=== A look at the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf ===
By Mark Shrager, Special to The Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf,
which will be contested for the sixth time on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita, has
quickly become a race dominated by European 2-year-olds.
Despite sending only 17 starters to the race's first five runnings (compared to
45 North American-based starters), the invaders from across the pond have now
won it three times in five years. Can anyone doubt they'll be fiercely
competitive again in 2012?
Here, then, is key handicapping factor No. 1 for the Juvenile Turf: Take the
European invaders seriously. European owners and trainers send their 2-year-old
colts to America fully intending to bring home a coveted Breeders' Cup trophy.
In handicapping, the Juvenile Turf, we should recognize their determination and
properly respect their success.
SPEEDSTERS AND STRETCH-RUNNERS
Front-runners in turf-based mile races are usually hors de combat by the time
the field reaches the wire. Anyone considering a wager on a likely Juvenile
Turf front-runner should ponder the fate of the highly regarded 2011
pacesetter, Majestic City, which carved out prudent 23 3/5, 48 1/5 and 1:13 1/5
fractions before fading to 11th.
As the race's average winning running line demonstrates, over its first five
years the Juvenile Turf has been the bastion of late-kickers:
The typical winner of the Juvenile Turf has relaxed near the back of the pack
for the first six furlongs, then kicked into high gear, exploding past the last
of its rivals between the furlong marker and the wire.
The past two Juvenile Turf renewals have exemplified this stretch-runner
dominance: 2011 winner Wrote began his Juvenile Turf quest from seventh, five
lengths off the pace; 2010 winner Pluck was 11th at the first call, 14 lengths
behind the leader.
But wait. The last time the Juvenile Turf took place at Santa Anita, the winner
scored from just two lengths off the lead. Before we anoint an out-of-the-
clouds stretch runner as the surefire 2012 winner, perhaps we'd be wise to
review the average winning running line for the 31 one-mile turf races
contested at Santa Anita's 2011 Oak Tree Meeting, the meeting that will host
Breeders' Cup 2012:
It's a remarkably different running line, isn't it? And it strongly suggests
that Santa Anita's speedy greensward will influence the running of the Juvenile
Turf in favor of runners with strategic early foot. Recognizing this, let's
state key handicapping factor No. 2 as follows: Either a come-from-behinder or
a mid-pack stalker could win the Juvenile Turf, but discard any entrant that
seems likely to set the early pace.
We should demand a recent start from our Juvenile Turf selection. Juveniles
returning from layoffs of 30 days or more seldom win a Breeders' Cup race.
Adding numbers to that assertion, 21 of the first 28 Breeders' Cup Juvenile
winners had raced less than 30 days previously; the corresponding number for
the Juvenile Fillies is 24 winners in 28 years. The juvenile turf events have
bucked this powerful trend, producing five winning layoff returnees in nine
races, but we expect that over the long haul runners returning from layoffs
will win as infrequently in the grassy 2-year-old races as they have in their
dirt counterparts. Let's anticipate this with key handicapping factor No. 3 for
the Juvenile Turf: avoid layoff returnees.
Winning final preps have been another important predictor of Breeders' Cup
success for juvenile colts and fillies: 18 of the 28 Breeders' Cup Juvenile
winners and 19 of the Juvenile Fillies champions were exiting a winning prep
race. Once again, the juvenile colt and filly turf races, with five final prep
losers in nine runnings, have yet to conform to this pattern, but we fully
expect that time will correct this anomaly. Thus, we give you key handicapping
factor No. 4 for the Juvenile Turf: Seek the winner from among runners that won
their final prep.
And let's briefly add a key handicapping factor No. 4A: Avoid runners that have
never raced at distances of a mile or longer. The mile is a difficult distance,
and 2-year-olds being asked to stretch out against runners of Breeders' Cup-
caliber are truly up against it.
With a history of just five years, the Breeders' Cup Turf has yet to generate
meaningful post position data. We'll therefore make no effort to persuade you
that the three victories earned by runners breaking from post position 4 are
anything more than a coincidence. For more enlightenment, let's again review
the 31 mile turf races conducted at the 2011 Oak Tree Meeting.
Santa Anita's turf course is located within the main track oval, which would
lead us to anticipate a short run to the clubhouse bend and sharp turns that
should force outside-drawn runners wide, costing them valuable ground. Turf
courses of this sort usually benefit inside-drawn horses.
The 2011 Oak Tree Meeting, however, produced results that were anything but
what we'd expect. Look:
Surprisingly, only one of the 31 winners scored from post position 1, while
post positions 4 through 9 produced 74 perfect of the Oak Tree victories.
Combine this information with the fact that neither of the Breeders' Cup
juvenile turf races has ever produced a winner from anywhere near the rail, and
we arrive at key handicapping factor No. 5 for the Juvenile Turf: Avoid the
runner breaking from post position 1, and also those starting from post
positions 10 and up.
Looking for overlays? Most Breeders' Cup bettors will not be studying 2011 Oak
Tree statistics and will be basing their wagers on the erroneous "common
knowledge" that inside-drawn runners should have the advantage in one-mile
Santa Anita turf events. Competitors breaking from post positions 4 through 9
therefore represent potential overlay value in all three of the one-mile
Breeders' Cup turf races.
FAVORITES AND LONGSHOTS
Combined, the five previous runnings of the JuvenileTurf and the initial four
editions of the Juvenile Fillies Turf have produced but one winning favorite
(Pounced paid $6.80 in winning the 2009 Juvenile Turf). Perhaps this paucity
of winning favorites can be attributed to handicapper inexperience; juvenile
races over the lawn may be a staple of the European sport, but they're
decidedly less commonplace at American tracks.
It is depressing to base a handicapping strategy on a history of failed
favorites, but an 11.1 winning percentage over five years gives us little
choice. Key handicapping factor No. 6 is: avoid the public favorite.
The Juvenile Turf is longshot territory. Take your best shot.
HANDICAPPING THE JUVENILE TURF
We will begin our quest for the Juvenile Turf winner by reviewing the records
of the more obscure European starters, particularly if they are trained by
superior conditioners and/or ridden by top jockeys. This is the pattern that
produced 2011 winner Wrote, which prepped in England and was ridden by Ryan
Moore and trained by Aidan O'Brien. Wrote's $2 win payoff was $25.20. He topped
a $964 exacta and a trifecta that paid $8,131.20.
We will quickly and unworriedly toss out anything with a front-running history,
but will give close consideration to runners with stalking or stretch-running
styles. Juveniles stretching out from sprint distances, returning from layoffs,
and showing a final prep loss will be summarily eliminated from consideration.
Ditto for runners breaking from either post position 1 or post position 10 or
Lastly, but importantly, we will not risk a substantial portion of our bankroll
on the Juvenile Turf, which we consider one of the more difficult Breeders' Cup
handicapping challenges. Two-year-olds can improve dramatically and on short
notice at this time of year, and we don't want to lose badly because a
previously unexceptional 2-year-old unexpectedly realizes its potential on
Breeders' Cup Saturday.
Our recommendation: Utilize the key handicapping factors outlined in this
article, make informed but reasonable bets on runners that meet our criteria,
and the Juvenile Turf will not defeat you on Breeders' Cup Saturday.
10/26 13:33:54 ET