10/30/2010 12:44PM

Beware Of Breeders' Cup Generalizations


There are two broad handicapping generalizations about this Breeders' Cup that I feel need to have a few holes poked in them. So here goes:

First is the thinking that California's synthetic track horses will be at a severe disadvantage competing on natural dirt at Churchill Downs.

It's obvious that part of the reasoning behind this theory has to do with the abject failure in the last two Breeders' Cups on the old synthetic surface at Santa Anita by horses who had their final preps on dirt. For the record, 43 horses started in synthetic track Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita in 2008 and 2009 off of preps on dirt. Not one of them won, and not every one of them was hopelessly overmatched.

So, the thinking is the tables will be turned in the opposite direction what with this Breeders' Cup being run on a dirt track. Maybe there would have been better cause to buy into this if the soap opera last summer concerning the Oak Tree meeting, which hosts California's final Breeders' Cup prep races, had never taken place. But the series of events that forced this year's Oak Tree meet to Hollywood Park might have actually been the best thing that could have happened to California's Breeders' Cup hopefuls.

Many people believe that Hollywood's Cushion Track is the synthetic track that is most like natural dirt, and I am right along with them. So horses who prepped on Cushion Track this year in Oak Tree races like the Lady's Secret, Goodwood, Norfolk, Oak Leaf, and Ancient Title might have a much better chance to successfully transition to natural dirt than if those races had been run on a different, less dirt-like synthetic track. Now, it will really just be a matter of how the California horses stack up to their counterparts from other geographical areas.

The other generalization out there that needs to be poked is the notion that the relatively cooler climate in Louisville is beneficial to European shippers.

I've got news for you: After watching second stringers like Chinchon, Debussy, Redwood, Hibaayeb, and Joshua Tree come over here this year from Europe and win one major race after another, and after seeing Swain, Giant's Causeway, and Sakhee come over in years past and narrowly miss in Breeders' Cup Classics on dirt, it has been obvious that the really good Europeans would be formidable in this Breeders' Cup no matter what the weather is.

But the subject of European shippers and the climate really should have been retired after the 2003 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. In a 99 degree blast furnace and with ash falling from nearby wildfires, European shippers Six Perfections, Islington, and High Chaparral all won, proving that European horsemen really have this "coming to America" thing down pat, regardless of the climate.

And for the record, in the three warm weather Breeders' Cups since then (Lone Star in 2004, and Santa Anita in 2008 and 2009), European shippers Ouija Board, Muhannak, Goldikova, Donativum, Conduit, Raven's Pass, Pounced, Vale of York, Goldikova (again), Conduit (again), Man of Iron, and Midday all won. That's a pretty good record, and it is hard to believe that the Europeans would have won even more races if the weather was 12 degrees cooler.

