Why Longshots Have Run Well in Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Analyzing 2020 Contenders

Nyquist, with Mario Gutierrez up, won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland en route to earning champion 2-year-old male honors. (Eclipse Sportswire)

One of the Breeders’ Cup races that attracts the most attention each year is the Juvenile. Not only does it typically determine the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old male, the race often offers a glimpse of what is to come for the next year’s Triple Crown season.

Sure, the winner has not consistently carried that elite form into their 3-year-old season, but the last five editions have served as a springboard for horses like Nyquist, Brody’s Cause, Exaggerator, Rated R Superstar, Classic Empire, Practical Joke, Good Magic, Firenze Fire, U S Navy Flag, Game Winner, Mr. Money, Mind Control, Complexity, and Well Defined who went on to graded stakes success in subsequent years.

But rather than looking ahead, this exercise based upon looking back at past editions of the race to see what the last 20 editions tell us about the winner and then applying that to the 2020 TVG Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Keeneland on Nov. 6

The first thing that jumped out at me was that this is a race that frequently produces upsets with 15 of the last 20 winners paying at least $10 on a $2 bet and eight of the 20 producing winners at double-digit odds. So, that seems like the ideal place to start.

Uncovering Longshots

Storm the Court (inside) upsets in 2019. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Favorites can and do win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but five times in the last 20 years the winner has rewarded backers with a win payout of $30 or more for a $2 win bet. As valuable as that can be – an upset win can single-handedly give a bettor a profitable weekend –  imagine how much even the 10 winners that paid $15 or more during this span boosted the value of multi-race tickets for gamblers who included them. Let’s explore the odds of the Juvenile winners and take a closer look at the upset winners.

  • Only four favorites have won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in the last 20 years: War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010), Shanghai Bobby (2012), and Game Winner (2018).
  • While there have also been five winners between 7-2 and 5-1, that leaves quite a few longshot winners, including eight who crossed the finish line first at 10.50-1 or higher.
  • That has helped boost the average odds of the Juvenile winner to 11.53-1 with a median of 6.7-1. Even using the median, a $15.40 winner can be the key to a terrific score in vertical or horizontal bets.
  • Of the eight double-digit winners, four were higher than 25-1 odds: Action This Day, 26.80-1 in 2003; Wilko, 28.30-1 in 2004; Vale of York, 30.60-1 in 2009; and Storm the Court, 45.90-1 in 2019.
  • Adding Storm the Court to the fold for this year’s analysis didn’t really skew the data as he replaced 30.30-1 winner Anees from 1999 in the 20-race sample.
  • Let’s take a closer look at the double-digit winners, but we’ll start by eliminating from the equation Vale of York, who shipped in from Italy and posted a shocking upset on a synthetic main track.
  • All of the other seven double-digit longshots (not counting Vale of York) finished in the top three in their final prep race, but only two won and both of those winners came out of a maiden special weight race score.
  • Four of the seven ran third and were beaten by open lengths, with three running third in Grade 1 races and Wilko coming out of a Group 2 race in Europe. So, it might be worth looking closer at the horses who rounded out the exacta/trifecta in key prep races knowing 2-year-olds can improve dramatically at this time of year.
  • Storm the Court inherited an uncontested pace after 9-10 favorite Dennis’ Moment stumbled badly at the start last year, but the other six longshot winners profiled as stalkers or closers and four of them were eighth or worse after the first quarter-mile and half-mile. (Note: Storm the Court also profiled as a stalker entering the race.)
  • These seven double-digit longshot winners (not counting Vale of York) were on average more than 6 ¾ lengths back after a half-mile, but that dramatically changed by early stretch as on average the seven were about a head in front, which to me indicates an explosive turn of foot among this group.
  • Six of the seven had only one win to their credit entering the Juvenile. Wilko had two wins from 10 starts, but the other six longshots we are looking at averaged just under three starts (2.83) with a median of three races.
  • Six of the seven had posted an Equibase Speed Figure of at least 106 with an average of 107.1 and a median of 108.5.
  • My main takeaway from the seven double-digit longshots (not counting Vale of York) is to look for lightly raced prospects who were either competitive against elite stakes competition or coming off a maiden win. It also helps if they have shown the ability to rate off the pace and make a sustained late run.

What About the Favorites?

Uncle Mo in 2010. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The Juvenile has produced quite a few upsets in recent year, but what stands out when taking a closer look at the winning favorites? Over the last 20 years, they have definitely fit a specific profile.

  • The four winning favorites mentioned above – War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010), Shanghai Bobby (2012), and Game Winner (2018) – combined for 12 starts before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and won them all.
  • All four capped unbeaten, Eclipse Award-winning campaigns in the Juvenile.
  • All four came out of Grade 1 wins and three came out of a victory in the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park.
  • The only one of the four who did not lead from start to finish was Game Winner, who profiled as a stalker entering the 2018 Juvenile. He raced four lengths back in sixth after a half-mile and was within a head of the lead in early stretch.
  • Three of the four won by 2 ¼ lengths or more; only Shanghai Bobby, who won by a head in 2012, was seriously challenged in the stretch.
  • Only one of the four had previous experience in two-turn races.
  • The five winners in the 7-2 to 5-1 range all had different running styles, but all five had a graded stakes win to his credit. Four of the five entered the Juvenile off a graded stakes win – Vindication (2002), Stevie Wonderboy (2005), Nyquist (2015), and Classic Empire (2016) – with the other, Midshipman in 2008, coming off a runner-up finish by less than a length in a Grade 1.
  • The five winners in the 7-2 to 5-1 range has won 14 of their 18 lifetime starts entering the Juvenile. Four of the five had a career-best 109 Equibase Speed Figure or better and four of them had experience in two-turn races.

