Breeders’ Cup Winning Traits Presented By NYRA Bets: Turf Sprint, Dirt Mile

by | 11.02.2017 | 10:08pm
Practical Joke galloping at Del Mar prior to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

If you had to guess, would you think the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint is usually a crazy result with longshots all over the place? 

That's actually not the case.

While the average odds on the winner is around 10-1, that is blown up by the winner of the first Turf Sprint, Desert Code (36-1) in 2008.

If you toss that result, we're talking more like 5- or 6-1. Four favorites have won the nine runnings of the Turf Sprint, so it's far more formful than one might expect from a short race on the grass and surprisingly more formful than most Breeders' Cup races. 

The one constant in the nine runnings of the Turf Sprint is that age matters. Not one 3-year-old has found the winner's circle in this race. The average age of the winner is 5.5 years, with the oldest being Obviously last year at age eight.

The other trend is that not a single internationally-based runner has won the Turf Sprint. This is a US-based race, so historically speaking, toss the shippers.

Otherwise, the race has been a mixed bag. It's been won from off the pace and on it; it's been won by fillies/mares; it's been won by horses having done well in the lead-up and those who did not (although better form has proven more reliable).

Keep in mind that this year's running at Del Mar will be contested at five furlongs. Other runnings, particularly those at Santa Anita, have been run as far 6 1/2 furlongs, so that is a significant consideration.

Some noteworthy starters in this year's field, based on historical trends:

Bucchero (12-1) — Despite his odds, he cuts a path that two previous winners have taken, not only having run in the Woodford Stakes at Keeneland prior but having won it.

Richard's Boy (10-1) — Hit the board in last two for trainer Peter Miller, always dangerous at Del Mar.

Disco Partner (9-2) — Won four of last five for Chriistophe Clement, so form is good. Age 5, and that fits.

Hogy (12-1) — Second in Woodford last out behind Bucchero, got some conditioning at Kentucky Downs. Would not count out at a price.

Lady Aurelia (5-2) — Would buck trends, having primarily raced overseas, although she does have two starts at Keeneland on her resume. Would be careful, since she is the favorite.

Dirt Mile
Since its inception in 2007, the Dirt Mile has been a pretty good place to find Breeders' Cup longshot winners. The race has produced a double-digit odds winner four times, including 21-1 Furthest Land in 2009, 37-1 Dakota Phone in 2010 and Tamarkuz at 11-1 last year.

Only two favorites have won the race, Goldencents in 2014 and Liam's Map the next year. Both were about even money.

No trainer has won more than one edition of the race, although Goldencents did win the Dirt Mile in back-to-back years, once under Doug O'Neill, the next year under his assistant Leandro Mora while O'Neill was serving a suspension. Jockey Rafael Bejarano rode the horse both times, the only jockey to repeat in the Dirt Mile.

Interestingly, the Dirt Mile is most often won by horses cutting back in distance, not stretching out. Only one winner (Goldencents in '13, '14) won by moving up in distance from his last start, going from six furlongs in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship to a mile both times. Two others, Tapizar ('12) and Tamarcuz ('16) prepped at a mile. The rest cut back, most commonly from 1 1/8 miles. The 1 1/8 Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita (now the Awesome Again) and the Woodward at Saratoga have each produced two winners.

In terms of running style, Goldencents is the only gate-to-wire winner of the Dirt Mile. He did it two years in a row. Otherwise, a mix of styles have won, including from way back in the pack.

There's also diversity in the age of previous winners. A pair of 3-year-olds, Goldencents and Caleb's Posse, have won, while Tamarkuz won last year at age 6. Six of the 10 winners were 4-year-olds. Most of the Dirt Mile winners came into the race in good form, with the worst prep racing showing being sixth (Tapizar), but only two winners — Liam's Map and Furthest Land — actually won their final prep race heading into the Breeders' Cup.

In this year's field, tepid favorite Mor Spirit would be bucking history by not having raced since June 10. All previous winners had a prep race within a few weeks of the Dirt Mile. He looks a vulnerable favorite. Second choice Accelerate fits the “cutting back” profile of a majority of Dirt Mile winners, but note he's cutting back from 1 1/4 miles, something no Dirt Mile winner has done, and his layoff stretches back to mid-August so again that doesn't jibe with historical trends.

This year looks like a good time to land on a longer shot in the Dirt Mile. At 6-1 Practical Joke makes a lot of sense in terms of his closers' running style, the fact that he did as recently as July perform well at 1 1/8 miles and his current form is excellent. 8-1 shot Cupid comes out of the relevant Awesome Again stakes, ridden by two-time Dirt Mile winner Bejarano. Trainer Bob Baffert has never won this race, but it won't be surprising if he adds this year's running to his resume.

Steve Asmussen has won this race before and Iron Fist (12-1), while a “quirky” horse according to his trainer, is extremely talented, drew an excellent post considering the short run into the first turn at Del Mar, has tactical speed and is cutting back from the 1 1/8-mile distance. Deserves a very long look at that price.

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