February 28, 2021

Analyzing how favorites have fared in the Breeders’ Cup

Churchill Downs is among the 20 tracks in the coalition (c) Coady Photography

Favoritism belongs to the horse leaving the starting gate at the lowest odds and it’s no surprise favorites in the Breeders’ Cup win at a lower rate than the national average (approximately 35%) given the abundance of large and competitive fields in the 14-race championship event.

But as bettors will advise, simply saying “favorite” is an oversimplification of terms when it comes to analyzing odds of Breeders’ Cup race winners. Gun Runner may have been a couple clicks lower than Arrogate as the 2-1 second choice in last year’s Classic, but he certainly qualified as a favorite for those holding “all” in multi-race wagers.

And betting the favorite doesn’t always means taking a short price, with Mendelssohn generating a nice $11.60 payout ($2 mutuel) to everyone playing the favorite straight in last year’s Juvenile Turf. That’s a far cry from the 1-2 odds Liam’s Map offered when winning the 2015 Dirt Mile.

I won’t go too in-depth in my analysis, focusing upon horses who left the starting gate as the favorite; odds-on favorites; 3-1 or lower; and 7-2 or higher. We’ll review the eight Breeders’ Cup programs this decade, including the last two runnings at Churchill Downs (2010-11), and break down 13 races individually (no data for inaugural running of Juvenile Turf Sprint, discarded Marathon excluded).

Raw numbers

From a total of 104 Breeders’ Cup races this decade, post-time favorites have posted 26 wins, a 25% strike rate. The 2013 edition at Santa Anita played kindly to chalk, with five of 13 races (38.4 %) being won by the favorite. By comparison, only 1-of-13 favorites (7.6%) won at Santa Anita in 2016.

Odds-on favorites (less than even-money) are generally considered to possess an overwhelming advantage on the competition but haven’t won at a 50% clip in the Breeders’ Cup, with only six-of-13 prevailing this decade (46%). The aforementioned Liam’s Map has been the shortest-priced favorite. Dortmund (fourth at .70-1 in 2016 Dirt Mile) and Bolt d’Oro (third at .70-1 in 2017 Juvenile) have burned the most money, and both odds-on favorites in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup lost (Lady Aurelia and Bolt d’Oro).

Narrowing short-priced contestants to a specific group, horses at odds of 3-1 or less (on the toteboard) have won at 27.8% rate (29-of-104) in Breeders’ Cup races this decade.

RACE-BY-RACE ANALYSIS

SATURDAY

CLASSIC

Favorites:   American Pharoah (3-5)
3-1 or less but not favored:   Gun Runner (2-1), Arrogate (8-5)
7-2 or higher:   Bayern (6-1), Mucho Macho Man (4-1), Fort Larned (9-1), Drosselmeyer (14-1), Blame (5-1)

Analysis: Three of the last eight Classic winners have been short-priced, with Drosselmeyer being the most lucrative winner at 14-1. Accelerate will carry the favorite’s mantle but could be a lukewarm choice in this year’s edition.

TURF

Favorites:   None
3-1 or less but not favored:   None
7-2 or higher:   Talismanic (14-1), Highland Reel (7-2), Found (6-1), Main Sequence (6-1), Magician (12-1), Little Mike (17-1), St Nicholas Abbey (6-1), Dangerous Midge (8-1)

Analysis: The Turf has been advantageous for those trying to beat the favorite this decade with no winners at less than 3-1. That includes favorites and second choices in the betting, with Highland Reel being the only third choice to capture the 1 1/2-mile test. This year’s edition will feature a prohibitive favorite in back-to-back Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) winner Enable.

DISTAFF

Favorites:   Untapable (8-5), Royal Delta (8-5, 2012), Royal Delta (2-1, 2011)
3-1 or less but not favored:   Beholder (3-1, 2016), Beholder (5-2, 2013)
7-2 or higher:   Forever Unbridled (7-2), Stopchargingmaria (7-1), Unrivaled Belle (7-1)

Analysis: The Distaff has been kind to those seeking to narrow in horizontals with logical horses, with six of the last eight winners paying less than $10. Stopchargingmaria prevailed in a wide-open edition, with only Unrivaled Belle legitimately surprising as she held off 3-2 favorite Blind Luck in 2010. The top choices appear formidable again this year.

MILE

Favorites:   World Approval (5-2), Wise Dan (4-5, 2013), Wise Dan (9-5, 2012), Goldikova (6-5)
3-1 or less but not favored:   None
7-2 or higher:   Tourist (12-1), Tepin (9-2), Karakontie (30-1), Court Vision (64-1)

Analysis: There’s been a couple of bombs but the Mile has been among the most formful races, with favorites winning at a 50% clip. All have been at least 5-2, but no horse will meet that threshold in this year’s contentious 14-horse field.

SPRINT

Favorites:   Runhappy (8-5), Secret Circle (5-2)
3-1 or less but not favored:   None
7-2 or higher:   Roy H (9-2), Drefong (7-2), Work All Week (19-1), Trinniberg (13-1), Amazombie (7-1), Big Drama (5-1)

Analysis: Roy H, Drefong and Big Drama were all very usable and Trinniberg brought dangerous speed to the equation, leaving Work All Week as the only Sprint winner I would classify as a true outsider this decade. This year’s edition could be more of the same with plenty of viable options in a well-matched field of talented competitors.

