There’s a well-known saying that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But there’s also an unwritten horse racing corollary that says “those who can use the past to predict the future shall be amply rewarded.”
With that in mind, I’ve pulled together data from the eight previous Breeders’ Cups at Churchill Downs to see what angles – if any — might be gleaned that could make for winning days when the races are run on Nov. 2-3. Here are my two main takeaways:
The best place to prepare for a Breeders’ Cup race at Churchill Downs by far is Belmont Park. Seventeen winners of the 72 races in the World Thoroughbred Championships in 1988, 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2006, 2010 and 2011 had their final prep race at Big Sandy. That particularly holds true for races on the dirt, as only three of those victors raced on the turf.
Europe, on the other hand, is a fine place to get ready for the BC grass races, with nine winners scoring after trans-Atlantic flights. Keeneland and Woodbine also have been productive, producing five winners apiece.
On the flip side, California-based horses have had a tough time bringing home the bacon on the Louisville lawn. Only two of the eight winners that had their last race in the Golden State won on the grass.
For that matter, West Coast horses have generally struggled on the main track in the Louisville Breeders’ Cups outside of their traditional area of strength: Three of those remaining six winners captured the Sprint, leaving just one winner apiece in the Classic, Juvenile Fillies and the Marathon.
The other most interesting piece of information revealed by the Churchill Downs mashup is how friendly it has been to sustained runners that come from well back in the pack. That hasn’t just been true for the grass races, which generally tend to favor closers, but also on the main track.
Even the Sprint, where speed might be expected to dominate, the results are evenly divided between front-runners and closers.
There are plenty of other insights to be found the information I’ve compiled, and I encourage handicappers to explore both tabs of the spreadsheet I’ve posted on Google docs to see what they can uncover. Just sign up for the #RJhorseracing email newsletter or follow me on Twitter and let me know you’re interested and I’ll share the link.
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers are not about to get rusty with the Breeders’ Cup just two weeks away.
This week we’re tackling Saturday’s eighth race at Keeneland, a 1 1/2-mile allowance turf marathon for fillies and mares, and the featured $250,000 Raven Run Stakes, a Grade 2 test at 7 furlongs on the main track for 3-year-old fillies.
In the former, the crowd ‘cappers are heavily backing 2-1 morning line favorite Peru, a six-time winner on the turf. They like Superioritycomplex (10-1) and Night Owl (6-1) to collect the lesser checks.
“Looks like the class of the field and is in fine form. Can win without running her best,” wrote Andrew Millbrooke, a new member of our club, of the top pick.
Peru does look tough, but I note that she tired after taking the lead at this distance and track last year, so I’ll try to beat her with Superioritycomplex, a 4-year-old Irish-bred filly who is bred to get the distance. Peru for second and Night Owl to show.
In the Raven Run, the crew is all over the 7-2 second choice Alter Moon, who they see eclipsing favored Moonshine Memories (3-1) for a lunar-themed exacta. They have Chauncey (15-1) and Blamed (15-1) deadlocked for third.
“Second off the claim by Chad (Brown), and the G2 looks like the right spot,” wrote crowd ‘capper Charlie Cronin of the crew’s pick.
Call me a chalk-eating son-of-a-gun, but I like Moonshine Memories, who had much trouble last out against what looks like a tougher group in the Prioress Stakes at Saratoga. I’ll use Blamed for second and Alter Moon for third.
Ellis Starr’s Raven Run Stakes analysis
Chauncey is one of a few fillies I think can run well here and this one may go to post at higher odds than the others because many may think her runner-up effort in the Charles Town Oaks at 42 to 1 odds last month was a fluke. It may not have been, because the 102 Equibase speed figure was nearly identical to the 103 figure earned two races before that. Both races were at the 7-furlong distance of the Raven Run and those figures are similar to the figures of horses that are likely to be favored — Moonshine Memories and Alter Moon. Moved to the barn of North American leading trainer Steve Asmussen since the Oaks and with a win and a neck defeat in her only two career efforts at seven furlongs, Chauncey could outrun her odds for the upset win.
Moonshine Memories won the first three starts of her career last summer and fall before finishing seventh of 13 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Given six months off to mature, she returned in May to finish second in the Angel’s Flight Stakes before a fourth place effort in the much tougher Acorn Stakes. Returned to her home base in Southern California, Moonshine Memories returned to winning form in a classified allowance race in July, earning a career-best 103 figure, before shipping back to New York for the Prioress Stakes. In the Prioress, Moonshine Memories was bumped between horses and forced to check at the start, costing her valuable early position. In spite of the poor beginning, Moonshine Memories passed five horses to end up third, just a head behind the runner-up. Jockey Mike Smith comes into Keeneland to ride and this will be his only mount of the day so there are a number of factors in favor of the filly running exceptionally well.
Alter Moon ran the two best races of her career in June, first winning an allowance race by a spectacular margin of 14 3/4 lengths to earn a 102 figure, then following that up with a five length win in the Azalea Stakes and a 102 figure at the distance of the Raven Run. Moved to the barn of Chad Brown after the Azalea, Alter Moon then faced the toughest test of her career in the Test Stakes at Saratoga, checking in fourth of eight but missing third by a nose at the wire. North American leading jockey Jose Ortiz rides Alter Moon for the first time in the Raven Run and if the filly can rebound just a bit to the form shown this summer she has every right to win the race.
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.