Commentary

Breeders' Cup handicapping angles

Updated: October 18, 2010, 5:11 PM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

We the people get the Breeder's Cup back this year, with the series of championship races being contested on the dirt at Churchill, not on something that looks like what you shook off the lint filter on the washer-dryer. The weavers are probably working around the clock to turn out enough Zenyatta gear to clothe the fever. "Big Z" t-shirts could be scalped, cashable tickets saved as souvenirs.

Who wants to find one's self at the windows thinking: Now, what exactly was it that I did wrong the last eight Breeder's Cups? Making a wager can be like swinging at a golf ball. There's so much to remember. In a pressurized situation when there isn't enough time to think it through, the horse player is apt to revert to what comes easiest, putting more on the favorite. Bad habits seem automatic.

A couple of weeks out, it's not a bad idea to put together a Breeder's Cup handicapping check list.

One afternoon at Churchill, a horse that couldn't win won, a claiming ranks staple, the payoff around $50.

The man next to me said that he had a place bet on the horse, and that it figured more than a person might have imagined. Might have imagined, or might have dreamed? The horse had no recognizable form of recent note. One of its better lines was that three or four races back, it had been checked, proving that it had at least been near some others.

The man next to me said that the horse had a win over the Churchill track. That surprising event had taken place approximately three years, and perhaps an offspring, ago. Well beyond any past performances I had seen for the filly.

It's a fact, horses that have had success at tracks are apt to run back toward the good times, at Churchill seemingly more so than at other place. When they say you have to do your homework before handicapping Kentucky races, don't forget ancient history.

Here are some other notes for your BC reference card.

Don't go crazy playing trouble lines. Trouble lines are usually over-bet. Make sure the trouble kept a horse from getting close. Many checks are like soccer flops, they're pulled by beaten competitors. For an example of real trouble, flip up last weekend's Canadian International and watch Al Khali. Talk about a nose for trouble, this horse was poorly placed from the onset. The jockey seemed to think that this was a gentleperson's game and that those nearby would scoot aside when it was time to go collect. Al Khali saw more close-ups of backsides than the gate crew, was in and out all the way around and probably ran 25 more yards than the winner, covering much of the extra ground shuffling sideways before closing high, wide and handsome to finish fourth. And he somehow refrained from nipping the rider. Al Khali is an example of a good favorite play, next time.

Racing surface bias is important. Rain changes everything. Otherwise, a bias can usually be correctly identified before race-day.

I have a bias against overly long layoffs. That's because I run with cheapies, horses that spend time off in rehab and need a race or two or five. The best horses are frequently laid off for good reasons, and they beat me now and again. But I am at peace with this handicapping weakness and when somebody off two months relocates my money, I take it reasonably well and with a minimum of profanity.

A key Breeder's Cup handicapping angle involves artificial dirt racing surfaces, moving great horses onto or off of the product.

I have had some good fortune eliminating horses first time on or off the material and plan to bank on this angle again in two weeks.

Here's something on the mental side that might be of value. Three times last week I stopped by the simulcast facility, made some bets and left before the races were run. I handicapped the races over breakfast, got the scratches and changes, checked the weather, made the wagers and went to do some work. On each occasion I won. $260 on $30 worth of $2 tries being the best of it. It happens a lot, leaving and winning. What it suggests is that too often emotion gets between handicapping and collecting.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.