Homeracing

Breeders' Cup: Trends worth remembering from Del Mar's first BC

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

October 11th, 2021

A year ago at this time we looked ahead to Keeneland's second Breeders' Cup by looking back at its first five years earlier, making note of trends from 2015 that might possibly carry over to 2020. It turned out to be a mixed bag.

Avoiding lukewarm favorites and downgrading the importance of post position were trends that largely worked again at Keeneland's second Breeders' Cup. However, the lack of prior course experience had no effect on European shippers, who won and/or dominated all four turf races on the Saturday card, including the Turf Sprint for the first time. (In contrast, the U.S. swept all three juvenile grass races on the Friday card).

As Del Mar plays host to the Breeders' Cup for a second time next month, we'll repeat the exercise and scout out the more notable trends from the first time the track played host to the World Championships in 2017.

FAVORITES OF ALL STRIPES UNDERPERFORMED

Post-time favorites took it on the chin big time at the 2017 Breeders' Cup at Del Mar. Only two of the 13 favorites won, while nine finished out of the money altogether.

Among the biggest offenders were the most heavily-backed favorites of the weekend: Lady Aurelia (9-10) finished 10th in the Turf Sprint; Unique Bella (11-10) and Lady Eli (3-2) finished seventh in the Filly and Mare Sprint and Filly and Mare Turf, respectively; Drefong (7-5) finished sixth in the Sprint; and Bolt d'Oro (7-10) and Highland Reel (7-5) ran third in the Juvenile and Turf, respectively.

It was not a good Breeders' Cup for Bob Baffert-trained favorites. In addition to Drefong, Mor Spirit (2.40-1) finished well up the track in his attempt to win the Dirt Mile off a five-month layoff, and the increasingly out-of-form Arrogate (2.10-1) finished a non-threatening fifth in the Classic.

While this trend may or may not continue this year, taking a jaundiced view of favorites in general is often the best way to succeed in betting the horses. That especially goes for the two Breeders' Cup days, when so much money is in the pools.

EUROPEANS EXCEEDED EXPECTATIONS ON THE DEL MAR TURF

Historically speaking, Del Mar has never been a strong magnet for top-level European raiders. The track made its name racing in the summer, and its leading turf events were (and are) not as lucrative or prestigious as others around the U.S. or in Europe. The turf course is also smaller and a bit tighter than others on the circuit (Santa Anita and the late Hollywood Park), thus seemingly less conducive to foreign success.

Nonetheless, Europeans did just fine in the 2017 turf events, especially the under-the-radar ones. In addition to Mendelssohn's victory in the Juvenile Turf as a very mild 4.80-1 favorite, Europeans ran one-two in the Filly and Mare Turf, with 11-1 Wuheida winning, and one-three in the Turf, with Talismanic scoring there at 14-1.

It wasn't a Breeders' Cup-branded event at the time, but the Juvenile Turf Sprint on the Saturday card surprisingly produced a clean European sweep of the top four placings. The $1 superfecta returned $9,555.

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Unique Bella (Photo by Benoit Photography)

NO HOME COURT ADVANTAGE FOR CALIFORNIA HORSES

For generations Southern California has often proved a tough place for Eastern shippers to reproduce their best form. Despite possessing a theoretical edge over a track that had never previously hosted the event, it was the home team that was largely humbled at the 2017 Breeders' Cup.

As noted earlier, locally-based favorites Unique Bella, Drefong, Bolt d'Oro, Mor Spirit, and Arrogate all went down in flames. Moonshine Memories in the Juvenile Fillies was another. Indeed, only three Southern California-based runners won Breeders' Cup events: Battle of Midway (14-1) in the Dirt Mile, Stormy Liberal (30-1) in the Turf Sprint, and Roy H (4.90-1) in the Sprint. Of the three, only Roy H turned in his final prep at either Santa Anita or Del Mar.

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