The $2 million, Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile historically has been a fun, but challenging exercise for bettors and racing fans looking for a winner and, of course, next year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve horse.
Although Game Winner prevailed as the even-money favorite a year ago, favorites have been a poor bet in the Juvenile when looking at the results from 1999-2018 – the last 20 editions of the 1 1/16-mile race – with average winning odds of nearly 11-1 during that time.
Because the Breeders’ Cup brings together the best horses in training from across the country and world, there are so many factors that play into handicapping World Championships races. Two-year-old races present additional variables such as determining quality of competition coming out of stakes filled with maiden winners, runners shipping for the first time, competing in front of a massive crowd, etc. Plus, there is significantly less information in the past performances with which to formulate your opinion.
With that in mind, let’s dig around for some interesting pieces of information in the last 20 editions of the Juvenile that could be helpful as you pare down your list of contenders.
First, let’s focus on all 20 races to try to identify historical trends that could prove useful.
Since this year’s Breeders’ Cup will be held at Santa Anita Park in Southern California, we’ll then narrow the scope to go in depth on the editions of the Juvenile held at Santa Anita – 2003, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016 – with an emphasis on the five editions held on dirt.
Finally, we’ll take a closer look at this year’s entrants to try and identify a few runners that fit the profile of a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. The race will be televised on NBC Sports live as part of the “Future Stars Friday” broadcast from 4-8 p.m. ET Nov. 1.
What are some of the key takeaways from the last 20 editions of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile?
- The favorite has won four times (20%) from 1999-2018 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
- All four favorites – Game Winner (2018), Shanghai Bobby (2012), Uncle Mo (2010), and War Pass (2007) – were unbeaten and capped perfect championship campaigns in the Juvenile.
- Eight winners struck at double-digit odds (10-1) or higher, most recently Good Magic at 11.50-1 in 2017. That group includes four at 26.80-1 or higher: Vale of York (30.60-1 in 2009), Wilko (28.30-1 in 2004), Action This Day (26.80-1 in 2003), and Anees (30.3-1 in 1999).
- The average odds for the winner over the 20-year stretch has been 10.75-1 with a median of 6.70-1. The odds range from even-money for Game Winner in 2018 to 30.6-1 for Vale of York in 2009.
- All but one of the last 20 winners of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile were bred in Kentucky. Irish-bred Vale of York, who in 2009 won on the synthetic main track at Santa Anita, was the lone exception.
- Thirteen of the last 20 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners won their final prep race. In fact, all 20 finished in the top three and 18 of 20 won or finished within three lengths of the winner in their final pre-Breeders’ Cup start. None lost by more than five lengths.
- Eleven of the 13 who won their final prep did so by open lengths (one length or more).
- Eight of the 13 last-out winners capped unbeaten seasons in the Juvenile.
- Nine of the last 20 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners were Grade 1 winners entering the World Championships and 11 were graded stakes winners. Only two horses were neither stakes winners nor graded stakes-placed: Action This Day for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, and New Year’s Day for Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, both won the Juvenile off maiden victories.
- Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winners entered the race with a combined 46 wins from 73 starts from 1999-2018 for a 63% strike rate.
- Twelve of the 20 Juvenile winners had experience in a race going around two turns. Three others completed their final prep in Europe and four came out of the one-turn-mile Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park.
- The Juvenile historically has been a very fair race for all running styles since its inception, and the last 20 years are no exception. Six winners profiled as pace or press-the-pace type runners, seven profiled as stalkers, four were stalkers/closers, and three profiled as dedicated closers.
- Three winners led from start to finish and five rallied from eight lengths back or more after a half-mile.
- Four winners led after the first half-mile in the Juvenile from 1999-2018 and 12 of 20 were fifth or better.
- The average winner was 3.8 lengths back after first quarter-mile, improving to 3.66 lengths back after the first half-mile. Median position was fifth/fourth at the first two points of call, 2 ¼ lengths back after the first quarter-mile and half-mile.
- Eleven of the 20 winners led in early stretch and 16 were third or better.
