Unless you've been sleeping under the proverbial large stone lately, you'll know that the Breeders' Cup is this weekend. And, with a Triple Crown winner - American Pharoah - and the winners of the Arc, Derby (both Golden Horn), 1000 Guineas (Legatissimo); and English, Irish (both Gleneagles), and French 2000 Guineas (Make Believe); as well as the runners up in the Oaks (Legatissimo again) and Champion Stakes (Found); it is fair to say that this ought to be the best Breeders' Cup ever, in quality terms at least.
These are the names that we know and, for many of the European runners, you may also know the trainers and jockeys involved. But can you tell me who trains and rides American Pharoah? (Rhetorical: Bob Baffert trains and Victor Espinoza rides).
As we head into the maelstrom of the weekend's racing, it may assist to look at the records of the top trainers and jockeys engaged at Keeneland on Friday and Saturday evenings. In this first instalment, we'll cast an eye over the handlers. Jockeys will follow tomorrow.
Top Breeders' Cup Trainers
The top of the pile, and by a Breeders' Cup mile, is D Wayne Lukas, the legendary trainer who, aged 79, notched his 20th Cup win last year when Take Charge Brandi made every yard to win the Juvenile Fillies at 62/1. That was Lukas' 20th winner in the 30th year of the Breeders' Cup, and it came from 163 starters, a very healthy 12.27% win rate. His sole entry this year is possible pace spoiler, Mr. Z, in the Dirt Mile.
Bob Baffert, the Pharoah's trainer, will be bidding for his 12th Cup winner this time around, from 89 starters to date, a similar strike rate to the senior citizen of the party, Lukas, at 12.36%.
But they're the winning-most trainers, not the highest striking trainers. Ignoring the one-from-one and two-from-two trainers, the best records in strike rate terms belong to the French mile maestros, Freddy Head and Jonathan Pease. Both have three wins from seven starters, but while Head notched that memorable hat-trick with the beautiful Goldikova, Pease has scored with three different horses: Tikkanen in the 1994 Turf, and Spinning World (1997) and Karakontie last year in the Mile.
Both try again this year - Head with Queen's Jewel in the Filly and Mare Turf, and Pease with Karakontie's repeat bid in the Mile - and both command respect.
Of the trainers with ten or more starters, the most successful in strike rate terms have been Wayne Catalano (3 wins from 13, 23%, between 2006 and 2011, all 2yo fillies) and Julio Canani, with a similar record around the turn of the century. Neither has runners this time, the latter now retired.
In the big boys' ranks, Richard Mandella has the highest hit rate, with eight wins from 38, which is 21%. Mandella's best horse has been Beholder, winner of the Distaff in 2013 and the Juvenile Fillies the year before. Ruled out of the meeting through injury last year, she thumbs her nose at the Distaff ladies this time in favour of a tilt at the lads in the Classic. And she's been working very well!
Other trainers to note, with ten or more starters and at least 50% podium finishes, include Wesley Ward - whose six entries this time feature Diamond Jubilee winner, Undrafted, and defending Filly and Mare Sprint champion, Judy The Beauty; and the luckless Kenneth McPeek.
McPeek has saddled 25 runners at the Breeders' Cup, for a 52% 'first three home' record, but has yet to taste victory at the self-styled World Thoroughbred Championships. His quarter century of runners has accommodated five silver medallists and eight bronze. Bloodied but unbowed, McPeek rolls the dice again with Dothraki Queen in the Juvenile Fillies and Rated R Superstar in the Juvenile.
There are other high strike rate trainers, in relation to their larger collective entries. For instance, Claude 'Shug' McGaughey III, has saddled nine winners and ten runners up from 60 starters, though none since 2005. He tries this time with Honor Code in the Classic.
Then there are the mudslingers: those trainers who fire a lot of ammunition, some of which hits its target. Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher are chief in this group. Mott has sent 84 horses to the gate in Breeders' Cup races, nine of them returning victorious (10.7%). They included the great Cigar and another Classic winner, Drosselmeyer. Mott has four this time around, spearheaded by Lea in the Dirt Mile and Harmonize in the Juvenile Fillies' Turf.
Todd Pletcher may be the best (worst?) of the mudslingers, his seven winners coming at a cost of 108 runners (6.5%). Pletcher has no less than eleven horses entered up for the Cup(s), the pick of which should be Liam's Map, odds on in the Dirt Mile; and the regally-bred Rachel's Valentina, second market choice in the Juvenile Fillies.
But there are Euros guilty of under-achieving (or over-entering), too, and some big names among them. Aidan O'Brien has saddled plenty here, though few are actually targeted long-term at these races. Indeed, O'Brien's eight winners have come from 92 runners (8.7%). Almost always overbet 'back home', O'Brien goes to post with some solid looking chances again in the shape of Shogun, Hit It A Bomb and Alice Springs in the two-year-old turf events, and Found in the Turf itself. He also runs Gleneagles in the Classic, of course, amongst others.
