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  • 2010 Breeders Cup - Turf Races

       October 14, 2010

    (see all of our 2010 Breeders Cup articles)

    With the Breeders Cup having expanded to 14 races over 2 days, I don't expect to have time to detail each race, its trends and history and this year's field. Instead, my plan is look at the history and general trends around the turf races, sprints, juvenile races, the Classic and the Distaff (excuse me, the "Ladies Classic" - god I hate that name, they are fillies and mares, not "ladies"). Once the fields are set the first week of November, I'll have posts with my official picks.

    First up are the turf races. As is my custom, I've put together a spreadsheet detailing the past turf races (be sure to look at the nicely named "Turf Races" tab). I've listed the turf condition, where the winner was from and the sex of the horse.

    For the record, I'm not going to go into any detail here about the two juvenile turf races or the turf sprint. In its two years of existence, the Turf Sprint has only been run over Santa Anita's downhill turf course. I'm not sure you can spot any trends with that now that the race will be run over a more conventional course at Churchill Downs. I'll take a look at that race with the other sprints and will analyze the juvenile turf races along with the rest of the juvenile races.

    The three remaining turf races, the Mile, Turf and Filly & Mare Turf, bring together some of the best horses from Europe and North America. Because the best horses in Europe run on turf, rather than dirt or synthetics, the knee jerk reaction is always that European horses will dominate. Not so fast, my two-legged friends. 48.4% of the winners of these three Breeders Cup turf races are North American-trained. The per-country breakdown is like this (caveat - it's hard to determine the difference between Irish and English-trained horses):

    • North American - 48.44%
    • French - 23.44%
    • English - 18.75%
    • Irish - 6.25%
    • German - 3.13%

    So basically, the message here is that if you like a particular horse, don't worry about where they're from. Likewise, fillies and mares taking on the boys in the Turf and the Mile have fared very well.

    Turf races like these are generally run the same way. The horses zip along bunched up until they hit the top of the stretch and then everyone kicks in. The winner (with an absence of traffic trouble) is the horse with that fastest closing run. My spreadsheet also has a tab that details closing times. For this purpose, it's important to know that the fractional times in official race charts are based on the leader and that the general rule of thumb is that a length equals .14 seconds, so a horse that wins after being a length behind at the quarter pole actually ran that final quarter .14 seconds faster than the times in the chart. Whew.

    Track conditions, etc. come into play, but about 40% of winners run that final quarter in faster than 24 seconds. That is some serious running. It's pretty simple to calculate the North American contenders' closing times from the past performances when it comes out. You won't have that information for the Europeans, so you'll have to actually watch the races to see who can close or at least read the comments in the charts and find those horses who are winning in a drive and closing fast.

    Of course, it's not as simple as picking out the horse with the fastest closing time in the field. If it was that easy, everyone could do it. Instead, look at the closing time as what a horse is capable of and as a guide to who to keep under consideration. And, look at finish position too. It's not uncommon to find extremely fast-closing horses who consistently finish 2nd or 3rd. It's unlikely these perpetual bridesmaids are finally going to make it to the altar on racing's biggest stage.

    Another thing to remember, a fast closing time doesn't necessarily indicate that a horse is coming from way off of the pace. You'll notice how many winners were on the lead or just a length away at the quarter pole. It's all about how they can accelerate at that point. A horse like two-time Mile winner Lure was able to generate that accelerator from the lead, while others can kick in from stalking positions.

    I bet you casual horseplayers out there didn't realize that so much math was required, did you? Well, if it's too much for you, just pick a name you like :)

    Posted by kris at October 14, 2010 12:11 PM

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