Historic trends favors this handicapping approach for Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf

October 9th, 2019

Grass racing continues to be an increasingly popular and crucial segment of the American racing landscape. One sign of this has been the explosion in the number of turf stakes, graded and otherwise, for three-year-olds over the past decade or so.

Turf opportunities for juveniles have grown, too, as evidenced by the Breeders' Cup's introduction of both the Juvenile Turf (G1) and Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) to its program back in 2008, and the subsequent enhancement of existing or creation of prep races for them.

Despite this increased emphasis, one indisputable trend that bettors focusing on the upcoming Breeders' Cup (and seemingly those for years to come) is that the American-based two-year-old turf males continue to lag behind their European counterparts in terms of success in the Juvenile Turf after more than a decade of such growth.

With 12 editions of the Juvenile Turf in the books, American-based runners have won only four. After inaugural winner Nownownow (2007), the trophy has stayed in U.S. hands after victories by Pluck (2010), Hootenanny (2014), and Oscar Performance (2016), but even the Wesley Ward-trained Hootenanny had been battle-tested on European soil for half of his pre-Breeders' Cup campaign.

It also shouldn't be a surprise that the European invaders that won were far from the best juveniles in their respective homelands. None of the eight had previously won at Group 1 level nor did any win at that level again after their Breeders' Cup triumphs.

This is not to say there haven't been some good European invaders among the Juvenile Turf also-rans. The Juvenile Turf fields of the past two years have had the surprising distinction of including the following season's Epsom Derby (G1) winner. Masar finished fifth at Del Mar in 2017, while Anthony Van Dyck finished ninth as the favorite over testing ground at Churchill Downs in 2018.

The preponderance of Europeans in the Juvenile Turf winner's circle doesn't mean the Americans don't fare well in the race. Europeans have run one-two in the Juvenile Turf only twice, in 2008 and 2013. An all-American exacta has occurred just once, in 2014.

In contrast to the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), which American runners have dominated with a 10-2 edge since 2008, the Juvenile Turf perhaps will remain the domain of overseas invaders. Although flexibility is essential to looking at any race, one useful handicapping approach for the Juvenile Turf might be to concentrate first on the European contingent to find leading win contenders before analyzing the lengthier list of domestic hopefuls in search of the most likely secondary placers.