A man who has the shortest priced of all runners in the thirteen races is John Gosden. His Golden Horn is the Derby and Arc winner, so the price may be entirely justified, and Johnny G's long term record is four winners from thirty runners (13.3%). That's a perfectly reasonable return, and with 4/1 Cymric in the Juvenile Turf his other runner, he could be looking at a 6-for-32 score card (18.75%) a few days hence.
Below is the full Breeders' Cup record for all trainers with at least two winners. It might be a handy guide as to whose entries to keep onside, and whose to let slide...
p.s. If you've not yet got your copy of my Breeders' Cup Compendium, containing full trends, pace, key race trial videos, form summaries, and tips, then now is the perfect time to sign up. Grab your copy here.
|D. Wayne Lukas||163||20||22||16||12.27%||25.77%||35.58%|
|William I. Mott||84||9||10||5||10.71%||22.62%||28.57%|
|Claude R. McGaughey III||60||9||10||2||15.00%||31.67%||35.00%|
|Aidan P. O'Brien||92||8||12||7||8.70%||21.74%||29.35%|
|Richard E. Mandella||38||8||3||2||21.05%||28.95%||34.21%|
|Todd A. Pletcher||108||7||12||13||6.48%||17.59%||29.63%|
|Robert J. Frankel||82||6||10||8||7.32%||19.51%||29.27%|
|Sir Michael R. Stoute||36||6||2||3||16.67%||22.22%||30.56%|
|Neil D. Drysdale||35||6||5||2||17.14%||31.43%||37.14%|
|Steven M. Asmussen||36||5||5||2||13.89%||27.78%||33.33%|
|Chad C. Brown||34||5||4||3||14.71%||26.47%||35.29%|
|Doug F. O'Neill||34||4||2||1||11.76%||17.65%||20.59%|
|Ronald L. McAnally||31||4||3||2||12.90%||22.58%||29.03%|
|John H. M. Gosden||30||4||1||3||13.33%||16.67%||26.67%|
|Saeed bin Suroor||51||3||3||8||5.88%||11.76%||27.45%|
|H. Graham Motion||30||3||5||1||10.00%||26.67%||30.00%|
|John A. Shirreffs||25||3||1||1||12.00%||16.00%||20.00%|
|Dale L. Romans||24||3||3||0||12.50%||25.00%||25.00%|
|Richard E. Dutrow, Jr.||18||3||2||0||16.67%||27.78%||27.78%|
|David E. Hofmans||16||3||0||2||18.75%||18.75%||31.25%|
|Julio C. Canani||14||3||0||1||21.43%||21.43%||28.57%|
|Wayne M. Catalano||13||3||0||0||23.08%||23.08%||23.08%|
|Patrick B. Byrne||9||3||0||0||33.33%||33.33%||33.33%|
|Pascal F. Bary||8||3||0||1||37.50%||37.50%||50.00%|
|Jonathan E. Pease||7||3||1||0||42.86%||57.14%||57.14%|
|Nicholas P. Zito||37||2||5||5||5.41%||18.92%||32.43%|
|Kiaran P. McLaughlin||31||2||3||2||6.45%||16.13%||22.58%|
|Flint S. Schulhofer||26||2||2||4||7.69%||15.38%||30.77%|
|Charles E. Whittingham||24||2||2||3||8.33%||16.67%||29.17%|
|Wesley A. Ward||22||2||4||6||9.09%||27.27%||54.55%|
|Carl A. Nafzger||18||2||3||1||11.11%||27.78%||33.33%|
|LeRoy S. Jolley||16||2||1||0||12.50%||18.75%||18.75%|
|Michael J. Maker||16||2||0||1||12.50%||12.50%||18.75%|
|Jonathan E. Sheppard||11||2||3||1||18.18%||45.45%||54.55%|
|Joseph F. Orseno||10||2||0||1||20.00%||20.00%||30.00%|
|Melvin F. Stute||7||2||0||0||28.57%||28.57%||28.57%|
|Jay M. Robbins||6||2||0||0||33.33%||33.33%||33.33%|
|Edward A.L. Dunlop||6||2||1||0||33.33%||50.00%||50.00%|
|James A. Jerkens||6||2||0||1||33.33%||33.33%||50.00%|
|Michael W. Dickinson||6||2||0||0||33.33%||33.33%||33.33%|
|Alex L. Hassinger, Jr.||4||2||0||1||50.00%||50.00%||75.00%|
|W. Bret Calhoun||4||2||0||0||50.00%||50.00%||50.00%|
If you've not yet got your copy of my Breeders' Cup Compendium, containing full trends, pace, key race trial videos, form summaries, and tips, then now is the perfect time to sign up. Grab your copy here.