Breeders’ Cup Winning Traits Presented By NYRA Bets: Sprint, Classic Trends

There’s a history behind every Breeders’ Cup race and trends to go along with it. What is the most common path to victory? Where do the winners come from? How do favorites/longshots fare?

In this edition of “Winning Traits,” we focus on the Twinspires Sprint and the Classic.

Twinspires Sprint

The Breeders’ Cup Sprint has not been kind to favorites over the course of its 33-year history. Since its inception eight favorites have won the Sprint, striking at a rate of 24 percent. The average payoff has been an average $18.67, but that average jumps to $25.97 when you look at the years the Breeders’ Cup has been held in Southern California.

In the five most recent Sprint editions held in Southern California (excluding synthetic surfaces), only one post-time favorite hit the wire in front. In the other four cases, the favorite finished second, sixth, ninth and fourteenth.

Statistically it has not been important whether a horse comes from the east or the west side of the country in terms of winning the Sprint. Interestingly, when looking at just the races held in Southern California, those winners originating on the eastern half of the United States paid significantly more (average $39.07) than those running over their home turf (average $16.15).

Running style has played a more significant role in the outcome of the Sprint, with exactly half of the 26 most recent winners racing on or within 1 ½ lengths of the lead. Seven of those 26 winners assumed stalking positions, between 1 ½ and three lengths off the lead, while six accounted for horses closing from farther off the pace.

While the two most recent Sprint victors were both 3-year-olds, history suggests that 4-year-olds have the best chance of winning the race. The average age of the winner has been 4.2, and a total of 14 4-year-olds have crossed the wire first. By comparison, nine 3-year-olds have won, five 5-year-olds, three 6-year-olds, and two 7-year-olds have won the Sprint.

The winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint has historically come from any number of prep races. The most popular have been the Vosburgh (5) and the Santa Anita Sprint (5). A more significant trend notes that more than half of Sprint winners finished first in their final prep (17), and 79 percent of Sprint winners earned a top-two finish in that race.

In the 10 Breeders’ Cups run in Southern California, again excluding synthetic surfaces, seven of the winners finished on top in their final prep and another two were second.

In terms of post position, the largest number of Sprint winners have come from post 5 (19 percent). Four winners have come from post 3 (12 percent), while another three each have come from posts 2 and 9.

2017 Sprint Contenders

Defending Sprint champion Drefong will attempt to become only the second horse to win the Twinspires Sprint in consecutive years. At 5-2 and favored on the morning line, it would seem that history is working against the son of Gio Ponti. However, his trainer Bob Baffert saddled the race’s only two-time winner (Midnight Lute) and has won the Sprint a total of five times.

Jockey Corey Nakatani has won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint an impressive four times, though the most recent was in 2006. He rides Bob Hess trainee American Pastime, likely to be a bit of a longshot. American Pastime also has history in his favor in terms of his post position, stall number three.

Roy H, winner of the Santa Anita Sprint last out, is the second choice on the morning line at 7-2. His last start in that race historically gives him a relatively strong 15 percent chance of victory when compared to other prep races, as does Takaful’s win in the Vosburgh. That latter colt is a 3-year-old, giving him a 27 percent historical chance of a victory.

In terms of age, the most likely winners are 4-year-olds, encompassing Drefong, Mind Your Biscuits, Whitmore and Imperial Hint. The last-out sixth-place finish from Mind Your Biscuits significantly decreases his historical odds of victory, while both Whitmore and Imperial Hint come into the race off a win.

By post position, the most likely winner historically would be Whitmore, leaving from stall 5. In terms of strictly Southern California Breeders’ Cup races, the inside post positions have been at a distinct disadvantage. Of the five most recent editions, one horse left from stall 2, while four left from stall 9 or wider.

The Classic

Post-time favorites in the Breeders’ Cup Classic have a fairly strong historical rate of victory, winning the championship 27 percent of the time. The favorite finished second another 28 percent of the time, and a total of 60 percent of favorites finished on the board (top three).

