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Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint 2016: Favor Outside Posts

Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint 2016: Favor Outside Posts by Reinier Macatangay– Four years ago, I asked for help on Pace Advantage regarding downhill turf sprints at Santa Anita Park, host of the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GI) as well other championship races on Nov. 4 and 5. At Santa Anita, the downhill turf sprint becomes six and a half furlongs instead of five, and horses travel down a European-style hill.

Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint 2016

The Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint is a challenge on a flat course or downhill, but knowing a few things about the quirky Santa Anita downhill turf course might help.
Breeders’ Cup Photo ©

The differences provide a nice change of pace for the Turf Sprint. Five furlong turf races can be difficult for handicappers, and frustrating because of the small margin for error. One blink and the race is over.

With an extra furlong and a half though, and a downhill course with “two” turns, the situation changes. The horses no longer make one turn and then straighten out for the finish line. Rather, the horses take a gentle right-hand turn while running downhill, continue descending and start turning left, cross part of the dirt course on the second turn, and then straighten out for the dash towards the finish line. If nothing else, it is more interesting to watch.

The Pace Advantage replies were mixed, but according to more than one response, outside posts held the advantage in full-field downhill turf sprints. In fact, the outside post can almost be thought of as the “inside” in downhill turf sprints, which can be difficult for beginners to wrap their heads around.

After all, post positions 10, 11, 12 and beyond are normally considered poor, right?

It is not so simple, as one poster explained:

“Being drawn in a high post position (especially double digits) is actually an advantage – provided the horse has reasonably good early speed to take it on, or near, the lead. The reason for this is that, due to the unusual configuration of the downhill course, the outside actually becomes the inside during the race.”

With the extra right-hand turn, speed horses from the inside posts must actually come over to the right while clearing most of the field. For example, watch the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint where the speedy filly Reneesgotzip starts from the No. 1 post and crosses over to the right in order to establish the proper position.

In the same race, watch No Nay Never from post 13. He breaks well and secures position without having to clear the field. Because of the initial turn, No Nay Never was already on the “inside,” making his job easier.

Perhaps due to no coincidence, No Nay Never stuck around and kept fighting until the end to keep second, while Reneesgotzip folded. Bobby’s Kitten ended up rallying to win the race from post 6, but he had a class advantage on paper. If it means anything, second, third and fourth place were won by posts 13, 10 and 14.

In 2013, the horse from post 11 won the race, although her name was Mizdirection, so she likely would have won from most post positions. Ironically, Mizdirection won from the same post in 2012 using closing tactics.

She was an incredible filly in downhill turf sprints.

In 2009, the speedy California Flag won from the third post position. Study the chart though, and note the running style of the horses from posts 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14. Canadian Ballet, a 44-1 shot, fared well enough while displaying speed from post 10 and holding for fifth. Delta Storm began from post 14 and showed speed too, while going on to pick up a fourth-place finish. Bettors had left him at 17-1, so he ran decently considering the odds.

El Gato Malo started from post 11 and offered little speed early on. He could only manage to move into eighth, and at 35-1 odds, probably had little chance anyway.

Desert Code, who won the 2008 edition, broke from post 13, began around eighth and eventually ended up in 13th place. It is understood the defending champion did not show up with his best race.

The 20-1 shot Strike the Deal began from post 12, showed no speed and finished last.

The point is, outside posts help when the horses occupying those spots possess some quality speed. Those kinds of horses can establish position without having to clear the field, because the course initially goes right. Of course, no angle is invincible, and a classy runner such as Bobby’s Kitten will still win from most post positions.

Then again, outside post positions failed to help California Flag and Mr. Nightlinger in 2008, when they started from posts 10 and 14 and began the race 1-2. But, they hooked in a vicious breakaway speed duel, which ultimately doomed both of them to finishing towards the back. Desert Code won from the ninth post.

In conclusion, the Turf Sprint is a challenge on a flat course or downhill, but knowing a few things about the quirky Santa Anita downhill turf course might help. See everyone at the Breeders’ Cup in a few months.