January 25, 2021

Handicapping the Turf

Last updated: 9/30/04 9:58 PM


by Brian P. Turner

From the very first running of the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) in
1984, the Europeans let it be known in no uncertain terms that
they intended to be major players. Lashkari (GB), owned and bred
by the Aga Khan, invaded North America to capture the event by a
neck and in the process provided the largest mutual payoff to
date in the Turf, returning a hefty $108.80 for the effort. As a
matter of fact, European-breds captured three of the first four
runnings with Pebbles (GB) claiming victory in 1985 and the great
Theatrical (Ire) edging out Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1)
victor Trempolino in 1987.

Since then, runners bred in Europe have gone on to capture
eight additional championships in the Breeders’ Cup Turf,
including last year when Irish-bred High Chaparral crossed the
wire simultaneously with North American Johar to provide the
first dead heat in Breeders’ Cup history and, in the process,
became the first repeat winner of the Turf in history.

As for runners based in Europe (having made their previous
start there), eight different runners have claimed the victory,
including taking the last five runnings in a row with Daylami (Ire),
Kalanisi, Fantastic Light, and the aforementioned High Chaparral.


Despite the presence of large fields (the Turf averages 12
starters per year) and huge paying winners like Laskari and the
1991 winner Miss Alleged ($86.20), who was part of a three horse
“field” entry, favorites have more than held their own.
Over the course of the 20 runnings, the post time favorite has
found a way into the winner’s circle eight times.

As with the other two turf races on Breeders’ Cup Day, a
runner typically does not want to be on the lead. Only two of the
21 winners had the lead at the first call and finished in front
at the end. Great Communicator was the first to do it in 1998
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 repeated the feat 10 years later, without ever
once surrendering the lead, to finish more than a length on top.

The beaten distance of the winner at the first call of the
race has averaged 5.3 lengths with four eventual winners closing
from more than 10 lengths back to garner the championship. The
1985 winner, Pebbles, closed from more than 13 lengths off the
pace and was even blocked at the top of the stretch before
finishing resolutely and crossing the wire a neck in front.

Unlike the Mile, the Turf can be forgiving of mistakes, and 12
furlongs allows a lot of time to make amends for errors. The
grueling event is more of a gut check battle of stamina than any
of the other races on Breeders’ Cup day. While it is preferable
to have experience on the surface and at the distance, it has not
always proven to be a must for success. Prized only had one try
at the distance, a well beaten fourth-place finish in the Jockey
Club Gold Cup (G1) in his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup, and
had never once been on the turf prior to capturing the 1989

The ideal Turf candidate will have had at least two good races
under his belt between July and the Breeders’ Cup, with many
winners having had as many as four races under their belts during
that time. Over the last three years though, this rule has been
called into question a bit as the 2001 champion Fantastic Light
and High Chaparral, in 2002, each only had one start to their
credit since the end of July.

As far as post position is concerned for the Turf, the
preference definitely goes to horses on the inside and the
outside. Through the first 20 runnings on the turf, nine winners
have thus far come from the 1-3 holes and an equal amount from
the eight hole and beyond. Thus far, only three winners have come
from post positions 4-7, those being Fraise in 1992, Chief
Bearhart in 1997, and High Chaparral when claiming his first Turf


As for Lone Star Park itself, the results of the previous meet
that ran from April 15 through July 11 shows that there were no
overwhelming bias for turf routes as a whole. During the meet, 68
percent of all turf routes were won by horses coming from off the
pace leaving 32 percent of the races going to runners on or near
the lead.

The ideal candidate to win this year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf will
be a runner capable of closing from off the lead. A runner with
experience at the distance and on the surface owns an advantage
and it is ideal to have had at least a couple of starts since
July. History shows us that a horse’s chances of victory are
greatly compromised should they draw a middle post and that the
winner is as likely to be European as North American.

Though there is no guarantee that any of these horses will be
in the starting gate come Breeders’ Cup Day, some of the top
contenders, according to the World Thoroughbred Rankings, include
Irish-breds Doyen (Sadler’s Wells), Grey Swallow (Daylami [Ire])
and Sulamani ((Ire) (Hernando [Fr]) as well as Powerscourt (GB) (Sadler’s
Wells), who will be remembered as being the victim of a
controversial disqualification in the Arlington Million (G1).