Breeders’ Cup Classic Handicapping Trends

West Coast

By James Scully,

Centerpiece of the 13-race Breeders’ Cup World Championships, the $6 million Classic attracts the best of the best in Thoroughbred racing. And plenty will be on the line at Del Mar this fall as the 1 ¼-mile race plays an instrumental part in determining Horse of the Year honors.

Here are some Classic trends to consider:

Triple Crown hero American Pharoah did not disappoint as the 3-5 choice in the 2015 Classic, generating a $3.40 win payout for completing the “Grand Slam,” but he’s the only odds-on favorite (even-money or less) to prevail this century and nine of the last 11 Classic winners weren’t favored.

The Classic is often a good race for value. Since the inaugural running in 1984, 10 Classic winners have paid $20 or more, with six of the last 11 conquerors returning at least $14 for a $2 wager.

Winning the previous start isn’t a prerequisite for Classic success but remains a positive, with 11 of the last 14 exiting a triumph. Arcangues, who generated the biggest upset in Breeders’ Cup history when surprising at 133-1 odds in 1993, is the only Classic winner who failed to record a top three finish in the previous start.

Arrogate will try to join Tiznow (2000-01) as the only repeat winner in Classic history but must overcome one trend: no horse has swept the Dubai World Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same year. In March, Arrogate became the fifth horse to capture the Dubai World Cup after taking the Classic, joining the ranks of Cigar, Curlin, Invasor and Pleasantly Perfect. And all but the retired Invasor came up short when making a Classic title defense.

In 2016, California Chrome finished second as the Classic favorite after romping in the Dubai World Cup. Silver Charm (1998) and Almutawakel (1999) also came up short when attempting the Dubai World Cup-Classic sweep in the same season.

Bob Baffert is preparing a deep roster of older horses, with Arrogate, Collected and Mubtaahij being major race winners this season, but the Hall of Fame trainer has captured the last three editions of the Classic with a 3-year-old (Arrogate, American Pharoah and Bayern).

A 3-year-old has finished in the money (1st, 2nd or 3rd) in 10 of the last 12 runnings, winning a total of 12 times in the Classic’s 33-year history. They’ve easily held their own with older horses, with 4-year-olds accounting for 13 wins and 5-year-olds producing eight tallies. No horse age 6 or up has ever won the Classic.

West Coast, a late bloomer who missed this year’s Triple Crown but has really come on in recent months with Grade 1 victories in the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, will try to make it four straight sophomore winners for Baffert.

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