10/19/2014 11:18AM

Watchmaker: Time to start thinking about Breeders' Cup track bias

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Breeders’ Cup pre-entries will be taken tomorrow (Monday) and will be announced Wednesday. And then, the serious Breeders’ Cup handicapping begins.

But how can you handicap the Breeders’ Cup if you don’t know how the main track at Santa Anita will be playing?

This topic immediately makes me think of Bayern. No matter how you feel about Bayern (I think he’s immensely talented, but I also believe his big wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Haskell were aided by strong track biases), you probably would agree he is the speed of the speed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He’s just faster early than Moreno and Big Cazanova.

With that in mind, if Bayern catches the kind of track that was in force last year on Breeders’ Cup Friday, when there was a profound speed bias, then even those who originally were inclined to bet against him likely will be jumping on board. But if Bayern catches the main track that prevailed last year on Breeders’ Cup Saturday (much to Santa Anita management’s credit, they recognized the problem, worked on the track overnight, and produced a fair racing surface for Saturday), then there will be a long list of wise guys lining up to bet against Bayern.

It’s difficult to know two weeks out how the main track will play at Santa Anita on Breeders’ Cup weekend. With the inevitable fine-tuning that will take place to find the balance between fast times and safety, the character of the track might change. Here’s hoping it does, or else Bayern might be an overlay at anything over 8-5.

It goes without saying that the best way to assess a track bias is to handicap races thoroughly beforehand so that you have a good handle on when horses with certain running styles are outrunning expectations. But short of that, an analysis of recent result charts will do. And an analysis of the last five full cards run at Santa Anita as of this writing (Oct. 12 through Oct. 18) reveals that if you aren’t a part of the pace on the main track, you are in deep trouble.

For these purposes, I’ve always defined speed as horses that were running either first or second in the first call of the result charts or were within two lengths of the lead at the first call. Applying that definition to the most recent five full cards at Santa Anita, here’s what I came up with:
From Oct. 12 through Oct. 18, there were 22 main track sprints run. An incredible 20 of them, or 91 percent, were won by “speed.” Now, it should be noted that only three of those 20 speed winners were horses that led at every call, so the races weren’t exactly run in conveyor belt-like fashion. Still, over the years, I’ve found the average success rate for what I call speed to be in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 percent. So these results were stunning.

Over the same period at Santa Anita, there were eight main track routes run. Six of those eight routes, or 75 percent, were won by speed. I know this is a small sample, but it is interesting that four of those six speed winners were front-running winners.

For the record, I did a similar look at the Santa Anita main track last year, only it was one week before the Breeders’ Cup. I found that in sprints, speed won 76 percent of the time the last full week of racing and 80 percent of the time for the most recent incomplete week at the time I posted that blog entry. In routes, I found speed won 40 percent and then 83 percent of the time for those same corresponding periods.

In other words, there was evidence beforehand that we might run into the speed bias we encountered on Breeders’ Cup Friday last year. Given what we now know about Santa Anita’s last five cards, it will be worthwhile to keep an eye on how the track there plays this week.

