The Horse of the Year is set to make his first start of 2014 today, and:
“If he is going to be vulnerable, this is it because the others that are in there have been running,” [trainer Charlie] LoPresti said.
True, but he’s also a returning champion. The odds are good that he’ll win. In 2010, I found that returning champions beat the winning favorites average by a significant margin when they made their first starts of a new season.
The stats for returning champions are now updated through 2012: You can view the numbers and complete spreadsheet via Raceday 360. There are a couple of changes in this year’s version: I restricted the data to only starts made in North American races with wagering (horses who returned in non-wagering exhibition races and foreign races were excluded, as were steeplechase champions). I also broke out the numbers by division and decade this year, as well as by class, which revealed a few interesting tidbits.
One thing I left out of the R360 post, but wanted to make note of, is that all champions, not only the favored, won or finished in the money in 186 out of 228 races (or 82% of starts). Be sure to include them in your exotics.
The original data, including all champions named from 1971-2012, and not only those who returned to race, can be downloaded as an Excel file.
4/12/14 Update: And Wise Dan wins the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland. Here’s the returning Horse of the Year chart, updated:
That brings the returning HOTY record to 18 wins from 23 starts (18 wins from 22 favored), for a total payout of $49.10 on $46 bet.
Favorites won 32 percent (38-120) of races in the sample, a figure comparable to the record of racing favorites in general. The fact that BC fields are considerably larger than average may make the 32 percent strike rate higher than expected.
Favorites have had mixed success finishing in the money in the recent years. In 2012, favorites finished in the top three in five of six races on Friday, six of nine on Saturday. In 2011, three of six on Friday, four of nine on Saturday. In 2010, four of six on Friday, four of eight on Saturday.
10/26/13 Addendum: Breeders’ Cup contenders, by the numbers. “There are 121 group or graded stakes winners in the entries, including 71 winners of Group 1 or Grade 1 races.” And 74 of the 172 pre-entries won their last starts.
Preakness winners 2001-2012, where they finished in the Kentucky Derby, and their Preakness odds / Kentucky Derby winners, where they finished in the Preakness, and their Preakness odds / * = Preakness post-time favorite
About a dozen have been declared as likely starters in the Preakness Stakes, with seven plus Orb coming out of the Kentucky Derby. Looking at the last dozen runnings of the Preakness, one of that group is most likely to beat Derby winner Orb (if he can be beaten). Non-Derby starters have won the Preakness only twice since 2001, both in years of exceptional circumstance.
Kentucky Derby winners have a mixed record over the period listed above, with one DNF, six losses, and five wins. Assuming Orb is the favorite in the Preakness as he was in the Derby, the odds tilt back in his favor with the performance of Derby favorites as Preakness favorites since 2001 — three of the four in that group (Point Given, 1.80 KYD; Smarty Jones, 4.10 KYD; Street Sense, 4.90 KYD; and Big Brown, 2.40 KYD) won the second leg of the Triple Crown. Street Sense finished second to Curlin, the eventual 2007 Horse of the Year. All of which is to say, if you like Illinois Derby winner Departing for the Preakness upset — well, you have to hope Orb’s former Claiborne pasture buddy proves exceptional in more ways than one.
There was some grumbling on Twitter about 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year Invasor, with his career record of 11 wins from 12 starts, being among this year’s inductees into the Racing Hall of Fame — “No offense to Invasor, who was very good in several races,” tweeted Marcus Hersh, “but if he’s a Hall of Famer, I kind of fail to see the point of the HOF” — but this Invasor fan heartily approves that the world-traveling, world-beating Argentine-bred will be enshrined in Saratoga. Nine of his wins were in Group 1/Grade 1 races, spread across three continents. That’s exceptional.
Back in 2007, Hall of Fame voter Bill Finley wrote, “When the time comes, I will have a hard time voting for horses like Invasor …” Earlier this year, writing of his ballot, his position seemed less conflicted: “Invasor’s career was a brief one but he was the dominant horse of the middle half of the last decade.” Finley was obviously not alone in his evolution — that Invasor was a first-ballot Hall of Fame pick suggests that as careers have grown shorter, more guardians of the game’s history have begun to rethink what makes a horse plaque worthy.
When Wise Dan makes his first start of the year at Keeneland on April 12, don’t bet against him. Returning Horses of the Year are 16 for 21 since 1972:
Favored returning HOTYs are 16 for 20. With a return of $43.50 on $40 bet, that makes favored returning HOTYs just about the surest bet in racing.
(The chart above is an updated version of one that appeared in a lengthier post about betting returning champions in March 2010.)
1:15 PM Addendum: So, how might you play Wise Dan? Hello Race Fans has some tips on factoring favorites, and singling and spreading.