What to look for at Santa Anita on Breeders' Cup weekend
With just a few days until the start of the 2016 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, racing fans from across the globe are not just diving into past performances. They are also trying to determine how the surfaces in Arcadia, California, will impact the races this weekend.
Most horseplayers are hopeful that the main track will play more fairly than the speed-biased surface on Breeders Cup' Friday of 2013, but that remains to be seen. The surface has been fairer than that early November day at Santa Anita this fall, but in general the dirt races have played towards runners on or near the lead, as it does at most venues and generally does at Santa Anita.
There have been two graded stakes sprints during the short autumn meeting at "The Great Race Place." The Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1) was won by the morning line second choice in the TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1), Lord Nelson. The Bob Baffert trainee came from his customary position just off the pace. Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) entrant, Gloryzapper, won the L.A. Woman (G3) for fillies and mares while being prominently placed throughout.
In reviewing the lower-level sprints during the meeting, it is also clear that runners are best served not leaving themselves too much to do when they turn for home. The only caveat to this is that in most cases the horses with speed have been the likeliest winners on paper.
When in doubt I would suggest using horses with some early zip, but do not think runners coming from way out of it are auto tosses by any stretch. However, keep an eye on how things go to start the racing week.
The same information tends to be true of two-turn races over the main track this fall. Those on or near the lead have won a large majority of the meet's dirt routes, including the only mile-and-an-eighth race of the meet, the Awesome Again (G1). However, heavy favorite California Chrome, who would have won over just about any surface that day, won that Grade 1 event.
Prominently-placed runners also won the two-year-old graded stakes events around two turns. Noted and Quoted stalked just off of With Honors as the two of them ran 1-2 all the way around the track in the Chandelier (G1) on opening weekend. John Shireffs-conditioned Gormley set the pace and went wire-to-wire in the FrontRunner (G1) on the same day. Horses like Daddy's Lil Darling and Lookin At Lee ran big at Keeneland in their preps, but will have to buck the trend to get to the winner's circle on Saturday.
While the main track has favored horses with speed, the newly renovated turf course has played very fast, but been much more fair.
The Turf Sprint (G1) will be run down the unique hillside turf course where runners from on the lead and mid-pack have won the majority of races this meet. However, the rails have been out on the turf course throughout much of the meet, which hinders the chances of late runners. The rails will not be out on Breeders' Cup weekend.
While there may be a slight advantage to those on or near the lead in a limited sample of races on the new surface, there is little doubt that it still helps to be drawn off the rail.
In 21 races down the hill this fall, only one horse from the rail hit the wire first. In general, I prefer horses cutting back in distance with at least tactical speed and an outside draw. In fact, my next Breeders' Cup handicapping article on TwinSpires.com is about my "longshot of the weekend" and will feature a horse that checks all three of those boxes in the Turf Sprint.
Two-turn route races have been very fair thus far over the new course.
Avenge wired the field in the Rodeo Drive (G1) on opening weekend setting moderate fractions under jockey Flavien Prat. The next day Ashleyluvssugar stalked from just off the pace to win the John Henry Turf Championship (G2). Since then, the course has been much kinder to late running sorts. Over the past couple of weeks very few horses have won in wire-to-wire fashion in turf routes.
With the success of European imports at the Breeders' Cup's held Santa Anita over the years, I expect horses to be coming from off the pace to take the majority of championship races on the lawn in 2016. However, this does not mean that those on or near the lead are without a chance.
While most post positions are in with a fair shot in two-turn races over the Santa Anita lawn, the far outside posts at a mile and 1 1/16-mile races are at risk of losing quite a bit of ground into the first turn. Keep that in mind if backing runners like La Coronel and Oscar Performance on Friday. They can still win, but will need things to work out perfectly or be much the best.
The data from this short meet can be advantageous to study, but keep in mind two things. First, this is a limited sample since the meet began at the end of September. Second, the track could change during the dark days. Make sure to pay attention to how both surfaces are playing on Thursday and during the undercard on Friday before the Breeders' Cup commences in Race 6.