Breeders Cup picks come up empty
November 07, 2017 3:00 AM
by Steve Davidowitz
Since 1984, when the first Breeders’ Cup was presented, horseplayers have loved the way so many BCup races have brought together dozens of the best horses in the world.
Yet, it is equally true a high percentage of those same players have found the majority of these competitive races to be difficult to handicap.
I am not talking about trying to find longshot winners to upset favorites; I am, however, pointing out how experienced players frequently miss key reasons why some respected contenders and betting favorites are likely to have a greater chance to finish out of the money than to win the race. I am no different.
Despite my extensive experience and a fair amount of success – on and off through the years – the 13 Breeders’ Cup races at Del Mar on Friday and Saturday were typically difficult.
This, even though I publicly raised doubts in my Friday evening seminar at Sunset Station about the winning chances for 7-10 favorite Bolt d’Oro in the BCup Juvenile; 7-5 favorite Drefong in the Sprint, and 2-1 favorite Moonshine Memories in the Juvenile Fillies. I missed important flaws in other favorites and made one of the worst BCup picks of my life in the Classic.
After agonizing over whether Arrogate or Gun Runner was going to win this $6 million affair, I was sure Gun Runner would run quite well, yet decided Arrogate made the most sense. I based my poor selection on these misleading facts.
Clearly, in his two summer defeats at Del Mar, Arrogate was below the exceptional form he showed earlier this year.
So, I needed other clues to help me see him run a top race. Yet, even below his top form, Arrogate earned a 114 Beyer Speed Figure losing the Pacific Classic to his Bob Baffert trained stablemate Collected.
I then noticed Arrogate’s 114 Figure was only a single point below Gun Runner’s career top number of 115, which he earned winning his third straight 1-1/8 mile race.
I then noted Gun Runner had failed to win any of his three prior career attempts at the Classic’s 1-1/4 mile distance, while Arrogate had earned three wins in his four attempts at that tough distance.
The mere fact Arrogate’s Hall of Fame trainer was running him in the BCup – instead of retiring the colt to a lucrative stud career – tipped the scale for me in favor of Arrogate.
After all, Baffert had closely monitored Arrogate’s training leading up to the Classic, so I believed we would see Arrogate reproduce the 119, 120 and 122 Figures he earned before he lost those two summer races at Del Mar.
Well, the way Arrogate failed to run anything close to his best while Gun Runner handled the 1-1/4 mile distance perfectly after battling through a relatively fast early pace, led me to recall comments I made during the Friday evening seminar I shared with the fine local handicapper Rich Eng.
Those words were: “No matter the outcome of any BCup race – especially if you pick a losing horse – the best thing you can do is go back over the race and look at why you picked the horse.
“Take the time to watch video replays and look for subtle negative signs in the horse’s Daily Racing Form past performances.
“That is what helped me become a better handicapper a long time ago and remains the strongest way I know for anyone to improve their game.”
So, I followed my own advice and the impartial review I made of the Classic is spelled out in this next sentence:
I gave too much credit to Baffert in his effort to recycle Arrogate back into top form after the colt’s two losing races at Del Mar.
Going one step further, I listened carefully to Baffert’s post race comments after he saw his 2016 Classic winner struggle to finish fifth – behind Gun Runner, Collected, West Coast and War Story.
At first, Baffert seemed pleased by the two horses he also trains who finished second and third. But, he quickly sulked and admitted to being “very disappointed and quite upset that Arrogate ran so poorly.”
A few moments later he added this insightful explanation: “He just didn’t seem like he wanted to run; he’s done,” Baffert said. “What he did early in the year must have taken a lot out of him. He’s finished as a racehorse.”
Bottom line: When such a world class horseman is unable to read negative signs before a race, those of us who picked Arrogate probably should not be too hard on ourselves. Forgive me though, for being as hard as I need to be. That is how I move my game forward.
The five top Beyer Speed Figures for BCup winners were scored by: Gun Runner, 117; Roy H, 111; Battle of Midway and Talismatic each with 108’s and World Approval’s 107. Good Magic, the maiden who won the BC Juvenile, earned a promising 100.