Handicapping for Breeders’ Cup races is an overwhelming experience for any contest player and certainly the most challenging two-day handicapping event in thoroughbred racing. Huge prizes are on the line in contests at all major sites, not to mention the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge itself.
What is a contest player to do with so many horses to handicap and so many horses running where you have less than ample data to make your selections? Here are some insights:
Juveniles: In the two-year old races I love the physicality angle. These horses are so young that finding horses with a physical maturity advantage is a big plus for contest players. Look for: horses born earlier in the year — they have more time to develop. Also, horses where horse’s breeding gives them a win-early pedigree. But most important, look for good muscle development in the Juvenile and Juvenile Sprint — especially the Juvenile Sprint. Those little guys should look as much like refrigerator boxes on four legs as possible.
Euros: Keep in mind from a physicality angle, many, though not all, Euro’s may be a bit on the scopey (long and lean) side compared to their US counterparts in a given race. This Euro look is deceptive: it doesn’t mean the horse is less capable of winning — especially on the turf. Euro’s may also be smaller in stature overall but they are long on stamina and often are trained to run hard at the end of the race in a thrilling final kick. Remember the tiny but mighty Goldikova who won the Turf Mile beating the boys three years straight? This Euro look may make you think the horse has been traveling too long and has lost bulk, but it is not necessarily any indication at all of their level of fitness.
Turfers: Here’s where the Euro’s have a definite advantage. They get so much more exposure to turf racing and training over that surface than their American counterparts. In fact, at many US race tracks, maidens are not even allowed to train on the turf, and their first turf race is their first real exposure to running over the grass. This is where turf pedigree is so important for US horses, as is the record of the trainer on turf, particularly in younger more lightly raced turf horses. It’s one of the few ways you can get an angle on a horse that is otherwise lightly raced on the turf.
There is just no getting around the fact that European turf runners and their jockeys have a certain advantage over US-based horses that is hard, though not impossible, to beat. This advantage will only be stronger on a course with some moisture in it (Good, Soft, or Yielding). You would be hard pressed to find a Euro who hasn’t trained on such a surface, and you can almost always find that piece of information in their running lines to see if they have run a race in those conditions. The wetter the Keeneland surface on Friday and Saturday the greater the theoretical advantage for European horses. Especially compared to those horses from the West Coast of the US who may never have run on a wet grass surface, the Euro’s simply have an edge.