Trends worth remembering from Keeneland's first Breeders' Cup

October 13th, 2020

Keeneland plays host to the Breeders' Cup for a second time on Nov. 6-7, five years after superstars like American Pharoah, Songbird, Tepin, and Runhappy made the first ever World Championships held at the historic Lexington oval one to remember.

While it's difficult to extrapolate much from only one previous Breeders' Cup held at Keeneland, it might be useful to recall some of what occurred over the two-day fixture in 2015 that might potentially apply in a few weeks' time. Here are some items of note.

Four tips for a Breeders' Cup return to Keeneland

Lukewarm favorites were worth avoiding

Defined here as favorites that started at odds of 3-1 or higher, lukewarm public choices were pari-mutuel poison in 2015. Undrafted (Turf Sprint [G1]), Cavorting (Filly and Mare Sprint [G1]), and Greenpointcrusader (Juvenile [G1]) all wound up running out of the money, while the best that four others who started in the 5-2 to 3-1 range could do was a pair of second-place finishes.

While this betting "rule" is perhaps best followed in general throughout the year, it seems even more pertinent in such deep and competitive races as the Breeders' Cup.

Seemingly "bad" post positions were nothing of the sort

Post 14 yielded two Breeders' Cup winners in Hit It a Bomb (Juvenile Turf [G1]) and Mongolian Saturday (Turf Sprint), while horses breaking from posts 13 and 14 occupied the next two slots behind Runhappy in the Sprint (G1). And outside posts, in particular 13 and 12, didn't stop Nyquist and Swipe from running one-two in the Juvenile (G1) despite a fairly short run into the first turn of that 1 1/16-mile event.

In other words, unless there is an obvious track or course bias in play, it might be best not to get too hung up on which post legitimate win contenders are breaking from. That goes for those you like and those you're not as keen on.

Experience over the course and distance still mattered in the Turf Sprint

In the early years of the Turf Sprint, when the Breeders' Cup generally alternated between Santa Anita and Churchill Downs, prior success over the course and distance was virtually imperative.

While that trend has relaxed somewhat in recent years to include experience rather than just success, the 2015 Turf Sprint at Keeneland was no exception. That year's edition, when Mongolian Saturday (151-1) and Lady Shipman (9-2) produced a $243.40 exacta, the two were coming off second-place efforts in the Woodford (G3) and Franklin County S., respectively.

Don't underestimate American-based turf horses on an off course

The Keeneland turf was officially labeled "yielding" for Day 1 of the 2015 Breeders' Cup and "good" for Day 2, but based on the raw final times of the Breeders' Cup turf races on the second day it's hard to believe the course had dried out much at all.

Kentucky weather being what it is, it's hard to envision the Keeneland turf being much in the way of firm on the first weekend of November. Contrary to conventional wisdom, though, that doesn't necessarily mean Europeans will have a significant edge.

A case in point was third choice Stephanie's Kitten's ($17.60) upset in the Filly and Mare Turf (G1). Although she had fared poorly in two prior runs over the Keeneland turf on firm ground, as the favorite in both the 2012 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) and the 2014 Jenny Wiley (G1), her prior victories on yielding or soft ground, in the 2013 Just a Game (G1) and 2015 Flower Bowl (G1), suggested she was likely to thrive on the existing conditions.

By extension, pay less attention to the official course condition designation and pay more to the raw final times (and possibly jockey quotes) to discern how firm or soft the course is.