FILLY & MARE TURF

Favorites:   Dank (3-2)
3-1 or less but not favored:   None
7-2 or higher:   Wuheida (11-1), Queen’s Turf (8-1), Stephanie’s Kitten (7-1), Dayatthespa (5-1), Zagora (9-1), Perfect Shirl (27-1), Shared Account (46-1)

Analysis: Horse players utilizing a spread approach in the Filly & Mare Turf have had a chance to survive-and-advance in multi-race wagers with 2013 (Dank) being the only time a favorite or second betting choice has won. And a pair of odds-on favorites (Midday and Legatissimo) have been beaten. Don’t be afraid to play a price this year!

DIRT MILE

Favorites:   Liam’s Map (1-2), Goldencents (3-5)
3-1 or less but not favored:   None
7-2 or higher:   Battle of Midway (14-1), Tamarkuz (11-1), Goldencents (7-2), Tapizar (15-1), Caleb’s Posse (6-1), Dakota Phone (37-1)

Analysis: The Dirt Mile is the only race with multiple odds-on winners this decade (2013 and 2015), but half the winners have paid at least $25. This year’s race will feature a probable overwhelming favorite in Catalina Cruiser and the potential exists for a boxcar payout if the chalk falters.

TURF SPRINT

Favorites:   Obviously (7-2), Mizdirection (5-2, 2013), Regally Ready (2-1)
3-1 or less but not favored:   None
7-2 or higher:   Stormy Liberal (30-1), Mongolian Saturday (15-1), Bobby’s Kitten (7-1), Mizdirection (6-1, 2012), Chamberlain Bridge (6-1)

Analysis: Last year featured the only massive upset, with Stormy Liberal (who opened 2017 with four straight stakes wins) returning from a five-month layoff after an eighth in the Jaipur (G3) to post a 30-1 surprise. Stormy Liberal will return for a title defense with a three-race win streak but the Turf Sprint remains one of the more competitive races on paper this year.

FILLY & MARE SPRINT

Favorites:   Judy the Beauty (3-1), Groupie Doll (3-1, 2013), Groupie Doll (3-5, 2012)
3-1 or less but not favored:   None
7-2 or higher:   Bar of Gold (66-1), Finest City (8-1), Wavell Avenue (10-1), Musical Romance (20-1), Dubai Majesty (8-1)

Analysis: The biggest upset this decade came last year with 66-1 Bar of Gold, who recorded her only previous win from eight starts last season in a New York-bred turf event at Saratoga, but favorites have performed well in the Filly & Mare Sprint with three wins. Bob Baffert has a pair of top contenders in Dream Tree and Marley’s Freedom, but I can’t discount the possibility of chaos this year.

FRIDAY

JUVENILE

Favorites:   Shanghai Bobby (6-5), Uncle Mo (7-5)
3-1 or less but not favored:   None
7-2 or higher:   Good Magic (11-1), Classic Empire (9-2), Nyquist (9-2), Texas Red (13-1), New Year’s Day (10-1), Hansen (7-1)

Analysis: No major surprises but impossible to fix any labels upon the Juvenile. Shanghai Bobby and Uncle Mo came through as expected, Bolt d’Oro and Union Rags fell short as overwhelming favorites. Good Magic broke his maiden at 11-1, New Year’s Day jumped straight from a maiden win to post a minor upset at 10-1. An East-West showdown looms this year between Complexity and Game Winner, and bettors will have other options in a 14-horse field.

JUVENILE TURF

Favorites:   Mendelssohn (9-2)
3-1 or less but not favored:   None
7-2 or higher:   Oscar Performance (6-1), Hit a Bomb (7-1, Hootenanny (6-1), Outstrip (6-1), George Vancouver (9-1), Wrote (11-1), Pluck (6-1)

Analysis: The shortest-priced runners (Bobby’s Kitten at 6-5, Airoforce and Good Samaritan at 5-2) have been beaten this decade, but don’t know if we’ll see a prohibitive favorite if Coolmore and Aidan O’Brien run both Anthony Van Dyck and Broome, a pair of classy youngsters who have been pre-entered along with three other Europeans in the main body of a 14-horse field. The Irish powerhouse stable will seek to extend their record with a fifth Juvenile Turf victory.

JUVENILE FILLIES

Favorites:   Songbird (3-5), My Miss Aurelia (2-1), Awesome Feather (4-1)
3-1 or less but not favored:   None
7-2 or higher:   Caledonia Road (17-1), Champagne Room (33-1), Take Charge Brandi (61-1), Ria Antonia (32-1), Beholder (7-2)

Analysis: What a contrast, with three favorites and three bombs away winners. Bettors will have options this year as favoritism appears up for grabs and we could have another lukewarm Juvenile Fillies favorite like Awesome Feather (2010) as a handful of runners deserve serious win consideration.

JUVENILE FILLIES TURF

Favorites:   Lady Eli (2-1)
3-1 or less but not favored:   Rushing Fall (3-1)
7-2 or higher:   New Money Honey (6-1), Catch a Glimpse (6-1), Chriselliam (6-1), Flotilla (11-1), Stephanie’s Kitten (6-1), More Than Real (13-1)

Analysis: Lady Eli and Rushing Fall have been short-priced heroines for four-time winner Chad Brown, who has captured three of the last four editions of the Juvenile Fillies Turf. The leading East Coast conditioner appears loaded once again with Newspaperofrecord, who looked special romping by 6 ½ lengths in the Miss Grillo (G2).

Find the horses in each field available for backing in Breeders’ Cup wagers at TwinSpires!