Analysis: Learn from Breeders' Cup winners who lost their preps

September 11, 2019 08:39am
While the wide majority of Breeders' Cup winners win their final prep races, that is not a hard rule. Besides the usual cases of pace or trip problems, some horses come off a layoff in their preps or get undertrained on purpose. After all, there is no point in peaking before the Breeders' Cup if you believe you can win on the bigger day.

As those final preps begin, let's look at three horses who lost their final races before winning a Breeders' Cup event and what bettors can learn from them. 

City of Light: 2018 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile

City of Light went on a roll in late 2017 and early 2018 with wins in the Malibu Stakes (G1), Triple Bend Stakes (G1) and Oaklawn Handicap (G2). At Oaklawn Park, he event won a stretch battle with Accelerate, who owned recent victories in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) and San Pasqual Stakes (G2). 

Both horses earned a whopping 133 TimeformUS figure.  

But City of Light failed when stretching out in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), running a flat third. After taking a small rest, he returned a few months later in the Forego Stakes (G1) and finished second. 

Is there anything to learn from City of Light's final prep? For one, it is almost always okay to excuse a horse's first start off the layoff.

Also, another look at the video shows him wide around the turn. The winner, Whitmore, also received an inside dream run. 

In horse racing, the winner is not always the best horse. Circumstances can lead to lesser horses winning, and in this case Whitmore slipped through.

If bettors wanted to support City of Light in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, they could rationalize that he competed in the Forego at roughly 80-90-percent off the layoff and still ran well factoring the ground loss.

Bettors could also excuse the Gold Cup at Santa Anita third because of the 1 ¼-mile distance. City of Light figured to enjoy one turn at Churchill.

Of course, it is easy to say all of this now, as I bet Firenze Fire last November at Churchill Downs. But wagering involves a lot of learning, and those defeats become useful.

Good Magic – 2017 Breeders' Cup Juvenile

In the case of Good Magic, he went into the Breeders' Cup as a maiden with two losses in two starts. He ran second in both of those races. 

First of all, it is almost always okay to forgive a horse losing his career debut, especially a 2-year-old. Those horses are practically babies.

Hazit won Good Magic's debut race with an uncontested lead and slow fractions, taking them along in 23.18 and 46.91 for a 6 ½-furlong sprint. It is no wonder Good Magic stayed in second the entire way, or that none of the other three horses changed positions. 

Good Magic got enough pace in the Champagne, sitting in fourth a few lengths behind the three-horse contest up front. But in this case, the pace collapsed and Good Magic moved early, while Firenze Fire came from the back.

Because Good Magic settled close to the fast pace, he burned up more energy. The way the race flowed, Firenze Fire held the best position.

Arguably, Good Magic ran just as well as Firenze Fire. He also learned from the race by enduring a real pace and dealing with a good closer.

Besides that, Good Magic finished second in a major Grade 1 race as a maiden in his second start. It is difficult to find fault in that.

Betters could reason Good Magic's runner-up finish in the Champagne showcased his raw talent with only some minor sharpening needed. In any case, if a maiden is in a Breeders' Cup race with high-percentage connections, it is a good sign. It means there is confidence behind him.

Highland Reel – 2016 Breeders' Cup Turf

With Europeans, sometimes there is no pace or layoff excuse for losing their final race before the Breeders' Cup. They simply lose against good horses in a major event.

For example, in Highland Reel's start before the 2016 Breeders' Cup, he ran second in the Prix de I'Arc de Triomphe (G1), one of the most important European races. Technically, it is not a “prep race” for something bigger. It is the main event.

Found saved more ground than Highland Reel, but Highland Reel took a clear shot in the stretch run and could not quicken.

But there was no shame in Highland Reel losing to Found, as the filly displayed plenty of class with runner-up placings in both the Irish Champion Stakes (G1) and Yorkshire Oaks (G1) leading up to the race, and a win in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Keeneland over Golden Horn one year earlier. 

In the Breeders' Cup, Highland Reel faced Found again along with Flintshire, who had finished second to Highland Reel in the 2015 Hong Kong Vase (G1). 

At 7-2, Highland Reel offered more value than Flintshire. 

Highland Reel was closer in odds to Found. But bettors could reason that both of them displayed high-class European form at good value. Based on his previous form, Highland Reel could beat Found on any given day. 

In other words, bettors could use both of them evenly. In some races, there is not one clear-cut selection to build a ticket around.

As expected, those three Europeans dominated the race.


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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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