Using History to Handicap the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf

Gambling
St Nicholas Abbey, winner of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs, fits the profile of a typical Turf winner as an Irish-bred racehorse from a powerful European barn who was not the race favorite. (Eclipse Sportswire)

If turf racing, top-class international competition, and longshot winners are all elements of horse racing that you find appealing, then your favorite race of the upcoming Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs should surely be the $4 million, Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf.

The 1 ½-mile turf race typically draws a large and competitive field with several runners shipping in from Europe. Based on the pre-entries, the 2018 edition of the race could be among the best of the last decade.

Of course, handicapping a field filled with foreign runners is easier said than done, particularly when you consider that favorites have enjoyed a surprisingly poor streak of luck in recent editions of the Turf. With this in mind, I’ve taken a look at the history of the Breeders’ Cup Turf to find a few noteworthy trends that can be used to help narrow down the list of contenders.

Let’s take a look at some of the key trends to consider …

Don’t Count Out Deep Closers

While horses with a wide variety of running styles have been successful in recent editions of the Breeders’ Cup Turf — Highland Reel led from start to finish in 2016 — deep closers that rally from the back of the pack have enjoyed more success than one might expect. Conduit (2009), Magician (2013), and Found (2015) all rallied from at least 14 ½ lengths back after a half-mile to win, proving that with a proper setup (a fast pace helps), big late runs can be successful in the Turf.

Year

Winner

Position after first 1/2-mile

½-mile & ¾-mile times

2017

Talismanic

5th by 3.5 lengths (13 starters)

:48.33, 1:12.86 (firm)

2016

Highland Reel

1st by 2.5 lengths (12 starters)

:48.00, 1:12.70 (firm)

2015

Found

7th by 26.75 length (12 starters)

:48.38, 1:12.64 (good)

2014

Main Sequence

9th by 4 lengths (12 starters)

:47.76, 1:11.15 (good)

2013

Magician

11th by 14.5 length (12 starters)

:46.94, 1:10.67 (firm)

2012

Little Mike

3rd by 3.5 lengths (12 starters)

:46.77, 1:10.80 (firm)

2011

St Nicholas Abbey

5th by 3 lengths (9 starters)

:50.09, 1:14.67 (good)

2010

Dangerous Midge

2nd by 2 lengths (7 starters)

:50.17, 1:15.91 (firm)

2009

Conduit

7th by 16 lengths (7 starters)

:45.14, 1:09.24 (firm)

2008

Conduit

8th by 8.75 lengths (11 starters)

:47.06, 1:10.20 (firm)

Favorites Have Not Been Winning

Although plenty of well-bet horses have won the Breeders’ Cup, the race has not been kind to favorites in recent years. Since 2003, when High Chaparral and Johar (neither of them favored) finished in a dead-heat for victory, 15 of the 16 Breeders’ Cup Turf winners were not favored in the wagering. The lone exception was Conduit, who prevailed at 9-10 odds in 2009; overall, the odds available on those 15 winners averaged about 9.4-1. The takeaway? Don’t be afraid to bet mid-range longshots!

Bet Foreign-Bred Runners, Especially Irish-Breds

No country has dominated the Breeders’ Cup Turf as thoroughly as Ireland. Over the last 23 years, a staggering 13 Breeders’ Cup Turf winners were bred in Ireland, with all but one of them shipping in from overseas to score their Breeders’ Cup victory. Great Britain, France, and Germany have also produced winners of the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and all told, 20 of the 35 Breeders’ Cup Turf winners were bred in Europe.

Foreign interests have also enjoyed Breeders’ Cup Turf success with horses bred in North America, and overall, 15 of the last 20 winners of the Turf were based overseas at the time of their Breeders’ Cup victory, leaving very few wins for the home team.


Bet Aidan O’Brien and Sir Michael Stoute

Much of Ireland’s success in the Breeders’ Cup Turf is owed to Ireland’s leading trainer Aidan O’Brien, who has won the race a record-setting six times (all with Irish-breds), including four of the last seven renewals. Furthermore, 12 of O’Brien’s 21 Breeders’ Cup Turf starters have finished in the top three, including six of his last 10.

