Betting takeaways from the 2021 Breeders' Cup

November 8th, 2021

Breeders' Cup 2021 was interesting, to say the least, from a wagering and sporting perspective.

Last month we noted some trends from the previous Breeders' Cup held at Del Mar in 2017. Here's a look at how some of those held up and several other betting takeaways from the weekend.

Favorites did better, except some heavily backed ones

Favorites won only two of 13 races at the 2017 Breeders' Cup, but did much better this year with five of 14 winning this past weekend (the number really should be six as Modern Games was favored before he was inadvertently scratched behind the gate prior to the Juvenile Turf [G1]).

However, odds-on favorites continue to be unreliable. Loads of bettors banked on Gamine in the Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) and Jackie's Warrior in the Sprint (G1) to be "free squares" in multi-race wagers, or passed on betting those races altogether due to their presence. Each turned out to be mistakes as both were beaten horses before reaching the eighth pole.

In the case of Jackie's Warrior, his effort was especially bad. That result was reminiscent of the hype surrounding Lost in the Fog, who in 2005 was favored at 7-10 but wilted when getting his first taste at facing older competition.

The takeaway going forward is to be much more suspect of three-year-old favorites in the Sprint who haven't faced and/or beaten older horses prior to the Breeders' Cup. Only one three-year-old favorite has ever won the Sprint, and at least Runhappy had scored a lead-in victory against older in the Phoenix (G2) at Keeneland in 2015.

Europeans did as well as expected

European invaders, in particular those sporting Godolphin blue, did extraordinarily well. However, they still remain no match in a race like the Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2), and they oddly continue having lopsided success in the Juvenile Turf (G1) compared to the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), for which I have no plausible explanation to offer.

California-based runners continue to struggle

For the second straight Breeders' Cup held in California, the locals had a hard time. Not that many were favored, granted, but the home team managed to win only two of the 14 races last weekend (they would have equaled their 2017 win total if Dr. Schivel had not been beaten a dirty nose in the Sprint).

The trend downward for the local contingent when California hosts the Breeders' Cup has been dramatic. As recently as the Breeders' Cups held at Santa Anita in 2013 and 2016, locals walked away with six trophies.

Few jaw-dropping surprises

The one inscrutable result of the 2021 Breeders' Cup was that of the Japanese mare Marche Lorraine's victory in the Distaff (G1) at nearly 50-1. Hailing from a country that prizes grass racing more than dirt, and having distantly placed only once at Group 3 level, she was a very difficult horse to come up with or use in any betting plans. Indeed, I didn't stumble across any public selector listing her as a top-three or -four choice. It was no sin not to have found more to like about her beforehand.

Credit to Marche Lorraine for being the one to take advantage of a ridiculously fast pace and for fending off the best fillies and mares we could muster.