Uncovering Historical Tips and Trends to Handicap the 2022 Breeders' Cup Turf

Gambling
Enable (#2) and Frankie Dettori outfinished Magical and Ryan Moore to win the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Every year, the Breeders’ Cup attracts a strong contingent of international raiders to challenge North America’s best horses in a series of lucrative races. Among the 14 Breeders’ Cup events, none attract a stronger international presence on a year-to-year basis than the $4 million, Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Held over 1 ½ miles, the Turf is routinely won by foreign raiders, but determining which is most likely to prevail can be challenging. With this in mind, we’ve taken a look at the history of the Breeders’ Cup Turf to uncover a few noteworthy tips and trends helpful for narrowing down the list of contenders set for this year’s renewal Nov. 5 at Keeneland.

Let’s explore some of the key data to consider:

Late runners have an advantage

Speed is generally an effective weapon in U.S. horse racing, but the Breeders’ Cup Turf is a different beast than usual. While speed horses occasionally succeed in the Turf (2016 gate-to-wire winner Highland Reel is a prominent example), it’s more common for late runners to claim first prize.

Indeed, history reveals six of the last 10 Breeders’ Cup Turf winners have rallied from the back half of the pack, with Magician (2013) and Yibir (2021) closing from more than a dozen lengths behind after the opening half-mile. It pays to support runners who can settle early in the 1 ½-mile journey and unleash a strong finish down the homestretch.

Year

Winner

Position after first 1/2-mile

½-mile & ¾-mile times

(course condition)

2021

Yibir

13th by 13.5 lengths (14 starters)

48.38, 1:12.41 (firm)

2020

Tarnawa

8th by 6.75 lengths (10 starters)

51.06, 1:15.99 (firm)

2019

Bricks and Mortar

7th by 2.75 lengths (12 starters)

48.44, 1:13.26 (firm)

2018

Enable

6th by 5 lengths (13 starters)

49.11, 1:14.22 (good)

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)

Favorites must be included in the superfecta

Favorites have won two of the last four editions of the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and over the last 14 years they’ve finished in the top four 13 times. That means if you’ve been tossing favorites from superfecta wagers, you’ve missed 13 out of 14 superfectas since 2008.

Bet horses based outside of North America

Over the last two decades or so, the home team has struggled to nab top honors in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Did you know 19 of the last 24 Turf winners were based overseas at the time of the Breeders’ Cup victory, leaving just five wins for North America?

Found and Ryan Moore in 2015. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Bet foreign-bred runners, especially Irish-breds

No country has dominated the Breeders’ Cup Turf as thoroughly as Ireland. Over the last 28 years, 14 Breeders’ Cup Turf winners have been bred in Ireland, with all but one of them shipping in from overseas to secure their Breeders’ Cup victories. Great Britain, France, and Germany have also produced winners of the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and all told, 23 of the 39 Breeders’ Cup Turf winners have been bred in Europe.

Bet trainers Aidan O’Brien, Sir Michael Stoute, and Charlie Appleby

Much of Ireland’s success in the Breeders’ Cup Turf is owed to trainer Aidan O’Brien. The acclaimed Irish conditioner has won the Turf a record-setting six times (all with Irish-breds), securing four of the last 11 renewals with Highland Reel (2016), Found (2015), Magician (2013), and St. Nicholas Abbey (2011). Furthermore, 16 of O’Brien’s 30 Breeders’ Cup Turf starters have finished in the top three.

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. Plus, we have to keep an eye on Charlie Appleby, whose three starters in two editions of the Turf produced a victory with Yibir in 2021. Across all Breeders’ Cup races, Appleby boasts a stellar 6-for-11 record, suggesting any horse Appleby starts is worth respecting.

Bet jockeys Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore

Two of the most successful jockeys in Breeders’ Cup Turf history are Frankie Dettori and Ryan Moore. Dettori has ridden five winners from 19 mounts while finishing fourth or better on 12 occasions. Moore’s record is arguably even better – four wins, three seconds, three thirds, and two fourths from 12 rides. To put it another way, all 12 of Moore’s Breeders’ Cup Turf mounts have finished in the superfecta.

Suffice to say, when Dettori and/or Moore are slated to ride in the Turf, it’s wise to sit up and take notice.

Grade/Group 1 winners are tough to beat

It usually takes a horse of proven quality to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Nine of the last 11 winners had previously nabbed victory in a Grade 1 or Group 1 race, suggesting inexperienced and up-and-coming types are significantly less likely than established stars to win the Turf.

Fillies and mares hold their own against males

When a filly or mare enters the Breeders’ Cup Turf, it pays to take notice. Over the last seven years, fillies and mares have made 11 starts in the Turf, with Found (2015), Enable (2018), and Tarnawa (2020) nabbing top honors. In both 2018 and 2020, fillies and mares finished 1-2.

With this evidence in mind, there’s no reason to believe fillies and mares can’t hold their own against males in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. To the contrary, they’re in the hunt for victory more often than not.

A recent victory isn’t critical

A major key to winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf is to peak in the championship event, not in your previous race. Six of the last 11 Breeders’ Cup Turf winners were beaten in their final prep run, often while facing tougher competition in the prestigious Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in France. Four of the last 11 Breeders’ Cup Turf winners contested the Arc a few weeks prior, though only Enable managed to win both races.

Rebel's Romance (Eclipse Sportswire)

Conclusions

If historical trends hold true in 2022, then handicapping the Breeders’ Cup Turf might be as simple as betting #5 Rebel’s Romance (3-1) to win and calling it a day. Six of our nine historical trends apply to Rebel’s Romance. He’s an Irish-bred runner trained by Charlie Appleby, raiding from overseas after posting back-to-back victories in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Berlin and Group 1 Preis Von Europa in Germany. All told, Rebel’s Romance boasts a perfect 4-for-4 record on turf, with all of his victories coming over the 1 ½-mile distance of the Turf.

Rebel’s Romance is shaping up as the possible betting favorite, so history suggests a top-four finish is likely. And while Rebel’s Romance has shown some versatility in terms of running style, he’s generally at his best closing from the back of the pack, a running style suited for success in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. In short, there isn’t much to dislike.

#11 Mishriff (6-1) is another runner worth respecting. The Irish-bred 5-year-old has won several major prizes through the years, including the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic and Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes.  He’s effective rallying from off the pace, will be guided by Frankie Dettori, and exits a defeat in the Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe overseas, so Mishriff has half a dozen positive angles in his favor.

We also have to give a shout-out to #3 Stone Age (15-1) as a live longshot. The Irish-bred colt is shipping in from overseas after recording fifth-place finishes against tough competition in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes and Group 1 QIPCO Champion Stakes.

Stone Age has never won at the Grade/Group 1 level, but trainer Aidan O’Brien has named Ryan Moore to ride, and Stone Age ran arguably his best race last summer when rallying from far behind to finish third in the Grade 1 Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes. All told, Stone Age has six positive angles in his favor and can’t be counted out.

Good luck with your handicapping, and enjoy the race!

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