Why is the Breeders Cup so great? Chris Garrity explains the big event before he starts picking the races
Maximum Security, ridden by Luis Saez, wins the $1,000,000 TVG.com Haskell Invitational horse race Saturday, July 20, 2019, at Monmouth Park. Saturday, he's one of the favorites in the Breeders Cup Classic.Ryan Denver/EQUI-PHOTO, Inc. via AP

Why is the Breeders Cup so great? Chris Garrity explains the big event before he starts picking the races

The Breeders Cup is 14 races over Friday and Saturday, featuring the best thoroughbreds in the world.

We are now just a few days from the Breeders Cup, the biggest two days of the year in horse racing. It will be held this year at Keeneland Race Course, deep in the heart of Bluegrass country in northern Kentucky. This has long been our favorite event on the racing calendar, better even than the Kentucky Derby or the other Triple Crown races, so we’ve put together a primer for those who may be new to the game, or those with a bit of experience who just want more information about what makes the Breeders Cup great.

What is it?

The Breeders Cup is the culmination of the entire racing year, two days of championship races held every fall. This year, there are fourteen races, five Friday and nine Saturday, in all of the sport’s important divisions.

What is the history of the event?

The Breeders Cup goes back to 1984, and was largely the vision of one man, John Gaines, a prominent Thoroughbred breeder. Whereas championships in the pre-Breeders Cup era were largely decided regionally, by important end-of-season races like the Jockey Club Gold Cup in New York or the Hollywood Futurity in California, the Breeders Cup was designed to gather the best horses from all over the country in one spot, and to let them determine who was best on the track. Whereas in the 1970s handicappers could argue whether the top juvenile in the East was better than the top juvenile in the West -- or vice versa -- and the issue was debatable because the horses didn’t run against each other, the Breeders Cup has been largely successful in getting the best horses to decide things where they should be decided, on the track. .

The Breeders Cup has been able to accomplish this for one very important reason: money. It’s the richest day of the year, with purses totaling $31 million.

Why is it called the Breeders Cup?

The name comes from the purse structure. The prize money for most non-Breeders Cup races comes from the money bet on them; the track takes a cut of the action, and funds purses with it. The purses at the Breeders Cup are different: They are largely funded by nomination fees that breeders pay so that horses they’ve bred are eligible to run in the Breeders Cup.

Why is it a big deal?

It’s a big deal for the two reasons that horse racing is the best game in the world. The first is sheer magnificence: There is nothing quite like a race in which fourteen world-class thoroughbreds are competing. As pure sporting spectacle, it’s hard to beat.

The second reason is pecuniary: It’s the best gambling day of the year, in any sport. With so many good horses in so many top-notch races, big upsets are common, and enormous payouts, especially with exotic wagers, happen regularly. In a normal stakes race, the 8th-best horse may have virtually zero chance to win; in a Breeders Cup race, he’s probably pretty close in ability to the favorites. This depth is what makes playing it so enticing: More than any other day of the year, there’s the potential for a life-altering score.

Where is it held?

The Breeders Cup was originally intended to be held at tracks across the country, so that fans in different geographic areas could experience it. In addition to the major tracks in California, New York, and Kentucky, it has been held at Lone Star Park in Texas, Monmouth Park in New Jersey, and Arlington Park in Chicago. In recent years, however, due primarily to the track’s shifting economic climate, the rotation has narrowed, and since 2008, it has been held either in California or Kentucky.

Why is the Breeders Cup such a good wagering event?

The very best gambling games combine two things: being a game of skill, rather than a game of chance; and the ability, with good opinions and intelligent wagering strategy, to turn a small bet into a big return. The Breeders Cup has both of these traits, and it has them in spades. A bettor can take one good opinion, like a winner at 12-1 odds, and turn it into many thousands of dollars. This is never easy to do -- there’s a reason they call it gambling -- but a a four- or even five-figure score is more attainable at the Breeders Cup than it is any other day of the year.

What should I look for watching the Breeders Cup?

There will be fireworks. There will be horses who win races at very long odds, horses at even longer prices hitting the board; there will be trifectas paying over $2,000, and Pick 4s paying over ten grand. Favorites will lose; impossible longshots will win, and there will be at least one point where the results will seem utterly chaotic. It will be marvelous?

What’s the trick to getting a piece of these boxcar payouts? We’ll try to unlock the key to that by looking at the individual races. Check back here for that over the next few days.

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