- Macho Uno’s victory by a nose in 2000 was the smallest margin of victory while Street Sense’s 10-length romp in 2006 was the largest winning margin.
- Five editions of the Juvenile were decided by a neck or less, while on the other side of the coin five editions were won by 4 ¼ lengths or more.
- The average margin of victory has been 2 ¼ lengths with the median margin of victory 1 ¼ lengths.
- The average Equibase Speed Figure for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner is 108.7 with a median of 108.5.
- Shanghai Bobby earned an 86 Equibase Speed Figure for winning the 2012 Juvenile, which was the slowest in the 20-year stretch, while War Pass (2007) and Uncle Mo (2010) both earned a 123, the highest figure.
How does that change when narrowing the focus to seven Breeders’ Cup Juvenile races held at Santa Anita, with a focus on the five editions held on dirt in 2003, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016?
- The favorite has one only one of the seven editions of the Juvenile held at Santa Anita between 1999 and 2018, when Shanghai Bobby prevailed as the 1.30-1 favorite in 2012.
- Longshots have performed quite well at this venue with four double-digit-odds winners, including three from the five held on a dirt main track: Action This Day won at 36.8-1 in 2003, New Year’s Day won at 10.5-1 in 2013, and Texas Red struck at 13.90-1 in 2014.
- One trait the three double-digit longshots mentioned above had in common was that all were closers or closers/stalkers, which might surprise some given speed is typically very dangerous on the dirt at Santa Anita.
- Looking only at the five dirt races at Santa Anita from 1999-2018, the average odds for the winner were 11.4-1 with a median of 10.5-1.
- Only one of the seven Juvenile winners at Santa Anita in this 20-year timeframe profiled as a pace or press-the-pace type: Shanghai Bobby in 2013. Classic Empire entered the race as a stalker in 2016 and pressed a moderate pace before pulling away to win by two lengths and pay $11 for a $2 win bet.
- Six of the seven editions of the Juvenile were won by stalkers or closers, including four of the five editions held on dirt. Texas Red was ninth after a half-mile, New Year’s Day was eighth, and Action This Day was 12th at that point in the race.
- Three of the seven races at Santa Anita Park were decided by a neck or less, while the other four were open-length victories.
- Four of the seven winners at Santa Anita from 1999-2018 won their final prep race. Two others finished second by less than a length and Texas Red finished a well-beaten third behind future Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in his final prep in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes (since renamed the American Pharoah Stakes).
- Recent form definitely seems to be a bigger factor when narrowing down to the five races on dirt at Santa Anita during this 20-year window as four of five entered off a win, with Texas Red the lone exception. The five runners combined to win 10 of 16 starts (62.5%) prior to the Juvenile.
- When looking at class, it is interesting that the aforementioned two maiden special weight race winners making their stakes debuts in the Juvenile – Action This Day (2003) and New Year’s Day (2013) – both won on the dirt at Santa Anita. It’s worth keeping an eye on lightly raced local runners when looking for a possible longshot.
- The average winning Equibase Speed Figure for the seven editions of the Juvenile from 1999-2018 was 104.3 with a median of 107. For the five races on dirt during that timeframe, the average dipped to 102.8 with a median of 106.
Which of this year’s contenders fit the typical profile of a Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner?
On paper, there appears to be a pretty clear trio of Breeders’ Cup standouts in Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes winner Dennis’ Moment, Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes winner Eight Rings, and Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity victor Maxfield. Of the three, I’m leaning toward Maxfield at the moment, so let’s take a closer look at him first.