The record of Sir Michael Stoute is just as impressive with four wins and two seconds in the Turf from just 15 starters, including back-to-back wins with Conduit in 2008-’09.

O’Brien’s two pre-entrants this year — Magical and Hunting Horn — do seem to be a cut below the other European shippers, but perhaps one can sneak into the top three at a nice price to boost to the trifecta payoff. Stoute’s representative, Crystal Ocean, looks considerably more competitive based on Timeform Ratings and seems to be a clear-cut 1 ½-mile specialist with a big chance to finish on the board in the Turf.

Repeat Winners Are Rare

The Breeders’ Cup Turf is a very competitive race, and it has been difficult for horses to win the race in back-to-back years. High Chaparral narrowly pulled off the feat in 2001-’02, and Conduit matched the achievement in 2008-’09, but over the last 20 years horses such as Highland Reel, Found, Little Mike, St. Nicholas Abbey, Red Rocks, Better Talk Now, Buck’s Boy, and Chief Bearhart have fallen short in their attempts to win multiple editions of the race.

Conclusions

Considering the phenomenal success enjoyed by European runners in this race, it would appear that horses like Crystal Ocean, Enable, Talismanic, and Waldgeist will be the main contenders to consider. The two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Enable figures to start as a heavy favorite, but since favorites have had a very tough run since 2003, maybe it’s worth trying to beat her. Likewise, Talismanic won this race last year, but he’ll face a tougher task this time around as he meets a field of higher quality while seeking a rare repeat win in this competitive race.

So why not side with Talismanic’s stablemate Waldgeist? The British-bred 4-year-old by Galileo is a high-class Group 1 winner who finished fourth in the Arc, beaten just 1 ¾ lengths. His trainer, Andre Fabre, has won the Turf three times already. History suggests that Waldgeist could be a very live contender in the Turf while offering better odds than Enable. The same goes for Crystal Ocean, who actually has the highest career-best Timeform Rating in the field. When Stoute sends a horse for the Turf, it pays to pay attention, so if you want to take a shot against Enable, Waldgeist and Crystal Ocean could be the two to consider.

2018 Longines Breeders' Cup Turf
November 3rd, 2018

Winning Time: 2:32.65
  • Purse: $4,000,000
  • Distance: 1 1/2 Miles
  • Age: 3 yo's & up
  • Surface: Turf
  • Winning Time: 2:32.65
Results
Win
Place
Show
1st
2 Enable (GB)
$3.60
$3.00
$2.60
2nd
5 Magical (IRE)
$6.80
$4.80
3rd
11 Sadler's Joy
$8.80
4th
6 Arklow
5th
12 Waldgeist (GB)
6th
1 Talismanic (GB)
7th
4 Robert Bruce (CHI)
8th
13 Hunting Horn (IRE)
9th
10 Hi Happy (ARG)
10th
9 Quarteto de Cordas (BRZ)
12th
8 Liam the Charmer
13th
7 Glorious Empire (IRE)
Payoff
Pick 3
7-11-2
7-11-2
$25
Daily Double
11-2
11-2
$14
Daily Double
BCJUVTURF/BCTURF 5-2
BCJUVTURF/BCTURF 5-2
$12
Exacta
2-5
2-5
$13
Head2Head
ENABLE V FIELD- 1 (ENABLE-2)
ENABLE V FIELD- 1 (ENABLE-2)
$4
Superfecta
2-5-11-6
2-5-11-6
$412
Trifecta
2-5-11
2-5-11
$126
Z-5 Super Hi-5
2-5-11-6-12
2-5-11-6-12
$6,857
Race Replay
Play
Payoff
Pick 3
7-11-2
7-11-2
$25
Daily Double
11-2
11-2
$14
Daily Double
BCJUVTURF/BCTURF 5-2
BCJUVTURF/BCTURF 5-2
$12
Exacta
2-5
2-5
$13
Head2Head
ENABLE V FIELD- 1 (ENABLE-2)
ENABLE V FIELD- 1 (ENABLE-2)
$4
Superfecta
2-5-11-6
2-5-11-6
$412
Trifecta
2-5-11
2-5-11
$126
Z-5 Super Hi-5
2-5-11-6-12
2-5-11-6-12
$6,857

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