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Using History to Handicap the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf

Courtesy of J. Keeler Johnson of America's Best Racing

 

While every horse race is a new puzzle for handicappers, it’s a fact that major stakes races tend to produce similar results year after year, and identifying these trends can give bettors an advantage in narrowing down the list of contenders they might want to consider.

Breeders’ Cup races are no exception to this trend, and while the $2 million Grade 1 Maker's Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs doesn’t have as long a history as some of the other Breeders’ Cup races (it was first run in 1999), looking at the results over the last 19 years reveals a number of trends that could be useful for handicapping the race.

Let’s take a look at some of the key points to consider.

Any Running Style Can Win

When it comes to favoring a particular running style, the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf can be considered one of the fairest races in the country. Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a gate-to-wire winner (Dayatthespa, 2014), several pace-tracking winners (Dank, 2013, and Shared Account, 2010), plus a bunch of winners that rallied from mid-pack and even a few deep closers like Stephanie’s Kitten (2015) and Queen’s Trust (2016). All told, five of the last 10 winners raced in the first half of the field early on, while the other five raced in the back half of the field. You can’t get much fairer than that!

Year

Winner

Position after first half-mile

½-mile & ¾-mile times

2017

Wuheida

3rd by 2.5 lengths (14 starters)

47.50, 1:11.42 (firm)

2016

Queen’s Trust

11th by 10.25 lengths (13 starters)

46.16, 1:10.11 (firm)

2015

Stephanie’s Kitten

10th by 5.75 lengths (10 starters)

49.26, 1:13.94 (good)

2014

Dayatthespa

1st by 0.5 lengths (11 starters)

48.37, 1:13.12 (good)

2013

Dank

2nd by 2.5 length (10 starters)

47.50, 1:11.52 (firm)

2012

Zagora

4th by 2.5 lengths (11 starters)

48.72, 1:13.00 (firm)

2011

Perfect Shirl

8th by 4 lengths (11 starters)

51.07, 1:16.90 (good)

2010

Shared Account

3rd by 2 lengths (11 starters)

50.32, 1:15.94 (firm)

2009

Midday

5th by 3 lengths (8 starters)

48.83, 1:12.95 (firm)

2008

Forever Together

7th by 4 lengths (10 starters)

50.02, 1:14.78 (firm)

Bet Chad Brown

The two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown kicked off his career just 10 years ago, but already he’s won the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf a record-equaling three times with Zagora (2012), Dayattthespa (2014), and Stephanie’s Kitten (2015). He’s also finished second twice with Stephanie’s Kitten (2014) and Lady Eli (2016) and third once with Alterite (2013), and all that from just 14 starters!

As usual, Brown has pre-entered a formidable contingent of top-class runners for the Filly and Mare Turf: A Raving BeautyFourstar CrookSanta MonicaSistercharlie, and Thais, a quintet that comprises nearly 36 percent of the expected field. It will come as no surprise if Brown picks up a fourth win in the Filly and Mare Turf this year.

In contrast, the highly successful Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien—winner of a dozen Breeders’ Cup races overall—has gone 0-for-11 in the Filly and Mare Turf, though he has sent out two second-place finishers, including Rhododendron in 2017.

Avoid California-Based Contenders

Even though the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf has been held in California eight times, no horse that prepped for the race on the West Coast has ever won. The closest were the Bobby Frankel-trained pair of Starine (2002) and Intercontinental (2005), who ran in California several times during their Breeders’ Cup-winning seasons, but completed their preparations at Belmont Park and Keeneland, respectively.

By far the key prep for the Filly and Mare Turf has been the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Stakes at Belmont Park, which has produced 6 of the 19 Filly and Mare Turf winners, as well as 4 of the last 11. The Group 1 Prix de l’Opera Longines at Longchamp has also been a productive race, serving as the final prep run for the Filly and Mare Turf winners Midday (2009), Queen’s Trust (2016), and Wuheida (2017), and the Grade 1 First Lady at Keeneland was the final prep for four winners.

Favor Foreign-Bred and Foreign-Based Contenders

Since all of the best racing in Europe takes place on turf, it only makes sense that horses bred and/or raced in Europe would enjoy strong success in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, and that has indeed been the case. In fact, 12 of the 19 Filly and Mare Turf winners (63 percent) were bred in Great Britain (9), France (2), or Ireland (1), and eight of the 19 (42 percent) were based overseas at the time of their Breeders’ Cup wins.

Don’t Be Afraid to Play Longshots

While favorites have gone 5-for-19 (26 percent) overall in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, recent editions of the race have been significantly less predictable. Just one favorite in the last 11 years has prevailed, that being Dank at 1.50-1 in 2013, and during that same timeframe we’ve seen some impressive upsets from Shared Account (46-1 in 2010) and Perfect Shirl (27.80-1 in 2011), with both of those upsets coming at Churchill Downs.

Conclusions

On paper, the Filly and Mare Turf is shaping up to be Chad Brown vs. the Europeans, though that doesn’t narrow down the field much since 11 of the 14 expected starters fit one category or the other! However, the 1 3/8-mile distance of the race might tip the scales in favor of the Europeans, since most of Brown’s runners have been running shorter while the Europeans can boast more experience going long.

One filly with plenty of proven stamina is the high-class 3-year-old Wild Illusion, runner-up in the 1 ½-mile Group 1 Epsom Oaks and winner of the above-mentioned Prix de l’Opera Longines that has produced the last two winners of the Filly and Mare Turf. Trained by Charlie Appleby, who has won with two of his three previous Breeders’ Cup starters (including Wuheida in this race last year), Wild Illusion should have no trouble handling the distance of the Filly and Mare Turf, and if she takes to Churchill Downs, she could prove very difficult to beat.

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