Tips and Trends for 2021 Breeders’ Cup Mile, Which Has Produced Three Massive Upsets in Last 10 Years

World Approval, with John Velazquez aboard, drew clear in the stretch to win the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Del Mar. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Year in and year out, my favorite race in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships is the FanDuel Mile Presented by PDJF. One-mile races on the grass are, in my opinion, the best races in the sport of Thoroughbred racing for betting and pure enjoyment.

The Mile is a distance and surface that draws sprinters stretching out, true milers, and more stamina-oriented racehorses cutting back in distance and often seeing a completely different race shape.

These one-mile grass races are a true test of ability and class, and over the years the Breeders’ Cup Mile has often produced a winner almost as notable, if not more so, than the Classic victor.

Mile winners like Goldikova, Wise Dan, and Tepin brought enough star power to headline their own racecard and shined on the brightest stage. Other times, especially in the last decade, the race has produced a shocking upset.

The 2021 Breeders’ Cup Mile, set for Nov. 6 at Del Mar, figures to follow suit as a terrific race. It typically draws an exceptional field and this year’s event should boast a depth of quality runners that equals and/or exceeds almost all of the races at the World Championships.

There are some significant trends to consider when looking for a winner, so let’s dig into the last 20 years of the Breeders’ Cup Mile (2001-2020) and build the profile of a winner.

Karakontie upsets in 2014. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Potential Money-Making Race

The Mile historically has the sixth-highest average payout ($21.61) for a $2 win bet from the 14 World Championships races, but just in the last 10 years it has produced two of the four biggest upsets in the history of the World Championships as well as a third upset that paid $62 on a $2 win ticket. Sure, favorites win this race regularly, but it’s usually pretty obvious standouts that do so – three-time Mile winner Goldikova and two-time winner Wise Dan account for five of the six winning favorites over the last 20 editions.

  • The Mile has produced seven winners at double-digit odds over the last 20 editions: 12.40-1 Tourist in 2016; Singletary at 16.50-1 odds in 2004; Miesque’s Approval at 24.30-1 in 2006; Domedriver at 26-1 in 2002; Karakontie at 30-1 in 2014; Court Vision at 64.80-1 odds in 2011; and Order of Australia at 73.20-1 odds last year was the biggest longshot in the race’s history.
  • Order of Australia, who drew into the 2020 Mile off the also-eligible list, rates as the second-biggest longshot in the history of the Breeders’ Cup, trailing only 1993 Classic victor Arcangues who was sent off at a remarkable 133.60-1 odds.
  • Twenty-five percent of the last 20 editions of this race produced a return of $50 or more for a $2 win ticket and there have been three winners at $62 or more just in the last 10 years!
  • The median odds of the Breeders’ Cup Mile winner from 2001 through 2020 was 5.45-1 with the average ballooning to 14.78-1 thanks to the five $50 winners.
  • Of the aforementioned six favorites to win the Mile from 2001 through 2020, Goldikova (2008, 2009, 2010) and Wise Dan (2012, 2013) accounted for five of those chalk winners with the other being World Approval at 2.70-1 in 2017.
  • Additionally, there were six Mile winners from 2001 to 2020 that fell in the range between 7-2 and 6-1 odds, so 12 of the 20 were 6-1 or less. It’s not exactly a parade of upsets.

Order of Australia stuns in 2020. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tell Me More About the Longshots!

Entering last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile, I thought I had identified a pretty clear profile for a Breeders’ Cup Mile longshot winner. I always keep an eye out for closers with proven class who might be coming out of final prep races that are better than they look on paper. Order of Australia shook up things a bit, but I still believe that type of runner is what handicappers should be looking for in past performances.

