Bettors get ready beacause the Breeders’ Cup takes place this coming Friday and Saturday at the greatest of all racetracks – Churchill Downs. It’s the ultimate two day racing festival – 14 races with a total purse of more than $25 million featuring the best horses from North America, Europe, and even South America this year. Outside of the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont in potential Triple Crown years these are the two best days of the year for horse racing fans.
The Breeders’ Cup is a challenge for casual bettors. People who normally don’t bet on the ponies are drawn to betting on this event because it is so big, and because the potential payoffs are massive. The problem, though, is that they are probably the two hardest days of handicapping in racing – outside of the Kentucky Derby. People who make these days their only days of horse betting every year are just jumping into the deep end. It can be tough. Here’s a look at five reasons why betting on the Breeders’ Cup is so tough, and what horse race handicappers can do about it to give themselves the best chance of success:
Challenge: The number of races. There are 14 major races over two days – six on Friday and eight on Saturday. You cannot bet them all. Each of those races has large fields and very few horses that you can easily toss out. It’s a lot to tackle, and it can strain the bankroll.
Solution: Pick your spots. It’s very tough to adequately handicap all of the races. Even if you can handicap them, it is tough to have the money to properly play all of the races – especially if you get off to a slow start. It makes far more sense to look at a few races that you find interesting – you like the style, or you like the horses – and focus closely on them.
Challenge: The size of fields. The races can have as many as 14 horses in them, and several will. These are high quality horses, and owners have made a financial commitment to have them in the races. If you work at it you can make a case for every horse in a race to win it.
Solution: Be ruthless. When fields are this big you have to take a stand as a bettor. When you look at the field you have to quickly eliminate horses that you don’t like. You may end up throwing out a winner, but that’s too bad. You can’t reasonably bet on all of the horses in a race, or even most of them, so you have to be choosy. It doesn’t matter how you narrow the field as long as you do it.
Challenge: Prohibitive favorites. Each year there are a few horses that are extremely highly regarded and which will draw a huge chunk of the bets in their races. In 2010 the most obvious horse in the brilliant and undefeated Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. She won the Classic last year, and the Ladies’ Classic the year before, and she faces a field she can beat here. She will be bet extremely hard.
Solution: Takes sides. Handicappers have two options when there is a horse that’s popular with odds as low as hers will be – either bet on her and no one else, or bet on the other horses and leave her out. When one horse is bet down the other horses will enjoy bigger odds than they otherwise would which can be great if you like them. The one thing you can’t afford to do, though, is bet on the heavy favorite and then try to hedge that bet by taking another horse or two.
Challenge: The jockeys. In typical races you can gain a lot of insight by looking at the jockeys. If two horses seem reasonably well matched then you can often do well by betting on the one with the better jockey. In these races all of the jockeys are strong – most are the best or close to it at their home track – so it can be hard to figure out which jockey is best. In fact, the general quality of the jockeys is so good that you can easily give a horse too much credit because of his jockey if you aren’t careful.
Solution: Don’t worry about it. I don’t see a good reason to spend too much time for bettors to worry the jockeys in these races. With few exceptions I just don’t worry about the jockeys. That works fine – there are more than enough other things to worry about.
Challenge: Horses coming together for the first time. It’s very rare that we see situations like this in racing – the best horses from the west coast travel to face the best horses form the east coast, and both see the best of Europe. In many cases the horses are seeing each other for the first time. It’s a real challenge to try to figure out how good each of the regions are and what that means when they will meet up. Is the second best horse in California better than the best horse in New York? Is Europe’s finest better or worse than the best of the Americans?
Solution: There is no easy to solution to this. Like I said – this is as hard as handicapping a horse race gets.