The Cup and the Less Experienced

By Art Parker, author of “Keeneland Winning Trainer Patterns”

Breeders’ Cup handicapping is routine, but exciting, for many of us that have been playing for years. While we appreciate the great day of thoroughbred racing we know what to expect, prepare the same way, and just hope we can pick enough winners to make the day profitable.

For the less experienced things are a little different. Many things are intimidating and overwhelming. There can be an immediate feeling of inferiority because of the lack of knowledge. For those who are exposed to the game in the mid-low levels of racing the first few Breeders’ Cups can be a frightful expedition.

The Breeders' Cup at Santa AnitaThe inexperienced may first feel the pain when looking at past performances. Trying to handicap a Breeders’ Cup card can be a state of bewilderment when one has only been faced with maiden claiming races and the never ending non-winners of 2 or 3 low level claiming contests. Seeing all of the graded stakes in past performances lines and a mountain of different tracks hosting such races is new territory for the Breeders’ Cup novice. The most important rule for the Breeders’ Cup novice to remember is that horses with successful trainers that have earned big money in big races are the ones with the highest probability of winning.

The tote board fascination should cease at the Breeders’ Cup. Any of us that have played at the mid-low level tracks know that a lot can change in terms of odds in a minute. I can recall many times I have seen an 8-1 drop to a 4-1 or lower in the last minute. That doesn’t happen very often at the Breeders’ Cup. Millions have already been shoved through the windows when the post time changes for the next race. Sure, there may be a small variance but in reality when you get to about 15 minutes to post what you see is what you get. Not much can change when wagering exceeds $12 million (or much more) per race.

Newcomers to the Cup wagering should not place a lot of stock in TV commentators. I always felt they tell the wrong stories because they are after ratings and trying to appeal to just about everyone who is tuned in. The best way to learn about handicapping the Breeders’ Cup is to do it the old fashion way…read. News organizations dedicated to racing produce the reports that are the best sources for information. Their purpose is to inform the handicapper not get a higher rating.

Also, those with less experience at Santa Anita need to be reminded of a few track notes. Santa Anita is a beautiful location and a great facility but turf races can be unique due to course layout. On three occasions Breeders’ Cup races on the turf will cross the main track at a certain point. Part of the Arcadia turf course is on the side of a hill that meanders downward toward the main body of the facility. For the turf course to resemble other American tracks and be positioned inside the main dirt track, the turf course must cross the dirt just before the top of the turf stretch. Many a horse that looked to be a winner finished out of the money after dealing with the small dirt crossing at Santa Anita. A rational person would think this favors the Californians instead of invaders, especially the Europeans. But that is not the case, thus far, since the Europeans have done very well at Breeders’ Cup turf races at Santa Anita. The races affected by the dirt crossing will be the Turf Sprint (6 1/2 furlongs), The Filly & Mare Turf (1 ¼ miles) and the Turf (1 ½ miles).

The other track note involves the Breeders’ Cup Marathon, which is on the dirt (1 ¾ miles). The race will be run around three turns with the starting gate being fixed in a position for a traditional sprint race.

If you are one of the inexperienced at the Breeders’ Cup battle don’t be afraid to jump in. Take time to learn and only wager when you really like your selection. After a couple of years of practice you will be prepared to be a more serious player. Just remember that horse playing and playing the Breeders’ Cup is not an attempt to get lucky, it is a game of skill.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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