Other Points of Interest About the Juvenile

Texas Red in 2014. (Eclipse Sportswire)

We covered quite a bit of information in the segments above as far as how they pertained to longshot winners or favorites, so rather than revisiting all of the same points as it relates to the 20 Juvenile winners on the whole let’s focus on some key overall takeaways from this sample of races.

  • Eight of the 20 winners came out of a final prep race in California and four came out of the Champagne Stakes.
  • All 20 winners were third or better in their final prep race.
  • Eighteen of the 20 won or were within three lengths of the winner in their final prep race with only Texas Red (third by 4 ¾ lengths behind American Pharoah in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes) and Storm the Court (third by 8 ¼ lengths in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes) serving as exceptions.
  • Only two winners were not stakes winners or graded stakes-placed entering the race and they both entered off maiden special wight wins.
  • Eighteen of the 20 winners had their final prep race within six weeks of the Breeders’ Cup.
  • Nine of the 20 winners had already won a Grade 1 race.
  • Running style is not especially important as stalkers/closers have won the majority of the 20 races but six winners profiled as pace/press-the-pace types.
  • In 2015, which was the lone previous Breeders’ Cup held at Keeneland, the top two finishers (Nyquist and Swipe) shipped in from Southern California off a top-two finish in the FrontRunner Stakes. The top two from the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (Brody’s Cause and Exaggerator) at Keeneland finished third and fourth, respectively, in the Juvenile.
  • The top three finishers in the 2015 Juvenile at Keeneland all were eighth or worse after the first half-mile despite a moderate pace of :47.62.
  • This is more of a fun fact, but 19 of the 20 were bred in Kentucky with Irish-bred Vale of York the lone exception in 2009.

Evaluating the 2020 Juvenile Contenders

Taking a look at the group of candidates from Daily Racing Form’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile page, let’s start with the obvious candidates and then take a look at some longshots to consider.

Jackie's Warrior (Eclipse Sportswire)

Jackie’s Warrior appears to be a powerful favorite, and like past winning favorites in the Juvenile, he enters the race with a perfect record intact. The Maclean’s Music colt has four wins, all by more than two lengths, in as many starts, and enters off a front-running victory in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes. In that way, he is very reminiscent of Shanghai Bobby, Uncle Mo, and War Pass, although he has not put up the speed figures of the latter two. He’ll be very tough to beat Nov. 6 at Keeneland.

Could Reinvestment Risk follow in the footsteps of 2017 Champagne runner-up Good Magic and turn the tables for a mild upset in the Juvenile? Sure, he comes from the same Chad Brown barn as Good Magic. But I view Good Magic and Reinvestment Risk as very different horses entering the Juvenile. Good Magic ran second by a half-length in only his second career start in the Champagne, while Jackie’s Warrior has handled Reinvestment Risk twice in graded stakes with ease, including by 5 ½ lengths in the Oct. 10 Champagne. That’s too much ground to make up for my liking and the fact that Reinvestment Risk’s connections have yet to commit to the Juvenile adds to my skepticism.

Essential Quality won the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland at the Juvenile distance and has shown the versatility to stalk or press the pace in winning both of his races. His career-top 96 Equibase Speed Figure is six points behind Jackie’s Warrior, but aside from that he shares many similarities to the five Juvenile winners in that 7-2 to 5-1 price range.

So, too, does Sittin On Go, who like Essential Quality is 2-for-2 and coming off a graded stakes win. The Brody’s Cause colt earned a 95 Equibase Speed Figure for winning the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes Presented by Ford Sept. 6 at Churchill Downs. He does not, however, have experience in a two-turn race and will enter the Juvenile off a nine-week layoff. I think he’s an exciting prospect, but I’ll let him beat me in the Juvenile.

One longshot that looks appealing to me is Rombauer coming off a runner-up finish by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes Sept. 26 at Santa Anita. He does his best running from off the pace and closed willingly to finish within a length of sidelined winner Get Her Number in the American Pharoah. He started his career on the grass with a win and an unplaced finish in a stakes, and I think he could improve in his second try on dirt for a very good trainer in Mike McCarthy, who won the Dirt Mile in 2018 with City of Light. No doubt, Rombauer will need to improve up his career-best Equibase Speed Figure (85) to be a threat, but he’s shown he can compete at the Grade 1 level, has experience around two turns, and shares several characteristics with past longshot victors.

Keepmeinmind (Eclipse Sportswire)

I also considered Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity runner-up Keepmeinmind and Dreamer’s Disease, both from the barn of Robertino Diodoro, but I don’t love either of them here. The latter comes off an impressive allowance win at Keeneland, but both of his victories have come when unchallenged on the lead. I think Keepmeinmind is the better prospect of the two for the Juvenile even though he is still looking for his first win. He’s Grade 1-placed in a two-turn race, does his best running from off the pace, and could surprise at big odds.

Another possible longshot I considered is Likeable. The Frosted colt was caught in the stretch of his career debut Aug. 22 at Saratoga when second going seven-eighths of a mile, and then won a one-mile maiden race by 8 ¼ lengths for Todd Pletcher Sept. 19 at Belmont Park. He improved to a 93 Equibase Speed Figure in that race, but I’m not sure about the quality of competition in the race and he’ll have to contend with Jackie’s Warrior on the front.

Jackie’s Warrior clearly looks like the most likely winner, but I do think Essential Quality is a threat. Two longshots I’ll consider strongly in this race are Rombauer and Keepmeinmind, and of the two I prefer the former.

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