When a horse specifically targets a race, take notice

November 8th, 2023

When handicapping high-profile graded stakes, it’s helpful to keep an eye on the racing news to determine which horses have been specifically pointed to the race and which are joining the field at the last minute.

The 2023 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita provided examples of both. The 1 1/2-mile turf test was packed with high-quality horses shipping in from Europe, but often the Breeders’ Cup Turf is a secondary goal for these runners, who have lucrative autumn races back home they can target.

For example, King of Steel was running back only two weeks after rallying over a soft Ascot course to win the prestigious 1 1/4-mile Champion (G1). Winning two major races on opposite sides of the Atlantic in a span of two weeks isn’t easy, which made King of Steel a vulnerable contender at Santa Anita. There was a chance he’d produced his best effort at Ascot and would regress at Santa Anita.

Mostahdaf, a sharp winner against strong competition in the 1 1/4-mile Prince of Wales’s (G1) and 1 5/16-mile Juddmonte International (G1), had been an intended starter for the Champion over his preferred 1 1/4-mile distance. But when the ground came up soft at Ascot, Mostahdaf was rerouted to the longer Breeders’ Cup Turf. Shifting to a lesser favorable distance while racing two weeks later than intended were both obstacles for Mostahdaf to overcome.

In contrast, four-time Group 1 winner Auguste Rodin had been specifically prepared for the Breeders’ Cup Turf by Aidan O’Brien, a six-time winner of the Turf. The 1 1/2-mile distance and firm turf at Santa Anita figured to suit Auguste Rodin, who came in fresh off a victory in the Irish Champion (G1) two months prior.

Bettors made Auguste Rodin the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, but not by much. The talented three-year-old closed at odds of 5-2, while Mostahdaf started as the 33-10 second choice and King of Steel settled as the 11-2 fourth choice.

Handicappers who understood the less-than-favorable circumstances facing Mostahdaf and King of Steel likely caught a payoff of $70 for every $20 win bet when Auguste Rodin rode the rail to victory over three-time U.S. Grade 1 winner Up to the Mark, the 34-10 third choice. The $2 exacta returned $25.80 while King of Steel finished fifth and Mostahdaf weakened to eighth place.

The next time you hear news of a horse missing a slated race and rerouting to another, or see a horse wheeling back on short rest following a big victory, consider whether the horse will be vulnerable to defeat against a rival who has specifically targeted the race you’re handicapping.