Maxfield reminds me a bit of Classic Empire, who won the Juvenile in 2016 at 9-2 odds that were an absolute gift considering the talent he had shown. Like Maxfield, Classic Empire posted a visually impressive victory in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland and was a bit overshadowed by that year’s Iroquois Stakes winner, Not This Time. Maxfield rallied from farther back in this year’s Breeders’ Futurity, however, as he closed from 9 ½ lengths back after a half-mile to be 2 ½ lengths clear in early stretch with an explosive rally reminiscent of his sire, Street Sense, who used a similar move to win both the 2006 Juvenile and 2007 Kentucky Derby. I really like to see that eye-catching, push-button acceleration in a 2-year-old prospect, and Maxfield showed similar finishing ability in his debut when he closed from 10th to win by three-quarters of a length Sept. 14 at Churchill Downs. I think there is a very good chance we’ll be talking about nine unbeaten winners of the Juvenile in the last 20 years next year thanks to a victory by Maxfield. He probably will need to take a step forward as far as speed figures, but his last-race Equibase and Beyer Speed Figures are very close to those of Dennis’ Moment and Eight Rings, and closers have performed quite well in this race, particularly at Santa Anita.
Dennis’ Moment could easily be undefeated, too, had he not clipped heels and unseated his rider in his debut. He won his second start by 19 ½ lengths July 27 at Ellis Park, earning a 101 Equibase Speed Figure and a 97 Beyer Speed Figure. The bay Tiznow colt stalked the pace in his second start and responded when asked by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. to pull away and post a 1 ¾-length win in the Iroquois while geared down late. While his 98 Equibase Speed Figure was a slight step back, when watching the replay it’s clear Dennis’ Moment had plenty left in the tank and he looked excellent in his first try around two turns. He has a little more tactical speed than Maxfield and I could see Dennis’ Moment positioned at the front of the second group just a few lengths off the pace and getting a head start on Maxfield. It does not look like there is a ton of pace in the race among the probable runners, so that could be a significant advantage for Dennis’ Moment. Twelve of the 20 winners of the Juvenile had two-turn experience and 13 of 20 won their final prep races. With good form, quality speed figures, and what should be an ideal running style, Dennis’ Moment is a logical win candidate.
Likewise, there is much to like from Eight Rings, who will try to give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his fifth win in the Juvenile since 2002. The Empire Maker colt generated a ton of buzz when he rolled to a 6 ¼-length romp in his Aug. 4 at debut at Del Mar that earned a 105 Equibase Speed Figure and a 94 Beyer Speed Figure. He ducked in and unseated his rider in the Grade 1 Runhappy Del Mar Futurity but came back to post a six-length runaway in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes in his first try around two turns. The 103 Equibase Speed Figure indicates he fits well here and, like Dennis’ Moment, he looked like he had something left in the tank. Eight Rings led from start to finish in the American Pharoah and I’d expect him to set or press the pace. While that has not been especially effective over the last 20 years, especially at Santa Anita, there does not look like much speed pointing to this race and I also think he’s ratable if another entrant is sent to the front. The American Pharoah/FrontRunner Stakes has produced three of the last five winners of this race and there is a very strong chance that Eight Rings, a Grade 1 winner with two-turn experience, will be leading entering the stretch.
Of the above three, I think Maxfield probably will offer the most value at somewhere in the 7-2 to 5-1 range, but if you are looking for a bigger price Iroquois runner-up Scabbard could be the play. It is possible, however, that Scabbard will be the wise-guy tout having encountered traffic in the Iroquois – he was pretty much stopped cold on the turn –before regaining his momentum and rallying for second. He won his debut and then finished second in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes before the Iroquois runner-up finish. I thought Scabbard looked better stretching out around two turns, and the 96 Equibase Speed and 87 Beyer Speed Figures he earned were a step in the right direction. He should be finishing well late.
If you are looking for a huge price, one to consider is Wrecking Crew. Daily Racing Form has him lasted at 30-1 among the early probables and he’s finished second in both the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes and Grade 1 Runhappy Del Mar Futurity in his two most recent starts after winning his career debut in July at Del Mar. He’s from the first crop of a sire, Sky Kingdom, who was a two-time graded stakes winner at 1 ½ miles and there is some sneaky stamina in his pedigree that doesn’t jump out in the program. With a career-best 99 Equibase Speed Figure and 79 Beyer Speed Figure, he needs to take a big step forward, but he’s shown he can compete against Grade 1 company, trainer Peter Miller has won four Breeders’ Cup races in the last two years, and I think he’ll be passing horses in the stretch at a huge price.