For my money, no Breeders’ Cup race packs more bang for the buck than the FanDuel Mile.
A one-mile turf race appeals to top European runners and it draws turf sprinters stretching out a bit and longer distance horses cutting back to a mile, so there are several angles of intrigue. The U.S. sometimes struggles to produce true distance grass horses but almost always has three or four outstanding milers, and females and 3-year-olds can and do win this World Championships race with regularity. Combine that with the second-highest average win payout among the 14 Breeders’ Cup races and you have the recipe for a fantastic race year in and year out. Sure enough, the results prove that.
Thirteen of the last 20 editions of the Mile were decided by a margin of one length or less, with an average margin of victory of 1.063 lengths and a median of three-quarters of a length. It’s often a sprint to the finish that results in a thrilling battle between elite milers. It’s typically a very fast race with an average Equibase Speed Figure of 120.3 from 2002 through 2021.
As you will soon read, the Mile is also a race that historically has produced some jaw-dropping upsets, but favorites can and do win. When favorites have won the Mile, often it was simply because they were standouts at the pinnacle of their game – three-time Mile winner Goldikova and two-time winner Wise Dan account for five of the seven winning favorites over the last 20 editions.
This year’s FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile, set for Nov. 5 at Keeneland, is shaping up to be a terrific World Championships race. Let’s take a look at some key trends to consider when building the profile of a winner using the last 20 years of the Breeders’ Cup Mile (2002-2021) data as our guide.
Paydirt: Six Key Points to Remember in Handicapping the Mile
There is never a clear blueprint to uncover a winner in any race, much less one that draws the best horses from across the world, but there are a handful of indicators that can help you narrow down your list of targets or open your eyes to a runner or two who you might otherwise dismiss.
- Steer Clear of Speed: 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. World Approval in 2017 entered the Mile as a press-the-pace type; the other 19 winners included three who profiled as press the pace/stalkers and 16 who profiled as either stalkers, stalker/closers, or closers. Five winners profiled as closers.
- Class is Key: Thirteen of the last 15 Breeders’ Cup Mile winners had at least one Grade/Group 1 win to their credit entering the race. Of the last 20 editions, 14 were winners at the Grade/Group 1 level and six of the other seven were at least Grade/Group 2 stakes winners. The only exception came in in 2020 when Order of Australia earned his first stakes in the Mile; the other 19 had a win at the Grade/Group 2 level or above.
- Dig Deeper Than the Previous Start: 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.
- Don’t Dismiss an Elite 3-Year-old: 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.
- Respect a Fine Filly: Likewise, females have performed quite well in the Mile, winning six times in the last 20 years. Fillies have won 10 times overall – including eight European shippers – since the first edition in 1984.
- The French Connection: Eight of the last 20 Mile winners came out of a final prep race in France and another prepped in Ireland, so European invaders figure to be formidable as with most of the turf races at the World Championships.
Three Reasons to Take a Long Look at the Longshots
The Mile historically has the second-highest average payout ($24.54) for a $2 win bet from the 14 World Championships races, trailing only the Filly and Mare Sprint at $24.65 for the highest average payout.
- In the last 11 years, the Mile 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.
- 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 in 2020 (at Keeneland). Order of Australia, who drew into the Mile off the also-eligible list, is the biggest longshot to win the Mile and 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 (five) of the last 20 editions of this race produced a return of $50 or more for a $2 win ticket
Four Traits to Identify an Upset Pick
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.
- 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 those four were established as Grade/Group 1 winners.
- Take a long look at the “other” European invaders, meaning not the ones expected to be the first or second betting favorite. Think about it: shipping a racehorse across the Atlantic is no small task, so most international trainers/owners have reason to believe these foreign-based horses will at least run well in the states. 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 in the U.S.
- From the group of seven double-digit winners, four profiled as closers, Tourist was more of a stalker/closer, and Singletary and Order of Australia were 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.
- 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 to 20-1 odds (or higher) and think a horse has a decent chance to be in the hunt in deep stretch. Established milers coming from off the pace with proven class and a reason for upside – traffic trouble or adverse conditions in their previous start – are worth the wager.
2022 Runners to Consider (Note: Will be updated after pre-entries)
I believe you must start with elite European 3-year-old Modern Games from the barn of Charlie Appleby, who won three Breeders’ Cup races in 2021 (including the Juvenile Turf with Modern Games) and has a record of 14 wins with 28 starters in North America over the last two years with 11 Grade 1 wins. Modern Games is 2-for-2 in North America after taking the Ricoh Woodbine Mile in September and profiles as the most likely winner of the year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Order of Australia is a little too up and down for my tastes, but he won the 2020 Mile on this turf course at Keeneland and enters off a solid third in the Coolmore Turf Mile Oct. 8. He’s won only two of 13 starts since his 73.20-1 upset in 2020, but he’s actually held his own while facing elite European competition this year with a Group 2 win and three Group/Grade 1 placings in six starts. I would bet he is at least 15-1 odds and perhaps higher, so there is some value.
One European runner I’m interested in who might offer some value if she makes the journey to Keeneland is 3-year-old filly Malavath, who overcame a troubled trip to finish second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and most recently ran second to highly regarded Kinross in the Group 1 Qatar Prix de la Foret Presente Par Education Above All. She lacks a Group 1 win on the résumé and probably is not as good as Modern Games, but I think the price might be right.
Saffron Beach is another terrific European filly worthy of significant respect if she makes the trip to Keeneland. An elite miler with a pair of Group 1 wins on her résumé from six wins in 13 career starts, she faded badly in her most recent start in a bid for a repeat win in the Sun Chariot Stakes, but trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam said a post-race scope revealed mucous even though she had trained very well leading into the race. Other than that one race, she has been extraordinarily consistent for the last 15 months with a reasonable excuse to overlook a poor recent race.
One U.S.-based runner who could offer some value is Casa Creed, who was fifth on this Keeneland course Oct. 8 in the Coolmore Turf Mile Stakes, but was only beaten by two lengths. He’s a closer with a pair of Grade 1 wins earlier this year and often seem to be a bit overlooked – he has not been favored to win a race since 2019! I don’t think he boasts quite the finishing speed of some of the Europeans he’ll be facing, but with the right trip he could be in the mix late and passing horses.
Ivar probably will be the favorite among U.S.-based horses. He’s another with back class, having won a Grade 1 on the Keeneland turf and he’s never run a bad race there. The 6-year-old by Agnes Gold was beaten by only two lengths in the 2020 Mile at Keeneland and makes his fourth start of the year in this year’s edition, so he should be fresh and fit for trainer Paulo Lobo.