Breeders Cup Turf Handicapping Tips

Handicapping the Breeders' Cup Turf Races

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The 2020 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships is taking place on November 7 , at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, featuring eight championship horse races. Strong race contenders for the Breeders' Cup Turf include: Al Khali, Bekhabad, Bourbon Bay, Cape Blanco, Champ Pegasus, Chinchon, Dangerous Midge, Debussy, Fame and Glory, Paddy O'Prado, Redwood, Sans Frontieres, Tazeez, Telling, Winchester and Workforce. The best of luck on handicapping the 2020 Breeders' Cup Turf!

The Breeders' Cup Turf (Grade 1) echoes the classic standard conditions of European thoroughbred racing: 1 1/2 miles on grass at weight for age. Not surprisingly, from the very first running of the Breeders' Cup Turf in 1984, the European runners left no time wasted to make known that they intended to be major players in this $3 million race.

European-bred runners captured three of the first four runnings of the Breeders' Cup Turf. Owned and bred by the Aga Khan, Lashkari (Great Britain) invaded North America to claim victory by a neck in the 1984 event, and in the process, provided the largest mutuel payoff to date in the Breeders' Cup Turf, returning a hefty $108.80. Pebbles (Great Britain) triumphed in 1985 and the great Theatrical (Ireland) edged out Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (France; Grade 1) victor Trempolino in 1987.

Contingents bred in Europe have since gone on to capture eight more wins in the Breeders' Cup Turf. These include the amazing High Chaparral (Ireland; Sadler's Wells) who became the first dual winner in Breeders' Cup history. In 2002, High Chaparral stalked the pace early before easily cruising home 1 1/4 lengths in front, and again, made a historical-first dead heat for championship in 2003 with Johar. 5-1 shot High Chaparral stalked the pace in third early then rallied down the lane between horses, while 14-1 longshot Johar, unhurried in last in the early stages, stormed down the lane 5 wide to hit the wire with the champion.

As for runners based in Europe, having made their previous start there, eight have claimed victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf, including taking the last four of five runnings in a row with Daylami (Ireland), Kalanisi (Ireland), Fantastic Light, and two-time hero High Chaparral. Sadly for the Europeans, both the 2004 champion, longshot Better Talk Now, and runnerup, favorite Kitten's Joy, were bred in the same place nowhere in Europe - Kentucky.

The Breeders' Cup Turf averages 12.2 starters per year. But despite the presence of large fields and huge paying winners like Lashkari and 1991 victor Miss Alleged at $86.20, who was part of a three-horse "field" entry, favorites have more than held their own. Over the course of 21 runnings, the post time favorite has found a way into the winners' circle eight times.

Runners in the Breeders' Cup Turf, as with the other two turf races, typically do not want to be on the lead. Only two of the 19 winners had the lead at the first call and finished in front at the end. Great Communicator did it first in 1988 when he took the lead out of the gate before being headed near the stretch, but gamely re-rallied to finish a half length in front. Buck's Boy pulled off the same feat ten years later, without ever once surrendering the lead, to finish more than a length on top.

The Breeders' Cup Turf average beaten distance of the winner at the first call of the race is just under 5 1/2 lengths. Four eventual winners closed from more than 10 lengths back to garner the championship. Pebbles in 1985 closed from more than 13 lengths back and was even blocked at the top of the stretch before finishing resolutely and crossing the wire a neck in front.

Unlike the Breeders' Cup Mile, the Breeders' Cup Turf can be forgiving of mistakes, besides which 12 furlongs allows a lot of time to make amends for errors. The grueling event is a gut-check battle of stamina more than any of the other races. Experience on the surface and at the distance is preferrable but is not always a must for success. In his final prep before the Breeders' Cup in 1989, Prized had only one try at the distance, a well beaten fourth place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (Grade 1), and had never once raced on the turf prior to winning the year's running.

Again unlike the Breeders' Cup Mile, the ideal Breeders' Cup Turf candidate will have had at least two good races under his belt between July and the Breeders' Cup. Several winners have had as many as four races under their belts during that time. However, over the last four years, High Chaparral and 2002 champion Fantastic Light each only had one start to their credit since the end of July.

Concerning post position at the Breeders' Cup Turf, the preference definitely goes to horses on the inside and the outside. Through the first 18 runnings of the turf, eight winners have come from the 1-3 holes and an equal amount from the 8 hole and beyond. Thus far, only four winners have come from post positions 4-7, Fraise in 1992, Chief Bearhart in 1997, High Chaparral, and 2004's Better Talk Now from post 5.

At the 2004 Breeders' Cup Turf, Better Talk Now won the championship at 27.90 odds with jockey Ramon Dominguez. Kitten's Joy came in second at 0.70 odds with jockey John Velasquez, and Powerscourt placed third at 10.90 odds with jockey Jamie Spencer.


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