An Experienced Approach to Handicapping Breeders’ Cup Bets

Courtest of Scott Shapiro of


Seasoned handicapper Scott Shapiro walks through his betting process just in time for the Breeders’ Cup.

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships are just a couple of weeks away at legendary Churchill Downs, so for many it is time to start thinking about handicapping bets for two of the more challenging days of the year for horseplayers.

Some folks may choose to prepare for the Breeders’ Cup differently than other days, but for the most part I treat the World Championships the same way I would a Thursday afternoon card in February.

My process, as always, starts with an attempt to visualize the race from a pace perspective.

After printing out my past performances and getting an initial feel for the field, I begin to watch all pertinent race replays of the contenders. As part of this process, I note which horses are likely to be involved in the early going and which runners have the ability to relax off the pace.

From there I turn to the Optix EQ plot to compare my findings with what the advanced analytics product has unveiled. Ideally my own work jives with that of Optix and I have a pretty good feel for not only how fast the early pace will be, but the amount of contention that is likely to occur during the first half mile of a race.

If there are several horses that look to be involved early, I will likely look to runners from off the pace as potential wagers . On the other hand, if an event appears void of early zip I will usually dismiss those that come from behind and side with horses that do their best running early.

After evaluating the probable pace and flow of a given race, I like to use performance ratings to separate likely winners from those that are probably overmatched.

There are several products that are worthwhile, but to me the key is to use one or two of them religiously instead of bouncing around to different ones or using too many and likely confusing yourself. As primarily a trip handicapper, I do not lean too heavily on numbers, but ignoring them is far from ideal with all of the great data out there in the twenty-first century.

The only part of my normal handicapping process that I modify for the Breeders’ Cup is a bit more of a detailed review of trainer intent in a horse’s most recent prep.

In most cases, especially with “Win and You’re In” events, connections are trying to win.
However, on some occasions, like in the 2018 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita with

Accelerate and West Coast, building a proper foundation for the upcoming event is more important than getting to the wire first that day. If I deem that a horse is not “cranked” for their last race before the World Championships I am much more forgiving off a subpar effort.

After I have adequately analyzed all competitors, the likely pace scenario and which horses are too slow to be competitive, I construct a fair value line. I am not a huge Win bettor , but I still consider this a worthwhile activity on a day where plenty of overlays and underlays will occur.

This also can help shape ticket structure for horizontal wagers, especially if you find a morning line favorite that is an unattractive option based on your handicapping.

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