CB More than 1 year ago
Aside from all the speculation surrounding the BC races, there is one fact that truly endears me to this series of races. I do not have to worry about lack of effort from the concerned parties (i.e. trainers, owners or jockeys) because they may be prepping for another race down the line. Each and every group of connections will be bringing their " A " game. Word of advice.....be prepared for at least two illogical wins because most horseplayers are fair handicappers but atrocious bettors and too many of us are lazy in our researching of races (which will reward the diligent, thinking handicappers handsomely).
markinsac More than 1 year ago
Mike, your comments are right about the synthetic runners doing very good on dirt. And all the Zenyatta doubters seem to have BANKED on the angle that Zenyatta CAN'T handle the Louisville dirt. There's more evidence pointing to she will than she wont. Zenyatta has won 19 times, only 2 of those on dirt. In those 2 races, the 2008 and 2010 Apple Blossoms, her winning margin was 4 plus lengths, more than twice her average winning margin on synthetic. Last year, Zen's connections shipped her to Louisville to run in the Louisville Distaff Race. Sherriffs said when Zenyatta excercised, "She love the Churchill track". Unfortunatly, it rained, they sealed the track and she scratched. Hollywood Park has a dirt training track. Zenyatta has trained on this track. Sherriffs has stated, "She's even better on dirt than synthetic". Now, all these people keep claiming she "can't" run on dirt, and they never mention any of the points I just made. THEY COMPLETELY IGNORE THEM. I thought handicapping was about taking into consideration many facts available. Zenyatta doubters have their heads in the sand, and their hearts and wallets are on life support.
Oz Fretz More than 1 year ago
Lots of racing fans (myself included) believe that synthetic surfaces are bad for racing. Nonetheless, it is astonishing to me to hear how many of those same knowledgeable fans tend to downgrade Zenyatta's performance because they dont like the tracks that she runs on. Zenyatta's record speaks for itself. To say that she hasnt beaten any decent horses and that she beat a weak Classic field is simply ignoring the facts. She has beaten about 90 different racehorses (many of them multiple times). Eighteen of those horses were Grade 1 winners WHEN SHE BEAT THEM. Twelve more were Grade 2 winners. Because of her running style, she has run past every horse she has competed against while none have ever passed her. In every race she has run, because she has looped the field, trip handicappers will tell you she has run farther than every one of her competitors (the one exception could be last year's Classic when she passed half the field on the inside before swinging wide to pass the remaining half dozen). She has absolutely dominated her foes in a fashion never seen in my 50 years of watching thoroughbreds compete. And she will win again on Saturday in the same fashion, by running past every other horse in the race. The doubters will then say how unfortunate it was that Quality Road got caught down on the rail and Looking at Lucky just had too far to run from the outside post and so on and so on. Prepare to celebrate the undefeated career of one of the greatest racehorses (male or female) to ever step on (any kind of) a racetrack.
Draynay More than 1 year ago
I think it would be a good idea to stay far away from the California horses. They do not have the talent to match up with the East Coast nor the experience of running on dirt. Quality Road is your winner in the Classic and BAT is your Juvi winner over Uncle Mo.
Dan More than 1 year ago
Some interesting reading here and on the other blogs as well. Everyone makes valid points but lets not forget that they are ALL opinions. Sythetic tracks are here and as someone else said... it isnt really any safer. My view is a horse is a wild animal and was born to run. Now, the earth is made of dirt and grass all over the world and racing should be as such. As far as the last 2 yrs @Santa Anita... we can debate that until the cows come home. Synthetic is another thorn to handicap against. Look at Monmouth 3 yrs ago. I have been handicapping and betting for 30+ yrs and in all those years I have NEVER seen a horse close from more then 5-6 legnths off the pace like Midnite Lute in the slop. And I'm not talking about the slop as the derby was this year... I mean good old fashion soup track. Then, he comes back the following year to defend on the wax the was goo. Point being... no one horse is an underdog coming from a different race track or surface. As far as the Classic, Ive been betting the Breeders Cup since it started and I did have Arcaugn but not because I am a good handicapper... or I was lucky, it was I felt the field wasnt that strong and had too many non-peak performers. BUT, in looking at all those races in (BCUP) over the years... the horses who have TRAINED over the track before the race has a 5-1 edge over the ones that came from their home track and ran without a workout. Thus, Zenyatta and Looking at Lucky are a play against. Just because they have one on dirt or even one at that particular track does not mean they will do good. It has been proven over time. Of the 14 races on Breeders Cup 2 days I am saying that at least 10 or more horses will win showing a workout or two over the Churchill Strip. Conditioning over the SAME surface is a plus. Last workout over a synthetic switching to a dirt on race day is a minus. Now look at the odds and tell me how you are going to play? My heart is with Zenyatta and I think Looking at Lucky is the best 3yr old. But racing and betting dictates other choices!!!
luresdouble More than 1 year ago
Zenyatta will lose at CD. She will not beat older quality males on real dirt. Last year she basically beat up on a weak classic field full of turf horses trying to run on synthetic and a true dirt horse Summer Bird who did not like the synthetic. Now she faces dirt males on a true BC Classic track run on real dirt. The BC Classic, the Juvenile, the Juv Fillies, the Sprint and the Distaff have all been degraded and cheapened in recent years by being run on synthetics. If anyone thinks Ravens Pass for example would have beaten Curlin on real dirt you need a drug test. Those BC races I mentioned were designed to test the best DIRT horses in those categories, not the best plastic/rubber protrack horses. Having BC's run on any synthetic tracks should not be permitted, period. Thanks goodness Santa Anita is going back to real dirt, let Hollywood and Del Mar run 10 race turf programs which is really what sythetic tracks offer as all the races are either on turf or its near fake equivalent. If I want to see nothing but turf racing I'll go to France or GB or Ireland, I have no desire to watch it or wager on it. Its shameful how american dirt racing is being compromised by all these synthetic tracks which statistically have proven not to be one iota safer than the dirt tracks they replaced, and thats why they were supposedly installed. Future weathercast for Churchill is clear the whole week. That bodes very well for Lookin at Lucky who will take the classic.
Mo Motts More than 1 year ago
Don't forget about Quality road Last 2 racess at 1 1/4 were on off tracks sloppy I think if its fast they will not beat him
jrzingg More than 1 year ago
Do you think these horses will handle dirt because they aer bred for dirt???
Romo More than 1 year ago
. . .. There is hole in this discussion .. No one ever accounts for eastern off-track days.. There are many, many cards run on other than fast/firm .. My notion is, even on days listed as fast/good .. it's really fair/not so good ..? If there is a disadvantage to poly-plodders, it shows up in less than true fast/firm surface conditions.. In some ways, there is as much to question about Eastern Runners on "true" fast/firm .. As Poly Track West-T's .. dirt-en ..? .. Mostly it comes down to good, well trained horses are competitive anywhere.. .. As to Euros they improve .. because they run on different style tracks (less manicured) .. for the most part run tactical style turf routs (goof around, goof around, run like hell) carry higher weights (run up hill all the way).. The BC's .. most US runners are taking weights they rarely see.. the Euros get weight breaks running in the US ..
Larry Deuso More than 1 year ago
Mike; in regard to the Euros, I've always looked to their pedigrees to pass judgement on whether they'll handle the switch from turf to dirt. Not that I'm a pedigree handicapper, mind you, but if the bloodlines say one should handle the dirt, I won't hesitate to look at that horse seriously. One of my best Breeder's Cup scores was the Tiznow/Giant's Causeway exacta. In fact, I had picked Giant's Causeway to win that year. The reason: he was by Storm Cat, and I was absolutely certain he'd be able to handle the switch to dirt. Johannesburg also comes to mind as another that I felt would take to dirt. The "unknown" factor always poses a challenge at the Breeder's Cup; but it's a challenge I look forward to year after year.
dave More than 1 year ago
B C generalizations that I live by : 1) always use the female thoroughbred in your gimmick bets in the Dirt Sprint. 2) the bedeviled "ALL" button must be used.