The post position draw for the 2015 Breeders' Cup takes place today, and it will have pundits across the globe uttering pronouncements of doom for wide drawn horses in various contests. But are they right? And, as punters, what does it mean for us?
In this post, I've looked at recent evidence in three heats - the Mile, the Dirt Mile, and the Sprint - which are perceived to be impacted by draw, or post position as our American cousins like to call it.
Breeders' Cup Mile Post Position View
Let's start with the Mile, and a personal tale of woe. Last year, a European Classic winner won the Mile. His name was Karakontie and he was drawn 14 of 14. Knowing full well that any horse can win any race, and that the French had a tremendous record in that particular race - Karakontie won the French 2000 Guineas earlier in the season - not backing him was indicative of what was a personal shocker of a day.
A large part of my avoidance rationale was that "he can't win from the car park". I wasn't alone in this notion which, as it turned out, was nonsense. Not just in last year's Breeders' Cup Mile, but generally.
Here are the data. Since 2000, there have been nine renewals of the Mile with either 13 or 14 runners. That is, a full or almost full field. Those renewals have been run on a range of different tracks, many of which were similar in constitution to Keeneland's inner turf ring.
The winners of those nine races had an average draw position of 10.22, where it could be expected to be between 7 and 8 if there was no overall bias. The post positions of all nine Mile winners in the sample were 5-8-9-10-10-11-12-13-14. It's not a huge sample size, but it is an interesting snippet.
Looking at second placed horses in an attempt to bolster or reduce confidence, we discover that the average post position of runners up through those nine full(ish) field heats was 8.44. That's closer to the expected zone, but still higher than expected. And remember that we've already taken one of the high numbers out of the reckoning in eight of those nine races.
The average of the first two home over that nonet of BC Mile's is 9.33, materially above what might be expected. And here's the kicker: the average winning payoff in those nine races was just more than 20/1. Even dropping the top and bottom prices - 65/1 Court Vision and 7/2 War Chant - we still have an average of better than 16/1.
Market blind spot? Quite possibly.
Breeders' Cup Sprint Post Position View
Like the Mile, the Sprint is another race where the distance is sacrosanct. It is always six furlongs, regardless of the host track. During the same 15 year window, there have been eight BC Sprints with either thirteen or fourteen runners (again, either full or one shy of a full field).
This time, the average winning post position was 7.38, almost exactly where we'd expect it to be. For horses in the 'place' spot, the average is lower, at 5.13. That gives us a combined 1st/2nd place average of 6.25, somewhat below the expected average of 7.5.
But wait. The winning post positions in the sample were 1-2-3-9-10-10-11-13. Weird, huh? Where are the middle boxes? The second placed horses' post positions were 1-1-2-4-5-7-8-13. A bit more representative but still leaning away from the centre.
Now, of course, this is a very small sample size, and there are so many other imponderables not factored into what is, at best, a cursory look at the effect of the draw. But it does seem quite tricky to get, and hold, a position from a middle draw.
In terms of odds, the low drawn trio of winners paid an average of just less than 10/1. The higher drawn five paid 12/1. Those compare with an average for all of the last fifteen Sprints of 9.8/1.
Perhaps if backing a higher drawn runner we should be demanding a better price but, in truth, it's very hard to be definitive about any advantage - or disadvantage - in this sample, except that perhaps middle is no man's land.
Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile Post Position View
A newer race, with just eight editions to date, and one of those run at a mile and 70 yards. Moreover, there has yet to be a full field of fourteen face the starter and, based on second preferences, it looks as though there will again not be a full field.
The inaugural running, on the Monmouth slop, saw just eight line up. Since then, there has been an average of 10.7 runners. In total the average number of runners in a BC Dirt Mile is 10.38, meaning the expected winning post position is around 5.7.
Interesting, then, that the average winning post position since inception has been 5.75, pretty much bang on where it might have been expected. And the average of winner and second is only very slightly higher, at 5.94.
But look at the distribution of winners by post position: 1-1-2-7-7-8-8-12. And consider this: one of the 7's was seventh of eight; and both 8's were eighth of nine.
And look at the distribution for runners up: 1-2-2-5-9-10-10-10. The only middle draw was fifth in the smallest field assembled, that Monmouth octet. The 9 was ninth of ten. Where have all the middle draws gone?
Again, it's folly to consider this as a robust betting baseline, but there does seem to be a disadvantage for middle drawn horses.
Where exactly does all this 'blancmange crafted with a set square' projection leave us? Ultimately back at first base: that any horse can win any race. It is merely that some have a better chance than others. So far, so obvious.
The key is that, in certain situations, the market may have blind spots. Draw, or post position, could be one of these. Demanding a price about a high (double digit) drawn horse in the Breeders' Cup Mile would have been a very solid play down the years, with scores at 30/1, 24/1, and 16/1 in the last five full field Miles.
On the dirt, it might be prudent to be more wary of middle draws, or at least ask your bookmaker for some punting meat on your wagering bone (a decent price, in other words).
And, of course, such is the glorious uncertainty of this particular game that it may come to pass that all three races are won by middle drawn favourites. That would not, in or of itself, entirely debase the wobbly prognostications herein. By the same token, juicy wide drawn winning bombs would do little to firm them up!
Caveat emptor, amigos!
p.s. The Geegeez Breeders' Cup Compendium is available now, with trends, stats, pace, key prep videos, form summaries and tips for all 13 of this weekend's Championship races. Find out more here