Churchill downs offers unique challenges
November 02, 2018 8:50 AM
by Jon Lindo
The annual rotating site of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships brings new variables for us horseplayers. After 2017 in the warm weather and firm turf of Del Mar in California, there are some important trends unique to Churchill Downs that may help players looking for value.
Rain and cool temperatures are the norm this time of year in Kentucky. Early forecasts call for high temps in the low 50’s with at least a 20 percent chance of rain for both the Friday and Saturday Breeders’ Cup cards. Rain last weekend and early this week figure to keep the turf course less than firm.
Here are some variables specific to post positions and track bias at Churchill that players should include in their handicapping process.
• The 6-furlong dirt races at Churchill Downs (CD) have an unusually long run up to the starting timer (100 feet). As a result, the first quarter-mile times at Churchill tend to be very fast and the race can been kinder to deep closers than races at a similar distance elsewhere.
• In 2017 due to track configuration, the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Del Mar was run at 1 1/8 miles. At CD, the race will be run at 1 3/8 miles. Note that there is just a 485-foot run to the first of three turns, and horses drawn toward the far outside are at a disadvantage. For instance, since 1991 at CD, posts 11-14 are 0-for-17 at the distance, while posts nine and 10 are just 3-for-66.
• Like the 1 3/8 turf routes, the 1 1/16 dirt routes at CD have a short run into the first turn. The percentages for winners decrease the further a horse is drawn to the outside. Since 2011, Posts 7-10 have won at rates ranging from just 8.87 percent to 10.47 percent, and post 11 has a win rate of just 5.4 percent, while post 12 wins at just a 7 percent rate. Consider it a negative when drawn outside post eight in the 1 1/16 dirt routes at CD.
• Turf sprints in previous years at CD have been five furlongs. New this year is the 5 1/2 furlong distance for turf sprints at CD, so previous turf sprint studies may not be prudent. The slightly longer distance may help closers fare better in the CD turf sprints than at the previous distance.
• The inside 22 feet of the CD turf course has not been used since June, so it could be horses racing along the inside of the turf course who may have the best footing.
• The 2017 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar was around two turns. At CD, the same race is a one-turn mile. With the long run down the backstretch, post positions are not as important as when a large field must go quickly into a turn like at Del Mar.
• When it rains, the CD main track has a reputation of drying out very quickly. However, when it is wet, the main track at times can exhibit a strong rail bias. The best path can be not just near the rail, but right on top of it. The best examples are the rides by jockey Calvin Borel aboard Mine That Bird in the in the 2009 Kentucky Derby and with Street Sense in the 2007 Derby. That is how Calvin earned the nickname Calvin “Bo-Rail.” Watch closely if any track bias pops up.
• The composition of the main track at CD has also been kind to turf horses over the years. In 2000 at CD, European grass specialist Giant’s Causeway ran a winning race but just missed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to Tiznow in his first race on dirt.
• As opposed to the short stretch at Del Mar (919 feet), the stretch run at Churchill Downs is one of the longest in the nation – 1,234 feet.
• The turf at Del Mar was very firm and horses who enjoyed running over the top of the ground did best. Churchill Downs has a sand-based turf course that can get very deep under adverse conditions. Just because a Euro like 2017 Breeders Cup Turf winner Talismatic ran well over the firm turf at Del Mar does not mean he will repeat that effort over a completely different set of conditions at CD.
Rolling Bet Key Plays
I prefer the Pick Three, Pick Four, and Pick Five over vertical wagers like the Superfecta. With that in mind, here are three horses I will use in keys in rolling bets for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup while trying to expand the value with some havoc in surrounding races:
Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (Friday): Newspaperofrecord. Trainer Chad Brown excels with turf runners, and this filly has already shown she can handle turf less than firm in daylight wins at Saratoga and Belmont Park. Her tactical speed in a big field is a plus, too.
Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (Saturday): This division is ready for a new face, and 3-year-old World of Trouble fits the bill. This colt took his game to a new level when moved to the grass during the summer, and he too has shown he can handle plenty of give in the ground. Trainer Jason Servis is deadly bringing horses into a race fresh.
Breeders’ Cup Turf (Saturday): Enable. It is true no horse has ever won the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Breeders’ Cup Turf in the same year, but this two-time Arc winner reportedly needed her victorious run in the 2018 Arc and her trainer John Gosden excels bringing horses to the U.S. Unlike many others Arc winners, the Breeders’ Cup has been part of the plan all along and the U.S. grass horses have been modest all year.