I think every handicapper is aware of the success European-trained horses have enjoyed in the non-sprint turf races contested at Breeders’ Cup, but I’m not sure as many players are aware that the value in these plays often is found in looking past the most-fancied shippers.
In looking at the five two-turn turf races offered at Breeders’ Cup, a $2 win wager on each horse since 2000 who made his/her previous start in Europe AND was sent off in the Breeders’ Cup at odds of 5-1 or higher would have provided a nice profit. There were a total of 104 horses who qualified under both these requirements, which would have cost the bettor $208 in the 55 races involved, and returned $313.
(Obviously there are European-trained horses who ship over a race or two before the Breeders’ Cup races, but for this non-computer generated study, I relied on the previous start listed on the charts. I defined European shippers as those who made their start before the Breeders’ Cup in Europe.)
This angle has been especially profitable in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) with six winners from 18 qualifying horses since 2000. $2 to win on each of those 18 horses ($36) would have returned $118.40.
Magician after the 2013 Breeders' Cup Turf.
Photo by Anne M. Eberhardt - Order This Photo
Four of the five races have shown some level of profit through this play. The Juvenile Turf (gr. IT) has seen 18 qualifiers for a play of $36 and return of $73.40; the Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IT) has had 16 qualifiers for a play of $32 and return of $40.60; and the Mile (gr. IT) has had 32 qualifiers for a play of $64 and return of $66.60.
The only race that has not finished in the black in this angle is the Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), with 20 qualifiers for wagers of $40 and a return of $14.
Last year this angle did particularly well with three of the five races won by qualifying horses. Magician won the Turf and paid $27, Outstrip the Juvenile Turf for $14, and Chriselliam the Juvenile Fillies Turf $15.80.
Other Turf winners through the years and their $2 win payoffs include St Nicholas Abbey ($15.60), Dangerous Midge ($19), Conduit ($13.60), Red Rocks ($23.60), and Shirocco ($19.60).
Shirocco in the 2005 Breeders' Cup Turf.
Photo by Skip Dickstein - Order This Photo
Other Juvneile Turf winners include George Vancouver ($20.60), Wrote ($25.20), and Donativum ($13.60). The other Juvenile Fillies Turf winner is Flotilla ($24.80) and the Mile winners are Six Perfections (12.60) and Domedriver ($54). The one Filly & Mare Turf winner is Banks Hill ($14).
It might be fun to play a few dollars on each of the qualifying horses this year and see what happens, but beyond that, I think this exercise shows it can pay off to look beyond just the European-based favorites in these races.
Domedriver in the 2002 Breeders' Cup Mile.
Photo by Rick Samuels - Order This Photo
Granted this is a small sample but I think there’s reason for the positive return. I think what is happening is a lot of focus falls on a Euorpean shipper or two in these races and some very good horses are overlooked, making them value plays.
Last year doesn’t figure to repeat itself but I think it serves as an example of what can happen. Granted Magician had run poorly in his previous start, but he was an Irish classic winner for connections who have enjoyed a lot of success in U.S. racing. In their young careers, Outstrip had already notched a group II win and Chriselliam entered off a group I score.
On some level the above paragraph is a case of hindsight being 20-20, but I think it serves as reminder that there are some talented horses shipping in who won’t necessarily be among the favorites in the turf races. Just as it can prove valuable to look for overlays among the U.S.-based horses, the same goes for European shippers on turf.