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Stay Away from European Turf Favourites and Limit Western Based Horses in the Breeder's Cup at Churchill Downs...By Hartley Henderson

Saturday's Breeders Cup will be run for the 5th time at Churchill Downs and there seem to be five certainties that happen each time the Cup is run in Kentucky. First, most bettors will have their butts handed to them on a platter as "unpickable horses" will win with regularity, many at odds of 20/1 or higher. Second, the pick 6 will pay an astronomical amount and the only winners will be those who spent a fortune on a ticket to win the pot or a little old lady who played random numbers. Third, the $3 million Turf will not be won by the European favourite. A European horse may win, but not the expected one. Fourth, the TV cameras will show John McRirick, the eccentric British handicapper with the strange hat and jacket looking on in disbelief and horror as the big European favourite loses the Mile and his sure thing for the Turf loses. And last, western based horses will be badly over bet in all the races and will come up short. All these things happen every time at Churchill Downs.

There's not much that can be done about the first 3, but it is amazing that handicappers just don't learn from the past regarding European and Western horses in Churchill Downs races. The three top trainers from Europe, Andre Fabre, Aidan O'Brien and Saeed Bin Suroor have won a total of 9 races from 97 mounts in the Breeders Cup. But they are an abysmal 0 for 15 at Churchill Downs despite usually having the favourites. This does not bode well for Hurricane Run or Scorpion who are running for Fabre and O'Brien respectively in the John Deere Turf. Hurricane Run has been consistent in Europe and looks to be one of the favourites if not odds on. But the sire of both Hurricane Run and Scorpion is Montjeu who was an overwhelming favourite at Churchill Downs in 2000 and finished well back. So that has to be another strike against him. In the Breeder's Cup Mile, Librettist, the star for Saeed Bin Suroor will als be one of the favourites---if not the race time choice. But again, the Suroor's record is terrible at Churchill Downs, and unlike the BC Turf which seems to constantly be won by European horses, the Mile is usually won by a horse from North America.

So why do European horses do so poorly? There are several theories. Some suggest that the training style that wins regularly in Europe for O'Brien, Fabre etc. just isn't adequate for North America. In Europe horses often get long layoffs between races to keep them fresh, but in North America horses generally try to run at least one race within a month prior to the big race to keep them ready. A second theory suggests that the long airplane ride from Europe to North America tires out the horses. This theory, however, can usually be dismissed since European horses tend to do well at other tracks. It just seems that the European horses fail only at the northeast tracks their first time out. Lastly, there is a suggestion that the turf at Churchill, Belmont etc. is so drastically different from the turf course in Europe that a horse must have a race over the turf course to learn how to run on it. There is no doubt that even when a turf course in Europe is good (same firmness as is in the U.S.), the ground maintains a fair bit of water. In the United States , a firm turf course usually has little give and can be run faster than races over the dirt. Whatever the reason, when one has a statistic as glaring as 0 for 15 in 4 years of racing at a racetrack it is best not to buck the trend.

As for Western horses, the lack of success is a mystery. Several Western based horses have won the Kentucky Derby, but none have won the Classic at Churchill. In fact, up until the 2000 Breeder's Cup, only Great Communicator won from the west coast. That represented a 1 for 48 record for west coast horses at Breeder's Cup races in Kentucky . In 2000 a couple of Western horses broke through, including Tiznow and War Chant, but the general lack of success is discouraging. So why do they have such a lack of success? Again, training could be one reason. But weather may be the main issue. In 2000 the weather was fairly decent but in the other Churchill races, the weather was relatively cold and the air was humid (at least compared to races at California tracks). So like any human runner, when a horse is subjected to conditions they aren't used to they tend to suffer more than the local animals that are used to the conditions.

So this works out well. When throwing out the European horses trained by the big 3 European trainers, and the West Coast horses in the other races, the pick 6 can now be reduced considerably. And a $3 ticket on the rest will only cost $3,421,220. Hmm. Ok, back to the drawing board.

Hartley Henderson

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