappers to focus on finding viable contenders rather than “winners” on Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita. In fact, by eliminating horses that can’t — or probably won’t — win and insisting on reasonable odds on the ones that can, the Breeders’ Cup can be a veritable ATM machine for value-oriented bettors (and regular readers know how much I detest that analogy).

Since 1998, playing my Win Factor Report (WFR) morning-line overlays to win has produced a 78 percent ROI, with ten (of 16) winning years.

Granted, last year was a disaster, but take a peek at 2010 and 2011. In fact, the latter year makes my point beautifully. Court Vision hadn’t even hit the board (finished third or better) the year he upset Goldikova in the Mile, yet his 64-1 odds were far in excess of the 27-1 my WFR deemed fair.

Court Vision won by a nose and paid $131.60.

Below are some morning-line overlays to watch out for this year:

* Avoid the One-Hit Wonder

While I don’t believe that horses “bounce” in the manner that “The Sheets” guys think they do, I do believe that a horse’s last race is often overrated by handicappers and that an unusually good performance should be viewed with skepticism rather than optimism.

In the past 17 years, only one horse that improved its penultimate Brisnet speed figure by 20 points or more last time won a BC Race. That was Reraise in the 1998 Sprint.

Four horses are attempting to emulate Reraise this year. They are:

Angela Renee (Juvenile Fillies)
Bayern (Classic)
Belle Gallantey (Distaff)
Lady Zuzu (Juvenile Fillies Turf)

* Look for Horses-for-Courses

There are two things to watch for here:

1. Horses with multiple wins over the host track and surface.
2. Horses with a strong final workout over the host track.

Since 1997, horses with multiple wins over the host track and surface have produced profits across the board, especially in the Turf Sprint at Santa Anita. Likewise, horses that worked well over the host track have generally outrun their odds.

Below is a list of this year’s potential horses-for-courses:

Ambitious Brew (Turf Sprint)
Bayern (Classic)
Big Macher (Sprint)
California Chrome (Classic)
Fast Anna (Sprint)
Fed Biz (Dirt Mile)
Footbridge (Classic)
Home Run Kitten (Turf Sprint)
Indianapolis (Sprint)
Iotapa (Distaff)
Little Alexis (Filly & Mare Sprint)
Majestic Harbor (Classic)
Obviously (Mile)
Palace (Sprint)
Parranda (Filly & Mare Turf)
Secret Circle (Sprint)
Seeking the Sherif (Sprint)
Souper Colossal (Juvenile)
Stonetastic (Filly & Mare Sprint)
Sweet Reason (Filly & Mare Sprint)
Sweet Swap (Turf Sprint)
Tom’s Tribute (Mile)

* Pace & Speed Figures Still Matter

Yes, the BC races often look like a high-stakes crapshoot, but that doesn’t mean that basic handicapping tenets don’t apply.

In routes, it is wise to avoid horses that lack a recent late speed ration (LSR) matching or exceeding today’s race average. Similarly, in dirt routes, it’s crucial that the horse’s best speed figure meet or exceed today’s par — as the following statistics prove:

Recent LSRs Do Not Meet Race Average (route races only)

Races (horses): 115 (226)
Winners: 8
$2 Net Return: $0.93
IV: 0.40
OBIV: 0.51

Best Speed Figure Does Not Meet Today’s Par (dirt routes only)*

Races (horses): 62 (209)
Winners: 6
$2 Net Return: $1.18
IV: 0.32
OBIV: 0.43

* At least 10 starts over the past two years.