The Classic has only been won by an international contender twice, and both of those were strong late-running horses.

Results of the last 26 Classics have been skewed away from horses who take up a stalking position in the race, between two and five lengths off the lead. Only 23 percent of winners stalked the pace, while 38 percent each were either frontrunners (on or within two lengths of the lead) or closers (more than five lengths off the pace).

In the last six runnings at Santa Anita, excluding those over an artificial surface at Oak Tree, the running styles of the winner have been evenly distributed.

Sophomores have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic for the past three consecutive years, but the average age of the winner skews a bit higher at 3.8. Three-year-olds have won 36 percent of historical Classics, while the race has been taken down by a 4-year-old 39 percent of the time and by a 5-year-old 24 percent of the time. A horse older than 5 has never won the Classic.

Looking at 3-year-old Classic winners, on three occasions the horse had taken on older horses and won in its final prep (25 percent). On two occasions the horse had taken on older horses and lost in its final prep before the Classic, while in seven cases the Classic winner had only run against his own age group (58 percent). In the cases in which the 3-year-old Classic winner had never faced older horses, all seven won or finished second in their final prep.

In terms of which side of the country the Classic winner has been based on, east coast-based horses have historically been more successful with 58 percent of the victories. West coast-based horses have been successful 36 percent of the time, while international runners account for the other six percent.

Shifting the focus to Southern California-hosted Breeders’ Cups, the distribution between east and west coast winners is nearly even.

Sticking with the Southern California theme, three of the nine runnings on dirt were won by horses exiting the Awesome Again Stakes, while two of nine were won by horses exiting the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Overall, 18 percent of Classic winners ran their final prep in the Awesome Again, while 21 percent exited the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Three Classic winners last ran in the Super Derby (9 percent), while two each made their last start in the Travers or the Woodward (6 percent).

In the 33 runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the winner won his final prep race 58 of the time. The Classic winner finished second in his final prep 21 percent of the time, and the winner has never finished worse than fourth in his final prep for the Classic.

While statistically the post position (when compared to field size) has not made any difference in the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it is interesting to note that five winners have left from stall 4 (19 percent), and another four left the gate from stall 12 (15 percent).

2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders

Trainer Bob Baffert has won the past three editions of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, making him the winningest Classic trainer in history. The Hall of Famer enters this year’s Classic with a four-strong contingent to hopefully help him add to his record.

Arrogate could be the post-time favorite, and a victory would make him only the second horse to have won the Classic in back-to-back years. The stalking style he has shown in his last two starts historically works against him, and only two horses have ever won the Classic leaving from the rail post position. Alternatively, jockey Mike Smith’s record of four wins in the Classic is a strong historical indicator of his success.

Working against both Arrogate and stablemate Collected is that a last-out Pacific Classic starter has never won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Mubtaahij won the Awesome Again last out, so historically that works in his favor, while West Coast, having never faced older rivals and winning his final start against his own age group, would historically have a strong chance of winning.

Looking at Gun Runner, the other potential favorite, his trainer Steve Asmussen is the only other conditioner in the field to have won the Classic. Two Classic winners had their final prep in the Woodward like Gun Runner, and at four years of age he has a number of factors in his favor for a Classic win.

Churchill and War Decree will aim to give Aidan O’Brien his first Classic win and to improve the statistics of international contenders in the race. As sophomores, the fact that War Decree won his final prep gives him a good historical chance of winning, and since one of the only other international winners of the Classic also finished out of the top two in the QEII at Ascot in his final prep, that could work in Churchill’s favor.

Pavel exits the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which has produced 21 percent of Classic winners. The lightly-raced sophomore’s ability to race on or very close to the pace also plays in his favor historically.

Gunnevera’s late-running style is not historically a disadvantage, and neither is the 3-year-olds final start in the Travers, in which he was second.

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