Del Mar will test Breeders' Cup sharps

Oct 24, 2017 3:00 AM

Horseplayers be forewarned: The 13 very rich Breeders’ Cup races to be run at Del Mar on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 3 and 4, will push your handicapping talents and betting skills to new limits, just as they will push the horses, trainers and jockeys.

This is partly due to the fact that the Breeders’ Cup annually puts horseplayers into situations they rarely face. Beyond that, it also will be true that this year’s BCup will present challenges no one in the sport has ever seen.

Specifically, Del Mar Racetrack is hosting the BCup for the first time – and, as pointed out in last week’s column – this track design often impacts the way races are run at the different BCup distances on dirt and turf.

Another factor that has become important to horseplayers relates to the increased variety of popular wagering options offered on the Breeders’ Cup and other high profile days. In addition to the standard win, place and show, we now can play multiple daily doubles, trifectas and superfectas, along with numerous pick threes, pick fours, pick fives and more than one type of pick six.

All that potential action could confuse all but the most sophisticated players, even those with the bankroll needed to take reasonable shots in the wagering pool(s) of their choice.

Beyond all of that, even the most informed players will have to make several fundamental decisions regarding the fitness of a large number of prominent horses. For just one crucial example – decisions will have to be made regarding the current fitness of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arrogate, who will need a top effort to score a repeat after two disappointing summer performances that led to his three month absence from competition.

Here are four more questions that will test everyone’s handicapping and wagering approaches:

• Do the European invaders seem stronger than the American based contenders in the turf races or not? Clearly, the decision any player makes about that issue will determine whether to accent the Euros, or the leading Americans in the long distance turf races.

• Which 2-year-olds will be helped or hurt by advancing from good sprint performances into the 1-1/16 mile BCup Juvenile races? Given that important issue, the player’s answer will come from the degree of emphasis being placed on breeding and/or proven trainer patterns. Considerable mustard also may be added to this specific handicapping issue, because some of these youngsters may need the experience before they can develop into 2018 Derby prospects.

• How much emphasis should be placed on the probable pace, or post position assignments? In most races, players will need to approximate the added stress that may be caused by the official post position draw on Monday Oct. 31. Will post assignments impact slow- or fast-breaking horses and those likely to face a wide trip or an uncomfortable pace?

• Will horses with prior good Del Mar performances deserve an edge? Or, will any such advantage be nullified because this short Del Mar meet is taking place during cooler and somewhat windier weather than Del Mar’s annual summer meet? Frankly, we probably will not know the answer to that important question until some Del Mar races are run in the days leading up to the Breeders’ Cup.

Given all the above handicapping issues, the vast majority of horseplayers would be foolish to set up their wagering strategies before next week’s post position draw and an examination of two more key sources of information:

A) Result charts and/or video tape replays of this year’s most important races.

B) The workout lines for each of the major BCup contenders.

With respect to workouts, horseplayers who lack an understanding of how training drills can impact a horse’s fitness, might see this year’s Breeders’ Cup as an opportunity to expand their horizons.

There are in fact terrific clues in the spacing and distance for all such workouts that can suggest a good or bad performance in a target BCup race. So, if you are a horseplayer who lacks such insight, you might review the workout lines of every BCup winner after the fact.

That is precisely how I first learned to understand the value of workouts after watching several longshots win important races in the 1970’s. As I wrote in my current book, “Cashing Big on Racing’s Biggest Days,” those lessons continue to help me make better handicapping decisions on the biggest days in our sport. With that in mind, next week, I will share as much as I can about how a dozen Breeders’ Cup contenders have trained for this year’s events.

Added Notes: Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert told me on Sunday: “Arrogate is training very well and I will work him in company through 6 furlongs on Tuesday, Oct. 24 and follow that with a final major work next Sunday or Monday. We’ll then ship to Del Mar.” Baffert then added, realistically: “This horse certainly has accomplished a lot, but to win the Classic, we know he’ll have to improve over the two races he lost during the summer.”