Keeneland Data Analysis – Breeders’ Cup – John Camardo

In preparing for the Breeders’ Cup 2020, I thought it might be useful to challenge some traditional assumptions that people make about field sizes and post positions. These statistics are not meant to tell you who to bet, or how to bet them, but rather give further ammunition for supporting certain horses that you might think are “crazy” ideas.

First let’s look at dirt races, filtered for data since 2016.

For 6f sprints, I find it quite interesting in fields with 10 or fewer runners that the outside two posts (for example post 7, or 8 in 8 runner fields) tend to win more than their odds suggest as is evidenced by the bloated impact values. The rail tends to win about as often as is expected. The same is true for races with 11 or more runners where the outside post wins much more than the public expects.

For 8f races the trend is slightly shifted. For shorter fields (10 or fewer runners) the inside posts seem to perform better. That may be due to a rush to establish position for the longer races. For larger fields, as you probably can expect during Breeders’ Cup races, there is much less data to glean insights from.

In 9f dirt races it is very interesting to me that inside runners in short fields tend to outperform their odds, while outside runners in fields with 11 or more runners outperform their odds (also very low sample size here)

The biggest takeaway for me is that I will not let an outside post dissuade me from selecting a runner, especially if they are a longshot in dirt races of any distance.

I watch a lot of racing in Hong Kong, and much of that racing takes place on turf. I believe that trips are really what matter in turf races. As I was looking at the data here, again for Keeneland races since 2016, I wasn’t suprised to find that there is a slightly different trend. In turf sprints with smaller fields, the inside positions on the gate seem to just slightly outperform their odds while the outside runners appear to be somewhat disadvantaged in the sense that they lose more than their odds may suggest.

In larger fields the post second from the outside wins more than the odds of horses breaking from that post would suggest. Does that mean this is a winning angle? Absolutely not. It means that again, you shouldn’t discount horses that are breaking from the outside, just because they are breaking from the outside. If they project a good trip, they are probably worth a bet.

In 8f turf races we get somewhat of a mixed bag. In races with 10 or fewer runners, the only position that seems to be at a relative disadvantage is the 1 post which has resulted in the winner of only 2 of 35 races. That’s in stark contast to races with 11 or more runners where the rail has resulted in 10 winners from 61 races, outperforming the public assessement of those runners’ chances.

In 9.5f turf races the big standout for me (with a very low sample, keep in mind) is the success of horses positioned on the outside. I think there is probably something to be said for the lack of a scramble to the first turn in 9.5f races as opposed to the shorter route races and that may explain some of the relative differences here.

Again, I think the big takeaway here is that there are not hard and fast rules as to what post position might dictate. If you like a longshot that is competitive on figures, and projects to get a good trip, you definitely should not worry too much about where they are breaking from

One other component that I thought might be interesting to consider in looking at the Breeders’ Cup was how speed (or lack of speed) performs at various courses and distances at Keeneland (since 2016).

I have broken this section into some components. The first of which is where the runner is positioned at 2f into each race. I broke horses into various buckets including: were they the leader (0:leader) were they less than 1 length from the leaer (1: less than 1 lengths) and so on. I used this as a proxy for running style. You can read the top line in each section as “how often did a horse that led after 2f into the race win, come second, or come in third. I thought this might be valuable in potentially constructing exotic wagers or for those that like to bet WPS (no judgement).

It might not surprise people, but horses that lead after 2f in dirt sprint races (6f or 7f) tend to win more than their odds would imply (impact values of 1.45 for 6f races and 1.47 for 7f races). I think it’s also interesting to note that in 7f dirt races horses coming from just off the pace also tend to win more than the public expects. Overall here though, nothing that really isn’t expected.

More interesting is in 8f dirt races. Horses coming just off the pace win much more than the public expects them to as is evidenced by the 1.71 impact value for horses that are pressing the leader. Also in these races the public tends to underbet horses that come from 4 to 5 lengths out of “it” (for whatever that may be worth).

As distances get even longer in dirt races, the public appears to overbet leaders which may represent that distance is an equalizer, or may be due to smaller samples.

In somewhat surprising fashion, turf races may represent the same story.

It’s not very hard to believe that leaders in turf sprints tend to win more than their odds suggest. There isn’t much else to read into here as the public appears to bet horses coming from off the pace or further back in the field about to what they deserve to be bet.

As distances start to stretch longer, I find it very interesting that pace setters appear to be under bet. This may be an interesting angle to use to find value in turf routes (especially given the deluge of slow paces in American turf racing recently).

The trend is consistent across 8f, 8.5f, 9f and 9.5 furlong races. Runners who lead at the 2f mark of the race win more, and in some cases a lot more, than the public expects them to (see leaders in 8.5f races with a 1.92 impact value and 9.5f races with a 2.11 impact value).

The moral of the story here should really be that runners can win from anywhere, and with any running style. Trips and pace will probably heavily influence the outcomes of many of these races. However, speed in turf races, especially routes, seems to be discounted by the public and may be something to latch onto for the Breeders’ Cup.


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