Analyzing the Del Mar track for Breeders Cup purposes

Analyzing the Del Mar track for Breeders Cup purposes

October 17, 2017 3:00 AM


As we get closer to this year’s Breeders’ Cup at beautiful Del Mar on the southern California coast, this seems a good time to spell out some key aspects about the track that will be hosting the BCup for the first time in BC history.

Frankly, I doubt many players who spend much of the year playing races at eastern and mid-western tracks, are aware of how Del Mar’s dimensions can impact the way races might be run in the 13 BCup stakes on Friday, Nov. 3 and Saturday, Nov. 4.

First, Del Mar not only operates with a one-mile dirt oval, there is a 7-furlong chute on the backstretch that can be used to extend one-turn, dirt sprints beyond the track’s natural 6 furlong distance.

In addition, the 7-furlong turf course – built inside the main dirt track – also features a diagonal extension that juts into the Del Mar infield, an extension that will be needed to accommodate turf races up to 1-1/8 miles. Given those track dimensions, here is what we can expect to see in this year’s Breeders’ Cup races at each distance on both the main track and turf.

First let’s look at the seven dirt races on the BC schedule.

On Friday, Nov. 3, the $1 million Las Vegas Dirt Mile will start near Del Mar’s finish line and after the field completes a full trip around the track the race will end where it began. On the same day, the $2 million Distaff, at 1-1/8 miles on the main track, will begin halfway up the homestretch and continue through a complete trip around both turns to the normal finish line.

Saturday’s five main track races will include a pair of $2 million races for Juveniles and Juvenile Fillies. Each will be at 1-1/16 miles and begin sufficiently up the homestretch in order to give their respective fields the needed yardage to complete both turns before coming back through the homestretch en route to the finish.

The three other main track races on Saturday include two sprints, the $1.5 million, 6-furlong Sprint and the $1 million 7-furlong Filly & Mare Sprint. The 6-furlong Sprint will start where the first turn meets the backstretch and the 7 furlong F&M Sprint will begin at the end of the main track’s extended backstretch chute.

The final main track race will be the $6 million, 1-1/4 mile BCup Classic, which will begin at the far left end of the homestretch and continue in front of the grandstand to the first of two turns before the field returns into the stretch. As with the two Juvenile races on the main track, the Classic’s main track configuration should help produce a “formful” race involving the top rated contenders.

Yet, for all the main track races, I must warn readers to watch out for possible wind gusts that sometimes come off the nearby Pacific Ocean to impact the staying power of front runners.

For races on the grass, Del Mar’s different configurations do tend to present peculiarities horseplayers must understand to properly plot out the way BCup turf races are likely to be run and won.

For instance, Saturday’s $1 million, 5 furlong Turf Sprint will go from a starting gate positioned near the backstretch. That will present a limited run to the far turn before the field heads into the homestretch. This has been observed to help horses with good experience over this course as well as front runners and near-the-pace-types that do not have to overcome a heavy wind.

Otherwise, the field for the $2 million Turf Mile will begin a furlong before the finish line on the 7-furlong turf course and that configuration is quite normal for most mile races on American turf courses. Yet, the sharper-than-usual-turns can make it harder for horses that draw extreme outer posts.

That said, the field for the $2 million, 1-1/8 mile Filly & Mare Turf will start more than half-way up the diagonal turf chute, which will force the field to complete 2-1/2 turns before they reach the finish line. The final BC turf race will be the $4 million, 1-1/2 mile BC Turf, which will begin on the backstretch and require the field to navigate three turns on the way to the finish line.

Given those peculiarities, I tend to look for horses with winning experience over this course; or, those with reasonable form in high class races in America or Europe at similar or longer distances.

Most important of all, I believe horseplayers who pay attention to the way these configurations can impact the pace of each race, will be the players in the best position to pick winners compared to horseplayers more familiar with larger eastern and mid-western tracks, including expansive Belmont Park.