California Flag - 2009 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner. - Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Can the California-based horses once again take advantage of Santa Anita's unique downhill turf course in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint?
Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint
6 1/2 Furlongs, Downhill Turf Course
3-years-old and up
Day: Saturday, Nov. 3
Post Time: 1:57p.m. Pacific
Typically, turf sprints in North America are run at five or five and a half furlongs on a completely flat course. At Santa Anita, these same races are run on the unique downhill turf course, which can make things difficult for horses unfamiliar with the layout and race shape. Because the first two to three furlongs are run downhill, the early pace tends to be exceptionally fast but not particularly taxing. The horses at the front of the pace are running quickly but expend less energy due to more forgiving downhill set-up.
Another quirk of the downhill course is that the high post positions (No. 12, 13, 14) are actually closest to the rail as the course takes a slight right turn in the early stages before a big swinging left turn upon entering the home stretch. As a result, it is advantageous to draw a high post position in order to save ground in the early stages but if a horse doesn't secure good position early they could be caught wide on the big sweeping turn into the stretch. Horses with a low draw will be wide in the first, slight turn but near the rail on the big sweeping turn. If those low draw horses want to be running near the front, there is a risk of a ton of traffic descending on them entering the big, sweeping turn if they aren't able to clear the field.
Perhaps the best way to describe the post positions is that a high draw isn't a killer and can be an advantage depending on how the race unfolds in the first quarter mile. The downhill course provides a unique test for both horse and rider.
The last time the Breeders' Cup was at Santa Anita (2008 & 2009), horses based in Southern California and familiar with the downhill layout dominated the Turf Sprint. In 2008, winner Desert Code made his final prep race at Santa Anita, while in 2009, three of the top four finishers ran made their final pre-Breeders' Cup race at Santa Anita (California Flag, Gotta Have Her and Desert Storm). Horses from the East Coast struggled to adapt to the downhill course on their first attempt, although runner from Woodbine in Canada fared well.
There are five horses in this year's Turf Sprint that are based in Southern California and/or have previously won a race over the Santa Anita downhill turf course in the last year:
California Flag (2009 Turf Sprint winner)
With a ton of speed in the field ensuring an honest (and likely insane) pace, Mizdirection should be able to sit just off the leaders while conserving valuable energy in the early stages. If she can get a clean trip through the first half mile and gain a full head of steam coming into the top of the stretch, she could be the one to beat at the wire. The morning line odds have Mizdirection at 20/1, which... well, I just think those odds are way too high for a horse that's run well in graded stakes races over the downhill course. I'll run to the windows to bet this filly if she's anywhere near that number come post time.
Mizdirection is co-owned by sports radio host Jim Rome's Jungle Racing.
Unbridled's Note drew into post position No. 13, a good spot in a large field like this, as did the Australian horse, Starspangledbanner.
The Turf Sprint is about as tough as race to handicap as you'll find at the Breeders' Cup and a good spot to try and bring home a long shot.
13-Unbridled's Note (5/1)
14-Starspangledbanner (AUS) (10/1)
|1||California Flag||J. Talamo||B. Koriner||6/1|
|2||Camp Victory||J. Leparoux||M. Mitchell||10/1|
|3||Great Mills||R. Bejarano||S. Asmussen||20/1|
|4||Tale of a Champion||T. Baze||K. Mullhall||30/1|
|5||Next Question||R. Dominguez||M. Trombetta||10/1|
|6||Upgrade||R. Maragh||M. Nihei||30/1|
|7||Reneesgotzip||G. Gomez||P. Miller||8/1|
|8||Great Attack||J. Rosario||W. Ward||10/1|
|9||Bridgetown||J. Velazquez||T. Pletcher||9/2|
|10||Corporate Jungle||J. Castellano||C. Brown||6/1|
|11||Mizdirection||M. Smith||M. Puype||20/1|
|12||Chosen Miracle||M. Garcia||J. Hollendorfer||15/1|
|13||Unbridled's Note||C. Nakatani||S. Asmussen||5/1|
|14||Starspangledbanner (AUS)||J. O'Brien||A. O'Brien||10/1|
|AE||Global Power||P. Valenzuela||T. Amoss||30/1|
|AE||Starspangled Heat||TBA||B. Abrams||30/1|