Deep Track Could Influence 2019 Breeders' Cup

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

With the 2019 Breeders' Cup heading to Santa Anita Park, one of the key factors for handicappers to consider is how the slow and tiring main track will affect the outcome of the championship races.

The track has received a lot of attention and maintenance in recent months, stemming from a spate of equine fatalities during the winter meet. The result has been a deeper track prone to producing slow times, particularly in two-turn routes, where the tiring nature of the deeper surface has a greater impact.

It's easy to assume that such a surface will be favorable to late runners. Won't a tiring track exhaust the pacesetters and allow deep closers to swoop past in the homestretch?

It sounds good in theory, but in reality, the opposite is true. Genuinely tiring racetracks often give an advantage to pacesetters, since they find themselves forwardly placed and right in the thick of things turning for home. The late runners wind up just as exhausted from racing through the deep footing, but face the added disadvantage of giving their rivals a head start. It's hard to gain a half-dozen lengths on the leaders when you're out of steam at the top of the stretch.

This fact is reflected in the results at Santa Anita since racing returned to the Great Race Place on September 27. Across the board, speed horses—particularly pacesetters—have been dominating., which mathematically measures the impact of track biases, has assigned Santa Anita at least a marginally speed-favoring rating for every day they've analyzed through October 13. And on October 14, we witnessed the early pacesetters go 5-for-5 over the main track at Santa Anita.

When coupled with favorable pace fractions, the tiring track at Santa Anita has been sufficient to trigger some surprising results. Case in point? The upset victory by Mongolian Groom in the Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I). Perhaps heavy favorite McKinzie didn't fire his best shot in his final prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic, but he was also compromised by a speed-favoring track and a modest early pace. assigned the Awesome Again a Closer Favorability Ratio (CFR) of 9 on their 1-to-100 scale, enough to suggest McKinzie didn't have a fair chance at running down the longshot pacesetter.

With all of this in mind, I'll be favoring runners with tactical speed more than usual during the 2019 Breeders' Cup. I'll be hesitant to play deep closers unless they're cutting back in distance (suggesting they have the stamina to handle a tiring track) and figure to receive an ideal pace setup.

While it's still too early to be formulating final opinions on the championship races (pre-entries haven't even been released yet), here are a few early thoughts on horses I'll be considering in the main track races two weeks from now:


There isn't a ton of speed in the prospective Classic field, so Mongolian Groom could be a threat to lead all the way again. Higher Power, a decisive pace-tracking winner of the Pacific Classic (gr. I), could be an overlooked longshot contender after losing all chance with a stumble at the start of the Awesome Again Stakes. Even Vino Rosso could be a player since he's thrived running 1 ¼ miles and showcased a new front-running style when crossing the wire first in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I).


Expected favorite Midnight Bisou might be 7-for-7 this season, but she's also a late runner and will have to buck the track profile in the Distaff. The inconsistent but occasionally brilliant Paradise Woods could be a threat if she breaks cleanly (sometimes an issue for her) and receives a cozy trip setting or stalking the pace.

Dirt Mile

The field is in flux and post positions could be a determining factor, but Mitole will be a danger if this front-running sprinter tackles the Dirt Mile. He's already stretched his speed over a mile in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I), though the two-turn configuration of the Dirt Mile at Santa Anita will be a new obstacle. Omaha Beach also has the tactical speed to be involved, having tracked a fast pace before rallying to victory in the six-furlong Santa Anita Sprint Championship (gr. I).


Shancelot might be the purest speedster targeting the Sprint, and a couple of recent defeats could boost his odds. But Imperial Hint, twice placed in the Sprint, won't be far behind. The status of Mitole (will he run here or in the Dirt Mile?) could change the complexion of the Sprint field.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Three-year-olds don't have the best record in the Filly & Mare Sprint, but Covfefe has tremendous speed coupled with the versatility to settle just off the lead if necessary. She'll play "catch me if you can" in the Filly & Mare Sprint, and a speed-favoring track could give her an edge over Come Dancing, a stretch-running five-year-old who might rate the stronger chance over a fair track.


Bob Baffert's Eight Rings was an impressive gate-to-wire winner of the American Pharoah Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita on a day when the main track played closer to fair than not. If he catches a speed-favoring track for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, this talented son of Empire Maker will be tough to catch.

Juvenile Fillies

The Frizette Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont has produced five of the last twelve Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winners, and Wicked Whisper can add to that streak of success after leading from start to finish in the Frizette. She's posted solid speed figures and appeared to win with something left at Belmont.

How do you think the deep track at Santa Anita will influence the Breeders' Cup?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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