What It Takes for an East Coast Horse to Win at the Breeders’ Cup


Whatever the surface at Santa Anita, dirt or artificial, the locals have an advantage over all comers, especially the East Coast runners.

It’s been a long time since the Breeders’ Cup was held on the East Coast. Monmouth Park was the last East Coast track to host the Cup, and that was in 2007. In 2005 Belmont Park hosted the Cup, which was the last time the event was in New York. It’s been even longer since an East coast horse won a Breeders’ Cup race on the main track at Santa Anita. It’s been just as long since a horse made its last start on a New York main track and followed that with a Breeders’ Cup win on the main track at Santa Anita.

In 1986 Lady’s Secret won at Belmont and then won the Distaff at Santa Anita. The East Coast based Smile also took the Sprint that year. Since then, it’s been a lost cause for the East and New York’s main track runners when they head for the Cup at Santa Anita.

The Breeders' Cup at Santa AnitaThose recording Breeders’ Cup victories on the main track at Santa Anita have won on dirt and, in 2008 and 2009, won on the artificial surface (This year Santa Anita offers a traditional dirt surface). On either surface the nod goes to those based in Southern California. The Europeans have recorded some winners on the Arcadia main and there have been a few from mid-America. Whatever the surface at Santa Anita, dirt or artificial, the locals have an advantage over all comers, especially the East Coast runners.

Most patrons at a track play the game by examining data on paper and then make a bet. It’s like reading a brief news report in the newspaper and accepting the information as the entire story. And, most handicappers that play the game look at the numbers and a small amount of other numerical data and then they make a decision. Little thought is given to the other evidence.

“We have a tendency to think of these animals as machines, but they are living, breathing creatures, subject to the laws of nature,” said Jude Feld, former Southern California trainer and now a commentator on the Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN). The thoroughbreds are not machines and the people that handle them are imperfect because they are human. That really throws a monkey wrench into any analysis, especially for those that don’t believe horse playing is truly a game of skill.

Feld was asked for his thoughts about the lack of East Coast winners on Santa Anita’s main surface over the years that the Breeder’s Cup has been contested there. He noted three major reasons; pace, travel and weather. “When it comes to pace, California horses are trained to run from the bell,” Feld said.  “There is a great difference in training between the East Coast and West Coast. The East Coast is laid back. ‘Let ’em settle and have ’em finish’ is the accepted thought on the East Coast,” Feld explained. “On the West Coast trainers drill the hell out their horses. Their short works are fast – under :35, under :47 and under a minute.”

Feld said that top West Coast trainer Bob Baffert had a lot to do with the training style in California. “Baffert came in from the Quarterhorse world and won everything. His horses worked fast. That forced everyone else to train similarly or lose their clients – a very interesting dynamic.”

As far as travel is concerned it is much harder to travel east to west. Many people claim this is true in other sports such as baseball and football. “The human and equine genome is relatively close. Light regulates clock genes, so it would behoove trainers to get their runners out in the light as much as possible in their first few days. Early shipping would also aid their cause,” Feld explained.

Usually the weather has plenty to do with racing and most of us first think of rain and wet tracks. But when the Breeders’ Cup heads west there are other meteorological considerations. Feld explained the most important weather factor to consider the first Saturday in November. “Fall has definitely hit the Midwest and East Coast, yet it is much warmer in Southern California [than usual].  Eastern horses will have been growing winter coats and adjusting to cool weather (30s in the morning back east) and are suddenly thrust back into summer.” Readjusting to the weather is also another reason for shipping early.

This year give more thought to the other factors in thoroughbred racing, not just the printed numbers and the name of the jockey. Remember, horse playing is an art and a game of skill. It is not for those that guzzle free casino drinks and pull the handle of a slot machine watching their money disappear.

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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 Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.


  1. […] Horse Racing Radio Network’s Jude Feld thinks so.  He claims west coast tracks favor speed over stamina.  He noticed west coast horses workout at longer distances and faster speeds. […]

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