If handicapping the Kentucky Derby (G1) usually has you reaching for a bottle of aspirin, then wait until the Breeders’ Cup World Championships roll around.
Just think of it as the Kentucky Derby times 15 as two days of heart-pounding stakes action will bring together the nation’s best horses for an event in which the unpredictable has become commonplace.
A bevy of equine stars will descend upon Santa Anita Park, creating an array of the deepest, most talent-laden fields of the year.
And that’s the major problem for handicappers. As much as there will be several champions who seem to tower over their challengers, there are also some Grade 1 stakes winners who will be sent off at double-digit odds and are capable of springing an upset on their best day.
Suffice it to say, Nov. 2 and Nov. 3 will be one of those days for several horses.
Upsets spring up in the Breeders’ Cup like flowers in May, which makes it such a difficult yet rewarding test of handicapping skills.
To prepare for such a challenge, the best advice is to formulate a game plan. Don’t wager on a race-by-race basis, putting the same amount of money into play each time. Pick out your best plays and focus your bankroll and betting strategy on them. Let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than absolutely loving a horse in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) but having just $2 left in your wallet because you foolishly plunked down large chunks of cash on horses you had only lukewarm interest in.
As for what to look for in your Breeders’ Cup selections, there are numerous angles to consider.
In a switch from the last time the Breeders’ Cup was staged at Santa Anita, the main track is now composed of dirt instead of a synthetic surface and lately it has been kinder than a philanthropist to early speed. If that trend continues into next month, it could simplify matters. Just find the two speed horses and you’ll have your exacta play. Yet there will inevitably be complications in races where the favorite is a closer who appears so much better than the rest of the field that not even a track bias can stop him.
Beyond anything else, though, the Breeders’ Cup is a gambler’s paradise. It’s the perfect venue to step out and take a chance because a $20 winner is as likely as a $4 winner.
Looking over the results of the past two years, there were a total of 29 Breeders’ Cup races. Favorites won seven of them, which breaks down to a respectable 24 percent. That’s not bad. Except when you realize that 10 winners paid $22 or more. That’s 34 percent. Horses who paid $42 or more won five times for 17 percent, which compares favorably with the rate of winning favorites.
With numbers like that, putting together a pick 3 play with a trio of favorites is not the best of ideas.
If you’re an exacta player, the numbers are also revealing. Favorites finished first or second 12 times, which adds up to 41 percent, which says if you’re putting together a 3- or 4-horse box including the chalk is logical.
Filling out the rest of the ticket is problematic. Again, horses at 10-1 or more fared better than favorites as they finished first or second 15 times (51 percent).
Equally interesting was that horses at 5-1, 6-1 and 7-1 won 10 times (34 percent) and were either first or second 17 times (58 percent).
Putting all of that together, the best way to attack a 3-horse exacta box could be to include the favorite, a horse between 5-1 and 7-1, and one at odds of 10-1 or more.
Of course, choosing the right horses to fill those slots is the real dilemma, especially when there are so many graded stakes winners to choose from. There are no easy answers as illustrated by last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, who was good enough to finish second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes (G1) and win the 2010 Belmont Stakes (G1) but still went off at 14-1 odds.
That’s why, if you really like a horse, there’s no sin in wheeling it the exacta to make sure you leave nothing to chance. After all, looking at last year’s results and seeing horses priced at 64-1, 41-1, 27-1, 20-1 and two at 33-1 figure in the exactas, wheeling could be your avenue to a profitable and memorable afternoon.
It certainly beats taking a few aspirin.