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FILE - In this May 3, 2019, file photo, McKinzie, ridden by jockey Mike Smith, wins the Grade 2 Alysheba horse race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The Breeders’ Cup Classic pits West Coast star McKinzie against Code of Honor, the East’s top horse who finished second in the Kentucky Derby. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan, File)
FILE - In this May 3, 2019, file photo, McKinzie, ridden by jockey Mike Smith, wins the Grade 2 Alysheba horse race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The Breeders’ Cup Classic pits West Coast star McKinzie against Code of Honor, the East’s top horse who finished second in the Kentucky Derby. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan, File)|Associated Press
Thoroughbreds

Garrity's Betting the Breeders' Cup, Part 2: No matter the quality of the horses, a race is still a race and some trainers are . . . better

Chris Garrity

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In our last segment on handicapping the Breeders' Cup, we talked about strategy and bankroll management. The idea is to have a plan, one that matches your temperament, your skills as a handicapper, and your budget. This is a fine idea in theory, but the key question is how to implement it: what do we do when we sit down with a Breeders' Cup card?

This is a much more difficult proposition, because -- and we have to be honest here -- handicapping the Breeders' Cup races is enormously challenging. This is not a $5,000 claimer at Boondock Downs on a Wednesday in March.This is the absolute pinnacle of American racing, and there are eleven races over two days, every one of them filled with sublime horseflesh. Trying to make sense of these fields can be overwhelming, especially to newer handicappers.

What helps us deal with the difficulties of handicapping these races is falling back on handicapping fundamentals, falling back on what we think we know. We know that early speed is usually king in dirt races, especially sprints; we know that the ability to finish strongly is a key factor on turf; and we also know that how a race is run, especially how the pace of a race develops, is a key factor in determining who will win. It is good, when playing the Breeders Cup, to remember that no matter how good the entrants are, they are still horse races that are usually determined by the same factors as any other race.

Assessing the ability of trainers is also highly important. In fact, while knowing the relative ability of trainers is always important, it is probably even more important in the Breeders' Cup than it is the rest of the year, even in top-level stakes races. There is a reason why the same trainers seem to win Breeders' Cup races over and over; it is because they are so skilled at getting horses to deliver a peak effort against top company. This is doubly true with European trainers, as those who win Breeders' Cup races tend to do so year after year. Looking at the running lines of so many horses is a daunting task, but not letting the importance of the trainer angle get lost in the data is an absolute must.

But handicapping the races, as big a job as it is, represents only half the battle. We need to use that information to bet intelligently.

Let's take a runner from this weekend that we quite fancy: in Friday's Juvenile Fillies Turf, the Irish-bred filly Albigna is pretty close to the embodiment of handicapping perfection for us, at least for American turf stakes: she has a nice pedigree, she has won at the highest level in Europe, she is handled by Jessica Harrington, who is a very skilled trainer (and who does not come to the Breeders Cup for the ambience), and she looks like she will thrive on firm turf. This is not exactly an earth-shattering revelation -- Albigna's 9/2 odds make her the morning line favorite -- but it does raise a good question: how do we bet her?

The traditional answer to this question is a simple one: we bet her to win. But we think that the Breeders' Cup calls for a different approach. We will look at this in more depth in our next segment. Check back here for it soon.