At the same time, you also have to hope that lessons were learned last year and that everyone understands the importance of having even surfaces for the Breeders’ Cup. Although true track biases can be the horseplayer’s best friend, we all want our championship-making races decided on fair tracks, on which no one is compromised only because they have a certain running style.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bayern was best in both races..Your paper had a study several years ago of hundreds of thousand races ..70% of the winners were first or second at the 1st call..speed rules
Ann More than 1 year ago
When you back up the early pace with 24 sec quarters (on a very fast track) , you can look like you are the best.
Ann More than 1 year ago
And he was able to run the first quarter in 24 sec - what were the other jocks thinking, giving him such a gift?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like tommy says the horse that uses Alberto VO 5 will win.The horses that don't won't get the distance and his connections told him the fix is already in.So forget the bias.I'm going with tommy.
Oscar Wells More than 1 year ago
good read
Larry More than 1 year ago
Let me see if I got this . . . If speed is carrying then there is a track bias, if they make the track so deep that there is no chance for the speed horses, then the track is fair. Does that make any sense?
Sean Ali More than 1 year ago
"Fair" would mean somewhere in the middle, don't you think?
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
Horses that are good at the gate, quick into the first turn have a tremendous advantage in any BC. Horses at this level you can't spot open lengths. I think this adds a little more to the bias. Over the last 2 BC at SA, those dominating performances had phenomenal breaks out of the gate. Please tell me how being a good gate horse is bias aided. I hope they get a deluge of rain. Just throw all preconceived notions right out the window!
Mike Reinhardt More than 1 year ago
You obviously didn't see Breeder's Cup Friday then... Or Saturday, when your "good gate horses" lost without the bias.
Frank Bocchino More than 1 year ago
stop arguing and gimme a winna! The only sure thing I have on BCD so far is Sophia winnin on friday
Hail No More than 1 year ago
"stop arguing and gimme a winna! " Post of the day :)
FRED More than 1 year ago
They don't breed for speed so why doctor up the track to favor speed?
FRED More than 1 year ago
They breed for speed! That is why the breakdowns and weak Triple Crown years. If you breed for speed it only makes sense that you would showcase that speed on 'speed favoring' tracks.
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
They watered the track after Race 4 on Saturday and blew up the bias mid card. An absolutely despicable act. Your reporting is biased to facts.
DRFWatchmaker More than 1 year ago
Sorry, you're wrong. They worked on the track Friday night, turning it completely over. It was obvious from the very first race on Saturday that the track was different.
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Measure the depth of cushion...
Classhndicapper More than 1 year ago
One thing that was very different on Saturday was that everyone knew how speed favoring the track was Friday. So all the riders were much more aggressive early in the races on Saturday than Friday. The speed was not carrying as well partly because of the way the races developed.
Hail No More than 1 year ago
He's not entirely wrong, Mike. It would take more than 10 or 12 hours to "completely over-turn" that track.That track was still very hard, different? Also, you have to adapt to the bias, sure, but you have to judge how you think a horse will adapt to the track, something we don't have any data, for.. Last Year, Ria Antonia couldn't get past She's a Tiger, and SaT came over like a banshee in the stretch, so much so, I made the comment that Gary (tic) must have used a buzzer, but her feet and legs were stinging from that track. Is she retired now? (that race has some bad memories, too.) Groupie Doll might have ran the most courageous race (on the main,) from the 2 days, for definition of a horse "blowing hard", check her out, she looked more wasted than Smarty Jones after his Belmont, in a way I have never seen her blow after any of her other races. She ran her heart out, as they all do, but she really threw down on that track.. Your very last paragraph was so very aptly put, and I agree 100%, to have Championships' be decided on the track, not dictated by the track. If this doubles, please delete one, sorry, Mike, on a dial up connection.
gallopingtom More than 1 year ago
I respectfully disagree
jim lefferts More than 1 year ago
They can't possibly put enough water on a track with a truck to change the track between races. Water wagons only hold 3,000 gallons of water and such amounts spread over 40ft path across a one-mile track are absolutely insignificant. One inch of rainfall on the same area of ground amounts to 131,656 gallons or 44 3,000 gallon water wagons.
andre johnson More than 1 year ago
The track at Santa Anita is too small for the breeders cup,period.Turns are too tight and the stretch too short.There is no saving ground on the turns for closers, so horses fan 8 wide to get in contention for the short stretch.Turf course is the same thing.Churchill,Belmont,Woodbine, Gulfstream, and Fair grounds are the perfect venues because the track design is conducive to fairness for speed,stalker and closer.Go watch the Patterson international at woodbine on Sunday.All horses had a fair shot in the stretch,with the mammoth long run.It was a thing of beauty, and i'm not Canadian!
Hail No More than 1 year ago
The Woodbine Turf Course is one of THE best in North America. SA's turf is as rock hard as their dirt.
Ann More than 1 year ago
Three years of a historically bad drought will do that to a grass course.