  • Digging deeper into the double-digit longshot winners, only Domedriver in 2002 entered the race off a win, taking the Group 2 Prix de la Rochelle by head in France.
  • The other six were all third or worse in their final prep race with four of them unplaced while beaten by open lengths. Of course, two of the four were established Grade/Group 1 winners.
  • It’s worth taking a closer look at the “other” European invaders, meaning not the ones who are among the favorites, because typically the connections of these runners believe they have good reason to ship across the Atlantic. While European shippers who are well-regarded can and do run well, another longshot shipper, Karakontie in 2014, was a Classic winner in France who struggled when stretching out in distance but regained his elite form when cutting back to a mile and racing on firm turf.
  • From the group of seven double-digit winners, four profiled as closers, Tourist was a stalker/closer, and Singletary and Order of Australia profiled as stalkers. None was better than fourth after the opening half-mile and five of the seven were seventh or worse after the opening quarter-mile.
  • While Order of Australia raced nearer to the pace than most of the others and is the only winner in the last 20 years without at least one Grade/Group 2 win entering the Mile, he did come from the powerful barn of elite European trainer Aidan O’Brien. Order of Australia had posted back-to-back wins – one on an all-weather track and the other at 1 ½ miles on the grass – before a disastrous ninth-place finish, beaten by 47 ¾ lengths in a Group 3 race on turf rated as soft.
  • Unlike the other longshot winners in this race, Order of Australia did not look like your typical miler. His average distance in five starts before the Breeders’ Cup in 2020 with 10.74 furlongs or between 1 5/16 miles and 1 3/8 miles.
  • The other six on average raced at a little less than 8.2 furlongs in their 29 starts before the Breeders’ Cup Mile in the year that they won.
  • As a group, the upset winners combined to prevail in only 12 of 35 starts before the Breeders’ Cup in the year that they won the Mile, so be a bit more forgiving if you are getting 15-1 or higher odds and think a horse has a decent chance to be in the mix in deep stretch.
  • In general, you are looking for established milers coming from off the pace with proven class – in Order of Australia’s case at least the ability string together a few wins – and some reason for upside like traffic trouble or adverse conditions in their previous start.

Steer Clear of Speed

Tactical speed is an incredibly valuable asset in dirt racing, but the best grass horses typically have an explosive late turn of foot and complete the final quarter-mile in a significantly faster time than they ran any other segment of the race. The Breeders’ Cup Mile has tilted heavily toward stalker/closer types over the years and specifically in the last 20 editions of this race.

  • The Mile has not been won by a pacesetter or a horse that profiled as a pacesetter in the last 20 editions. In fact, no runner who was in front after the opening quarter-mile or half-mile has won the race during this 20-race sample.
  • Seven of the last 20 winners were 10th or worse after the first quarter-mile, and 12 of the last 20 winners were sixth or worse after the first half-mile.
  • World Approval, winner of the lone previous edition at Del Mar in 2017, entered the Mile as a press-the-pace type runner; the other 19 winners included three who profiled as press the pace/stalkers and 16 who profiled as either stalkers, stalker/closers, or closers. Six winners profiled as closers.
  • Mile winners from 2001 through 2020 were, on average seventh (7.2 to be exact) after the opening quarter-mile and between 5 ½ and 5 ¾ lengths back. The median for the opening quarter is in seventh/eighth (7.5) position and between 5 ½ and 5 ¾ lengths off the pace.
  • Similarly, after the first half-mile the average winner was seventh (6.9) and just a tick under five lengths (4.9125) back with a median of sixth/seventh (6.5) and between 4 ½ lengths and 4 ¾ lengths off the pace.
  • I’ve mentioned this in previous editions of the blog, but explosive turn of foot seems to be the common characteristic among the winners. Note the average winner improved to slightly more than one length (1.1) back in early stretch with a median of second/third, one length behind the leader.

Expert Eye and Dettori in 2018. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Class is Key

If you are looking through the past performances for Breeders’ Cup Mile runners looking for a win candidate, factor proven class extraordinarily highly. Nineteen of the last 20 winners of the race had at least one victory at the Grade/Group 2 level or above on their résumés before winning the Mile.

  • Thirteen of the last 20 Breeders’ Cup Mile winners had at least one Grade/Group 1 win to their credit entering the race and six of the other seven were at least Grade/Group 2 stakes winners. The only exception was Order of Australia last year who earned his first stakes win last year in the Mile.
  • Twelve of the last 14 Mile winners were Grade/Group 1 winners entering the race, but two of the last three were not: Order of Australia in 2020 and Expert Eye in 2018, with the latter a Group 2 winner in Europe.
  • While the past 20 editions of the Mile indicate proven class is a must, a victory in the final prep race has been less than a 50/50 proposition as only nine of the last 20 winners entered the race off a victory.
  • In fact, four of the Mile winners in the time frame entered the race off an unplaced finish and eight were third or worse in their final prep.
  • Seven runners entered the Mile off a Grade/Group 1 win and two others entered off a Grade/Group 2 victory.

The great Goldikova in 2008. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Notes and Nuggets

Below are a few other data points that seemed interesting and, perhaps, insightful when evaluating this year’s Mile contenders, so before we jump to analyzing this year’s field we have some additional fun facts about the last 20 editions of the race.

