by Jeremy Plonk
October 14, 2019
Confidence can be fleeting for a horseplayer. You handicap a card, think you’re madly in love and, by the third race, you’re ready to change your dating profile on Match. We’ve all been there. Confidence at its truest remains one of your best and most trusted assets playing the races. But false confidence can unravel everything.
The Breeders’ Cup will bring us 14 tests of handicapping wit and varying confidence levels on Nov. 1-2 at Santa Anita. Your job between now and then is to assess the runners as well as your confidence. Which races are a sit-out, a small-unit play or a big-unit play?
I’ll share the handicapping elements that impact confidence for me the most. You can certainly have your own categories, but try and utilize the process to zero in on your best bets for the Breeders’ Cup and beyond.
The circuits you follow are the ones you know best. It’s not rocket science, but too many players diminish that fact for the sake of feeling more in-tuned nationally than they really may be. This isn’t a test of national racing aptitude; it’s a series of horse races in which to gamble. Knowing your circuit best means you can identify those horses that are both top-quality and overrated, likely more effectively than those horseplayers who follow other circuits. Find the good ones, weed out the overmatched ones, and feel free to attack the vulnerable. It’s your backyard. Own it.
Pace makes the race from maiden claimers to Breeders’ Cup Classics. Map out the pace scenario for the 14 championship events to the best of your ability. Where things look obvious – either very fast or very slow – gain confidence in the cluster of horses who may be advantaged by their known running styles. Pace handicapping transfers anywhere; it’s like a good defense in football.
These are the divisional championships in American racing. Horses coming off of poor, or less-than-improving, efforts by their standards should be quickly discounted. You don’t see rebounders win Breeders’ Cup titles very often. The apples to oranges exception here is the Arc de Triomphe, where many backward appearances have turned about-face in the Turf. Your level of confidence with an improving horse should swell, and diminish with a horse who is not moving forward (or is moving backward). If you're not sure a horse is doing great and improving, it's a good chance he or she is not. And remember, tossing horses is about a 70-80% good move nearly every time just by the mere percentages. Err on the side of tossing...you're bound to be right even if for another, unintended consequence. Lack of progression just expedites the decision and strengthens your confidence.
If your level of confidence with imports is low (like mine), then you need to be more focused on the divisions where the imports don’t play the major role. This doesn’t necessarily mean all grass races are off limits. The Americans have performed very well in many of the divisions on turf, particularly the Turf Sprint, Juvenile Fillies Turf, Filly & Mare Turf and Mile. If you feel that international racing is your bag, then it’s a clear advantage over many everyday US horseplayers and should be high on your confidence meter. Know your strengths and weaknesses here and you won't be sucked into hype or negative press, the two elements the vast majority of Breeders' Cup import handicappers almost blindly fall back on, whether they admit it or not.
I've made a career following and publishing the trends in major horse races, so maybe I'm biased here. I know our Xpressbet Breeders' Cup Wager Guide will include many of the most important handicapping storylines that history has presented. Trends are very important in races that have a fixed calendar like the Breeders' Cup. They're not able to be passed over for the next spot and they're not able to be cherry-picked to best fit a particular horse in the barn. The date and conditions are set, and you can't peek into the racing office to see who's going and wait for another spot next week. You'll see over 30-plus years in the Breeders' Cup what has worked and what hasn't in most every division. Rarely does this put you on the exact winner; it's not supposed to. But identifying important trends and angles can eliminate a 14-horse headache and make it a 3 or 4-choice affair. Then put your traditional elements in play to handicap those remaining runners and your confidence should grow.
In conclusion: Once we know the horses, we can study the individuals and establish how confident we feel about each race. But until then, get a sense of what you know best … and least … and prepare to be honest with yourself when it comes time to disperse your bankroll over 14 races.