Did More Rest Equal Breeders’ Cup Success in 2017?

Europe-based Talismanic won the Longines Breeders Cup Turf off of 55 days rest. (Eclipse Sportswire)

There was no rest for the weary handicapper during Breeders’ Cup week, even though rest was a prime concern for some of the horses in the major races.

In the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the two favorites, Arrogate and Gun Runner, were coming off nine and 11 weeks rest, respectively. Meanwhile, in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, neither Forever Unbridled nor Stellar Wind had raced since August and July in their respective last preps.

The results, of course, were 50-50. Gun Runner won impressively while Arrogate finished in a dead-heat for fifth. In the Distaff, Forever Unbridled prevailed while Stellar Wind finished last in her first race since July 30.

Those results beg the question of whether there was a trend in regards to the amount of rest horses had heading into the Breeders’ Cup. To find out, I divided the results into four categories of rest, and then compiled them for North American horses and those from Europe. The categories were: 28 days of rest or less; 29-56 days; 57-84 days; and 85 days and longer.

For North American horses, in terms of percentages, it was the 85 days and longer that had the best win percentage, albeit with the smallest sample size – by far.

There were only four of them, but one (Liberal Spin) won while the other three were unplaced. While the 25 percent win mark was high, the 75 percent unplaced mark was about average for all horses.

After that, the second-best winning percentage went to the 28 days or less group with five wins from 45 horses (11.1 percent). Yet beyond that, there were only one second and two thirds, giving it a mark of 17.7 percent in the money and 82.3 percent unplaced.

In comparison, the 29-56 group (four to eight weeks) had just two wins from 55 horses (3.6 percent) but had a superior in-the-money average. There were eight seconds and seven thirds from those 55 runners, adding up to 30.9 percent in the money and 69.1 percent unplaced, which were the best figures in the four categories.

The third group, 57-84 days (eight to 12 weeks) had 24 starters with consistent results of two wins (8.3 percent), two seconds and two thirds for 25 percent in the money and 75 percent unplaced.

Realistically, that data did not point out anything glaring as the win and in-the-money figures for 28 days or less and 29-56 days told dramatically different stories. At best, a case could be made that the 28 or less days horses had an edge since they had raced more recently and had fitness on their side, but in general there seems to be no hard and fast rule about the spacing from a final prep to Breeders’ Cup day.

Where there was a much more noticeable trend came with the Europeans, where a recent race mattered most.

There were nine horses who shipped in from Europe with 28 days of rest or less and they produced one winner (11.1 percent) with one second and two thirds. That meant 44.4 percent of the Europeans with that much rest finished in the money, which was highest total of any time sequence, be it for North Americas or Europeans.

Conversely, there were 20 Europeans with 29-56 days of rest and they combined for two wins (10 percent), and just one second for 15 percent in the money and a surprising 85 percent unplaced.

There was also one European in each of the 57-84 days and 85 days or more categories and both them were unplaced.

Clearly, the Europeans with shorter periods of rest fared best, which is surprising since horses exiting the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe card on Oct. 1 were grouped in the 29-56 days bracket.

Realistically, that seems the like the best angle to follow next year. Beyond it, the “rest” is indeed a part of history that’s open to debate.

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