One-turn vs. two-turn miles: Subtly but significantly different

February 23rd, 2021

The majority of Thoroughbreds racetracks in North America are one-mile dirt ovals, and racing one mile has long been considered a perfect test of speed and stamina. But not all miles are created equal.

At many tracks, one-mile races take place around two turns—in other words, a single, straightforward lap around the track. Roughly as much time is spent on the turns as the straights, a configuration that tends to place more emphasis on stamina than speed.

RELATED: Find more handicapping tips and educational wagering information here.

However, a handful of tracks—namely, Aqueduct, Arlington Park, Belmont Park, Churchill Downs, Gulfstream Park, and Laurel Park—are equipped with special chutes extending out of the backstretch. This configuration allows one-mile races to be contested around a single turn, with a straight run down the chute and backstretch replacing the journey around the first turn. This setup plays a bit more kindly toward speed, giving sprinters a better chance to stretch out and defeat longer-winded rivals.

Some horses are equally adept over both configurations, thriving in one-turn and two-turn races alike. But others display a distinct preference for one setup over the other. Late runners in particular can thrive when cutting back from two-turn to one-turn races, since one-turn events tend to unfold with quick fractions more favorable to deep closers. Recognizing these subtleties can lead to lucrative wagering opportunities.

Consider, for example, the accomplished career of Caleb’s Posse. One of the leading three-year-olds of 2011, Caleb’s Posse spent the first half of his sophomore season competing with modest success in two-turn races, with a triumph in the 1 1/16-mile Ohio Derby (G3) ranking as his most notable achievement.

But then Caleb’s Posse started competing in one-turn races, and as though a switch had been flipped, he became a completely different horse. In quick succession, the stretch-running colt unleashed powerful rallies to win the Amsterdam (G2) and King’s Bishop (G1) at odds of 12-1 and 5-1. No longer was Caleb’s Posse struggling to close ground against second-tier fields; he was rallying from out of the clouds and beating past and future Grade 1 winners like it was nothing.

In the fall, Caleb’s Posse gave two turns another try in the Indiana Derby (G3) and promptly disappointed, flattening out to finish a distant third. But this race ultimately served as a perfect prep for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs, where Caleb’s Posse benefitted from the subtle switch to a one-turn mile.

Bettors who recognized Caleb’s Posse’s firm preference for one-turn races were handsomely rewarded. Bouncing right back to his explosive summer form, Caleb’s Posse blew the doors off his rivals in the homestretch, rallying from far behind to trounce his opponents by four widening lengths. Among his beaten rivals were the top two finishers from the Indiana Derby.

It seems most handicappers overlooked Caleb’s Posse’s credentials, for the bay colt started at 6-1 and returned an enticing $15.60 for every $2 win bet, even while bringing his record in one-turn dirt races to a perfect 4-for-4.

Horses with such clear-cut preferences don’t come along every day, but when they do, the results can be lucrative for attuned bettors. Caleb’s Posse serves as a poster child example.

Find even more helpful information in our guides to betting library here.