Breeders’ Cup Stats: International Success at Santa Anita

Racing
International runners have found much Breeders' Cup success at Santa Anita Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Each year, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships brings together premier racehorses from around the globe to compete during two days of top-class racing. Though horses trained in the U.S. win more often than not, Europeans and other international competitors have had their day in the sun, especially on the turf. Santa Anita Park, the host of this year’s Breeders’ Cup in Arcadia, Calif., seems to attract an even higher number of foreign-based starters than most host tracks.

Let’s take a look at the stats to see just how successful international Breeders’ Cup starters (horses trained outside North America or with most recent prep outside of North America) are at the track and what some of the success factors might be.

European-trained Dank after her 2013 Filly and Mare Turf win. (Eclipse Sportswire)
Santa Anita has hosted the Breeders’ Cup eight times with an average of 23.25 international-based runners each time, compared with an average of 17.13 international starters at any other host track. Those 23 Santa Anita starters have tallied an average 3.25 wins each year from an average of 11.5 Breeders’ Cup races—or 28.3 percent. That’s not a bad number, but it’s even more impressive when you compare it with the performance of North American runners at the Santa Anita Breeders’ Cups, who account for 81.9 percent of starters but won just 71.7 percent of the races. International runners do not fare as well at other Breeders’ Cup tracks, winning an average of 1.33 races each year from 8.33 races, or 16 percent, while North American runners account for 82.6 percent of starters and win 84 percent of the races.

The evidence gets stronger when you consider that international Breeders’ Cup starters win at an average 14 percent clip at Santa Anita — from a total of 186 starts they have accumulated 26 wins. North America-based? Just 7.8 percent winners from starters. Compare that with Breeders’ Cups run at any other track, when foreign starters win 7.8 percent of their races and North American starters win 8.6 percent, and you’ll find that international runners certainly seem to thrive in Arcadia.

Santa Anita Breeders' Cup Starters

Year

N.A. Starters

N.A. Wins

N.A. Win %

Int’l Starters

Int’l Wins

Int’l Win %

1986

64

6

9.4%

12

1

8.3%

1993

62

6

9.7%

19

1

5.3%

2003

76

5

6.6%

14

3

21.4%

2008

125

9

7.2%

31

5

16.1%

2009

113

8

7.1%

34

6

17.6%

2012

135

12

8.9%

27

3

11.1%

2013

140

9

6.4%

17

5

29.4%

2014

127

11

8.7%

32

2

6.3%

Average

105.25

8.25

7.8%

23.25

3.25

14.0%

Logic might suggest that foreign invaders bring only those horses who have the best chance to succeed. If that was the case, the betting public would recognize that and wager more on international horses, leading to lower payouts. But just six of the 26 international wins were by the betting favorite, and the average payout of international winners at Santa Anita actually is higher than for non-international Breeders’ Cup winners at the track; foreign horses paid an average of $26.91 for a $2 win wager while the average Breeders’ Cup payout for a North American runner there is $19.41. If you remove the outlier of French-trained Arcangues, who won at odds of 133.60-1 in 1993, foreign winners at Santa Anita still paid an average of $19.10, not too far off from the $19.41 that North American winners paid, an average which itself includes a few longshot winners.

So what factors could be contributing to international success at the track? Track surface is the most obvious, as international starters are far more successful on turf: 19 of their 26 wins came on the grass and just three on the dirt. Four were on the all-weather main track surface that Santa Anita had for the 2008 and 2009 Breeders’ Cups. Interestingly, though they have won every other Breeders’ Cup contest on the turf, an international-based starter has not yet won the Turf Sprint on the unique downhill course at Santa Anita.

Magician (left) wins the 2013 Turf under Ryan Moore for Aidan O'Brien. (Eclipse Sportswire)
There are also certain trainers and jockeys that are more successful with international runners at Santa Anita. Trainers Sir Michael Stoute and Aidan O’Brien each have four Breeders’ Cup wins at Santa Anita, while John Gosden and Freddie Head have two apiece. Ryan Moore is the most successful jockey with international starters at the event, with five Santa Anita wins, while Frankie Dettori has four wins and Olivier Peslier and Mike Smith each have two wins aboard international starters there.

Prep races also potentially influence a runner’s chances at success. International runners in Santa Anita Breeders’ Cups overwhelmingly made their final prep in Europe, with 12 running last in France, eight in the U.K., three in Ireland and one in Italy, and of individual tracks, Longchamp is most successful.

Eleven international winners won their most recent prep, with 10 more finishing second or third, and just two finished worse than fourth. Most of those preps also came in October (14), although six were in September.

Interestingly, prep trends seem to be evolving. Although they still run in Europe most often, 30 percent of the 10 winners in 2012 or later made their final prep at Newmarket versus 15.4 percent total, and 20 percent last ran at Deauville versus 11.5 percent of the total. Additionally, four of the 10 winners last ran in October (40 percent compared with 53.8 percent total), and two entered off of significant layoffs having last raced in June (20 percent). Prior to 2012, the earliest final prep was Aug. 17, but in the last three runnings at Santa Anita, fully 50 percent of international winners last ran Aug. 24 or earlier. Just three of them won their final prep, with two of them finishing ninth or worse.

Final Preps of International Breeders' Cup Winners at Santa Anita

Track Country # BC Winners Since 2012
York U.K. 1 0
Longchamp France 9 2
Deauville France 3 2
Leopardstown Ireland 1 0
Newmarket U.K. 4 3
Doncaster U.K. 1 0
Ascot U.K. 2 1
Dundalk Ireland 2 0
Milan Italy 1 0
Arlington Park U.S. 1 1
Argentino de Palermo Argentina 1 1

Judging by these tidbits and knowing that Santa Anita is kind to international-based horses, Found would be an excellent choice based on her trainer (O’Brien) and jockey (Moore), but she just ran on Oct. 15 and her connections have made the Classic, on dirt, her first preference over the Turf. Highland Reel fits a similar profile but has two more weeks’ rest and most likely will be running in the Turf, making him an interesting option among O’Brien’s other three Turf entrants.

Fellow Turf contender Ulysses, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, takes a big step up in class and, in addition to his trainer, he last ran on Aug. 27 in the U.K. and is owned by one of the winningest Breeders’ Cup owners in the Niarchos family’s Flaxman Holdings. Stoute also has Queen’s Trust in the Filly and Mare Turf. It will be interesting to fully evaluate the fields based on these trends over the next few days once final fields, including jockeys and race selection, are firmed up.

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