Breeders' Cup 2019: Tips for analyzing workout replays

October 17, 2019 10:51am
Breeders' Cup 2019: Tips for analyzing workout replays
Photo: Leah Vasquez
Discussion of Breeders' Cup 2019 contender workouts will heat up soon, especially with the event arriving at Santa Anita on Nov. 1 and 2. With the advent of XBTV, finding videos of those works has become easier.

But for the wide majority of handicappers, studying workout videos is still a new method of analyzing horses. To add to the difficulty, when star horses work, many observers exaggerate the positive qualities due to bias.

Truthfully, the majority of Breeders' Cup workouts will show nothing other than a good horse going around an oval in a moderate to slow time. But a boring workout such as that one is better than noticing small flaws.

As for what positive qualities to search for in a workout, there are subtle signs to spot, with the final time possibly the least important factor.

For example, what positives are in Midnight Bisou's Oct. 7 local workout?

Watch how she bounces along effortlessly in the stretch.

While not a blazing workout, it is done easily at least. Midnight Bisou casually goes around the turn, switches leads smoothly and carries on towards the wire on her own will in a slow time (by design) of 51.60.

In other words, search for Breeders' Cup horses who work without noticeable encouragement and glide over the Santa Anita surface. Some of these points are repeats of an earlier post relating to Kentucky Derby workouts.

Other Breeders' Cup contenders will work in the same manner. But it does not take away from the fact Midnight Bisou gave a good impression.

Workout analysts might also stumble upon ones where the horse stuck out in a negative fashion, such as when the rider needs to ask the horse.

For example, in this Oct. 14 upload of Improbable, the rider noticeably shakes the reigns with his left hand more than once in the stretch.

On the positive side, Improbable switches leads well and responds.

But in most cases, a horse ready to roll will accomplish the workout without urging, or the communication is too subtle to notice.

In contrast, notice Mitole's eagerness in his local Oct. 4 four-furlong spin shown on XBTV. Unfortunately, the replay is not on Facebook.

Because of his eagerness, the rider needed to tug Mitole back at the start. When two other horses came on both sides of Mitole, he also jerked his head in slight anger. Mitole looked ready to roll from the beginning.

Around the turn, the rider finally let Mitole loose and the eager horse accomplished the work on mostly his own power nicely.

Combine the eagerness at the beginning with the smooth action, and it is a great workout overall, despite the “slow” time of 50.60 seconds. At a minimum, there is not one negative aspect to find in that easy work.

As a warning though, certain horses horses do not perform well in the mornings, but bring their “A” game in the afternoons. For example, remember when Hidden Scroll whipped Tacitus in a Feb. 22 workout?

Tacitus won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial Stakes (G2), before finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby and runner-up in the Belmont.

Hidden Scroll missed the board in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) and Florida Derby (G1), and then ran third in an optional claimer.

In most cases though, a good horse outworking another good horse is a positive sign. But check the workmate's overall class before giving credit to the Breeders' Cup horse for “beating” his stablemate in the morning.

In many cases, trainers pair horses of similar ability together. But it is not uncommon to throw up a punching bag against a Grade 1 horse.

For example, at first glance the American Theorem Oct. 11 workout with stablemate Knifes Edge is impressive because the rider holds him back.

American Theorem looked ready to draw clear of Knifes Edge.

Upon further research though, Knifes Edge lost his first career start in a maiden claimer, and lost his next two starts at the maiden special weight level. Most Breeders' Cup horses will easily trounce such a workmate.

To give credit to American Theorem though, he worked well. Imagine if Knifes Edge held off his Breeders' Cup-bound stablemate?

As a last point, check for equipment or running style changes in morning workouts. With horses slightly off form, the connections may experiment.

Think about how the change helps the horse and affects the race too.

For example, War of Will worked locally in blinkers on Oct. 16. He moved well with the change, but War of Will is also traditionally a good worker.

From a pace standpoint though, War of Will could benefit from blinkers as they tend to promote more speed. The Classic lacks a true Bayern-type pacesetter, and that will benefit any horse with tactical speed.

If the Santa Anita track still shows a speed bias on Breeders' Cup weekend, that only makes the change to blinkers even better.

Also, watch for horses with natural speed who work several lengths behind their workmate and close in the stretch.

The example here is Secret Spice, who won the Zenyatta Stakes (G1) in wire-to-wire fashion. This is a 4-year-old filly with tactical speed who could lead the race if necessary.

As seen through XBTV on Oct. 13 though, she started several lengths behind her workmate. The workout hints at a conservative strategy.

In any case, horse analysts who spend their who lives making clocker reports or selling workout reports might give better advice on how to approach workouts. But it is better to trust one's own eyes and methods.

In today's online age, there is no reason for any normal handicapper not to incorporate video workout analysis into handicapping.


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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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