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 by three-quarters of a length over Kaigun. 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.
Winners win: 48% of Breeders’ Cup winners in the past 10 years won their final prep race, according to Jon White’s research, and 86% finished in the money. Of course, most Breeders’ Cup starters are coming off strong performances — in 2012, 28 of 59 runners on BC Friday won their last race (43 were in the money), and 41 of 103 on Saturday did (75 were ITM). In 2011, 29 of 69 runners on BC Friday won their previous starts (55 were ITM), and 40 of 104 on Saturday were winners (80 were ITM).
New York wins? Heading into last year’s Breeders’ Cup, starters coming off a prep race in New York didn’t have a great record in Arcadia. In the five previous Breeders’ Cup runnings at Santa Anita, 17 New York-prepped horses finished in the money, and only one won. In 2012, though, horses who prepped in New York won two races on BC Friday, and four races on Saturday. Another four finished second or third on Friday, while five did the same on Saturday, out of a total of 11 New York starters on Friday and 25 on Saturday. The Classic was a particularly New York affair — the top four finishers all last raced in the Jockey Club Gold Cup or the Woodward.
Stats and charts for every Breeders’ Cup are available here.
Everyone knows that trainer Todd Pletcher is dominant is Saratoga juvenile races, but he’s profitable, too, in certain scenarios: His five-year win stat for first-time starters in dirt sprint maiden special weights is 32%, with an ROI of $2.57. In the same conditions, restricted to state-breds, he’s 46%, with an ROI of $3.25. “Perhaps the time to take down a Pletcher juvenile firster is in maiden special weight turf routes,” writes Dan Illman, who pulled the preceding numbers from DRF Formulator. Good luck getting a big price in any circumstance, though: The longest juvenile shot Pletcher has won at Saratoga with in the past five years is Interactif, in the 2009 With Anticipation. He was 16-1 at post time. The only other Pletcher winner with double-digit odds was Lawn Man, in a 2012 six-furlong MSW. He was 10-1 going into the gate.
Courtesy Churchill Downs: Kentucky Derby trainer records 1898-2012 (PDF).
Among the stats included in the file linked above are most starts and most wins by trainer. Considering just currently active trainers, both lists are topped by D. Wayne Lukas, who’s had 45 starters and four wins in 31 years. Bob Baffert is second in wins, with three from 23 starters in 16 years. Those two are also the leaders with Derby starters finishing in the money — 35% of Baffert starters have hit the board, 22% of Lukas’ starters. Todd Pletcher is second to Lukas in total number of starters, with 31 in 12 years, but fourth, with 13%, when it comes to finishing in the money.
Pletcher will likely be first when it comes to number of starters in the 2013 — he has six possible contenders among the top 24 on the latest Derby points list (PDF). Baffert has three Derby points leaders, Lukas two.