  • Three-year-olds have won 25% of the last 20 editions of the race: Six Perfections in 2003, Goldikova in 2008, Karakontie in 2014, Expert Eye in 2018, and Order of Australia in 2020. All five shipped over from Europe, so give European 3-year-olds a closer look.
  • Likewise, females have performed quite well in the Mile, winning six times in the last 20 years and 10 times overall – including eight European shippers – since the first edition in 1984.
  • Ten of the last 20 Mile winners were bred outside of the U.S.
  • The race is typically won by true milers rather than sprinters stretching out or longer-distance runners cutting back as the average race for the last 20 winners was 8.31 furlongs (eight furlongs in a mile) with a median of 8.25.
  • Ten of the last 20 editions of the Mile were decided by less than one length with the average margin of victory 1.125 lengths (between a length and 1 ¼ lengths) and the median 0.875 lengths (between three-quarters of a length and a length).
  • The average winning Equibase Speed Figure was 120.25 with a median of 120.5.
  • Seven of the last 20 Mile winners came out of a final prep race in France, six prepped in Kentucky, three more raced at Woodbine, two raced at Santa Anita Park, and one each raced at Belmont Park in New York and in Ireland.

Mo Forza (Eclipse Sportswire)

Evaluating the 2021 Mile Entrants

Charlie Appleby’s Space Blues was made the 3-1 favorite for this race and he’s a proven Group 1 winner with a big win chance, but I don’t view him as on the level of Goldikova and Wise Dan or even World Approval given how good he had become entering the 2017 Mile. Space Blues has spent the majority of his career sprinting, and runners stretching out from sprints have not fared well historically in the Mile, which favors dedicated milers. At 3-1, I’ll look elsewhere.

Likewise, Mo Forza is very good right now, but the 5-1 odds on the morning-line don’t offer a ton of appeal. Could he win? Absolutely … he’s reeled off wins in four straight going back to 2020 and from a speed-figure perspective they are the four best races of his career. The 5-year-old by Uncle Mo has three wins and two seconds in six starts at Del Mar, so yes, he’s a win candidate and probably will run well, but there are others I prefer at more appealing odds.

Let’s start with Space Blues’s 3-year-old stablemate Master of The Seas (12-1). A Group 2 winner as a 2-year-old, Master of the Seas ran second by a nose in the QIPCO Two Thousand Guineas at this one-mile trip and has fared well on firmer ground. Others might look at his seventh-place finish most recently in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and downgrade his chances off that race, but that came on good to soft turf and Appleby has been a maestro in 2021 when it comes to deciding which horses to ship to the United States with six winners, two seconds, and one third from 13 starters in North American stakes this year, including five Grade 1 wins. Both Appleby runners, Space Blues and Master of The Seas, should run well but I don’t think there is a huge gap between the two so I’ll take 12-1 over 3-1 every time.

Vin de Garde (Eclipse Sportswire)

One longshot I think could light up the toteboard is Japanese invader Vin de Garde (20-1), a 5-year-old by Deep Impact who is a Group 2 winner and finished second in March in the $4 million Dubai Turf Sponsored By DP World. He enters off a disappointing eighth-place finish in a Japanese Group 2 race, but that was his first start in 6 ½ months and I have no doubt he needed the race from a conditioning perspective. He’s 20-1 on the morning line and I think he’s a win candidate.

U.S.-based Got Stormy could outrun her 10-1 morning-line odds, although I’d like 12-1 or higher to play her to win. She ran second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 2019 and last year ran sixth in the Turf Sprint. She showed a flash of her elite form when defeating males in August at Saratoga Race Course in the Grade 1 Fourstardave Handicap and is proven at the elite level. Before that race there were concerns that she had lost a step and others might be turned off by her recent sixth-place finish in a turf sprint stakes at Kentucky Downs, but she always seems to run well in Southern California and she’s a serious player if she brings her “A” game.

I’m intrigued by Mother Earth, a 3-year-old filly shipping over for Aidan O’Brien, who pulled off the upset last year with Order of Australia. Mother Earth, who opened her season with a win in the QIPCO One Thousand Guineas, won’t be anywhere near that type of longshot – she’s 8-1 on the morning-line – but O’Brien has 13 wins, 21 seconds, and 13 thirds from 156 career Breeders’ Cup starters, so he knows which horses in his stable will most likely handle the travel and firm turf at Del Mar.

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