Early handicapping preparations for the Breeders’ Cup
by Scott Shapiro
After a couple of extremely busy weekends loaded with Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” events across North America, it is time as handicappers to catch our breath and start thinking about the World Championships at Del Mar next month.
The majority of our race analysis will obviously come when entries and post- positions are drawn for two of the best days Thoroughbred racing has to offer, but there are still a number of items that astute horseplayers can work on in the interim.
Here are a few things I recommend doing to start your preparation over the next couple of weeks in anticipation of the 2017 Breeders’ Cup World Championships on November 3 and 4.
Watch replays of the probable starters
We may not know all of the horses who will be heading to the starting gate at Del Mar on the first weekend of November, but we have a pretty good idea of the majority of those who will compete. Now is a great time to start watching each starter’s most recent races so, when we get overloaded with data, we will already have that part accomplished.
The average handicapper is likely to suffer from recency bias, which will lead them to overrating a strong performance in a horse’s last start or, on the other hand, undervaluing a runner’s chances at the Breeders’ Cup based on a poor performance in the latest event. Therefore, I recommend watching the last two or three races for each likely competitor and not just the last one.
Keep in mind those who have already earned spots are not likely to be fully cranked by their trainers in the races directly before the Breeders’ Cup. On the other hand, those that needed to produce a result in their late September or early October start may have already put forth their best effort and could regress at Del Mar.
Horses for the course
A large majority of the Breeders’ Cup runners will be making their first starts over the Del Mar surface in 2017, making this particular exercise a bit difficult to apply. However, for the horses who have performed over the main track it is worthwhile to pay extra attention to those races. This type of analysis can be done well before the entries come out.
Del Mar made a massive effort to make their main track safe in 2017, and based on the results of the summer meeting the changes created a course that some horses adored while others spun their wheels over.
One example of this was the performance of Juddmonte Farms’ Arrogate. Some argue that the son of Unbridled’s Song regressed after his win in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1) when beaten 15 1/4 lengths in fourth next out in the San Diego Handicap (G2), but there is little doubt that he lacked an affinity for the surface in San Diego County as well. This is not to say that he cannot win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), but it is wise to take this into account as part of the handicapping equation.
On the other hand, a horse like Accelerate has always performed well at Del Mar and, despite tiring to third in the Pacific Classic (G1) due to his inability to get 1 1/4 miles, it was evident based on his 8 1/2-length win in the San Diego ‘Cap that he should be ready to fire his best shot in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
Analyze Breeders’ Cup statistics
The Breeders’ Cup commenced in 1984 so using the data from the 33 prior events does not offer an ideal sample size but it can still be useful.
The website http://stats.breederscup.com/ offers a plethora of information that includes owners, trainers and jockey statistics, states and countries where winners were produced, and pedigree facts. Some of the data to me is relatively useless in terms of evaluating a given horse’s chances of running well next month, but some can be helpful.
In particular I find value in researching trainers who have had success at the Breeders’ Cup. There is a skill in having a horse ready to run at his best on the biggest stage, and some are just better than others at doing so. Ignoring that information may be something you end up regretting.
I look forward to the days and weeks leading up to the 2017 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at what I consider my home track. More great content to come!