History gives BC edge to the West

November, 1, 2012
In the National Football League, the general consensus of opinion is that home-field advantage is worth about a field goal.

At this weekend's Breeders' Cup, the comforts of home sweet home could be worth something much more substantial, like maybe four or five victories.

A main theme of the two-day, 15-race Breeders' Cup extravaganza involves the advantage California-based horses will have over their counterparts who are shipping in from New York.

Horses that last raced in either New York or California will form a highly powerful bloc this weekend, with the two circuits accounting for nine of the 15 favorites in the upcoming stakes buffet. Five of them last raced in New York, creating a ratio that flies coach in the face of past runnings of the Breeders' Cup at a track on the nation's left coast.

Looking over the six editions of the Breeders' Cup at Western ovals with dirt main tracks (1984, 1986, 1987, 1993, 1997 and 2003; 2008 and 2009 were held at Santa Anita in its days with a synthetic main track), the West was the best by far in the head-to-head battle with the East.

With only seven Breeders' Cup races the first five times and eight in 2003, horses that last raced at a California track won 17 races and horses coming off a New York race won only seven, with one of the wins coming courtesy of a disqualification that lifted a Big Apple horse over a Californian. That works out to about a 2½-to-1 advantage for the runners from the land that used to be governed by The Terminator. And yet, the tilt is toward the New Yorkers in terms of the horses to beat this weekend.

Maybe it's me, but that sounds like some nice wagering opportunities if past form holds up.

Looking at the five who were last seen racing in the Big Apple, there does seem to be some vulnerability.

Shanghai Bobby is the 2-1 choice in the BC Juvenile, but not only has to weather a cross-country trip, but must also win a third straight Grade 1-caliber race in a short two-month span while running without the anti-bleeding medication Lasix for the first time. Meanwhile, the 5-2 second choice, Power Broker, owns a 6½-length win at Santa Anita in a Grade 1 stakes, the FrontRunner.

Point of Entry is favored at 5-2 in the BC Turf, but will have to be at his best to handle a talented group of Europeans in the field, including defending BC Turf winner St Nicholas Abbey.

Atigun is a tepid 9-2 choice in the Marathon, where the 5-1 co-second choice Worth Repeating and 6-1 shot Jaycito have experience at Santa Anita.

Shackleford, the 2011 Preakness winner, seems versatile enough to handle any surface -- provided it's dry. His main competitors, Emcee and Jersey Town, have also headed west from the Empire State, giving the East a seemingly strong hand to make this one the race or two that history says it will inevitably win. Long shots Rail Trip (10-1) and John Scott (12-1) are the West's main hopes in the two-turn mile.

The Ladies' Classic offers another inviting spot for the East, with Royal Delta as a solid 9-5 favorite. Beyond her there's another dangerous New Yorker in the undefeated, 10-for-10 Awesome Feather, and the 3-year-olds My Miss Aurelia and Questing are New York-based runners who took a relatively short van ride -- in non-rush hours -- to Parx in Pennsylvania for their final Breeders' Cup preps.

Another runner in the Ladies' Classic is one of the more intriguing starters in the series, Love and Pride. She spent the first eight months of 2012 on the East Coast, beating Royal Delta in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga. But instead of tackling that rival again in the Beldame (a race Royal Delta won by an eye-opening 9½ lengths), she was shipped west by trainer Todd Pletcher and won the Grade 1 Zenyatta by 3 1/4 lengths on Sept. 29.

She should feel right at home now in California, as should the Pletcher-trained BC Turf entrant Turbo Compressor, who followed the same itinerary in finishing second in the John Henry Turf Classic at Santa Anita.

So maybe the trip west and new surroundings will not faze the New Yorkers, after all. Yet if there's a reason why the past stats are so meaningful it's that in Breeders' Cup races, where the level of competition is so high and intense, even the best horses have a small margin for error. One little pitfall, like a bad work or a day or two off their feed or subpar footing, could be the difference between victory and defeat; a win and the bottom part of the superfecta.

Suffice it to say, on the advice of history, if New Yorkers can overcome all of the obstacles in front of them and have a big day in the place where they say it never rains, Frank Sinatra was indeed right. If you can make it in New York, New York, you can make it anywhere.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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