Betting Races on Soft Turf, Part 1: Why Europeans Can Have an Edge

November 11th, 2018

Soft Turf and International Horse Racing

Relatively speaking, racehorses in North America don’t get many opportunities to run on truly soft, rain-inundated turf courses. When heavy rains strike, turf races are frequently transferred to the dirt track in order to preserve the grass.

But in Europe, where the vast majority of racecourses offer only one racing surface (grass), horses compete on yielding, soft, and heavy turf courses all the time. This can give them a subtle but significant advantage if they ever find themselves running over soft courses in North America, where the majority of their rivals will lack experience over such testing conditions.

A great example of this came at Belmont Park on October 13th, 2018. Consistent rain throughout the meet had left the Belmont turf course labeled soft for the Pebbles Stakes, a one-mile event for three-year-old fillies. One of the main contenders was Got Stormy, who had won three straight stakes races prior to the Pebbles Stakes. But although her form lines were solid, she had competed exclusively on firm turf courses throughout her career, so the soft course for the Pebbles Stakes was a major question mark.

That certainly wasn’t the case for Stella di Camelot, an Irish-bred filly making her U.S. debut for top trainer Chad Brown, who wins at a high percent rate with horses running in North America for the first time. Stella di Camelot had already made five starts in France, where courses can be particularly wet, and she had proved her worth in such conditions by finishing second in a one-mile race over heavy going and fifth (beaten just 3 ½ lengths) in the Prix Miesque (Fr-III) over a course labeled “very soft.”

Thus, it seemed perfectly logical to assume that Stella di Camelot would relish the soft course at Belmont Park much more than the majority of her Pebbles Stakes rivals, and with Chad Brown in her corner, there was no reason to think Stella di Camelot wouldn’t fire off a big effort in her U.S. debut.

At a short price, Stella di Camelot would have been a great candidate to key in the exotic wagers. But bettors, focusing on the runners with previous experience in North America, overlooked Stella di Camelot in the wagering and allowed her to start at 8.80-1. At that price, there was no real need to get creative—when Stella di Camelot seized the lead in the homestretch and powered away to win by 2 ¾ lengths, every $2 win bet returned an eye-catching $19.60. Would she have won just the same over a firm turf course? Perhaps. But the soft going certainly didn’t hurt her chances!