The beauty of the Breeders’ Cup is it rotates around the country. This makes for interesting scenarios as the best of the best in each division come together to run for big money and more. As we prepare for the 2023 edition to be run at Santa Anita we ask do the horses that normally run in the host region have an advantage.
Some may say dirt is dirt and that grass is grass. But is it really? As those who follow the sport closely are aware, track surfaces can play differently. It is usually thought that the West Coast tracks, especially Santa Anita, are more speed-favoring and the tracks east of the Mississippi are deeper in both dirt and grass areas. In reality, no matter the location, the dirt portions of any track can play differently on a daily basis based on a number of factors. With that in mind, is there a home-court advantage?
“I don’t think there is really a big home court advantage in the Breeders’ Cup”, says Bob Baffert, who is second all-time in training wins at the Cup with 18. “Every horse is good and the dirt can always be less consistent than the turf at every track. That means all these horses have been on different surfaces during the season.”
Bob Baffert has long been a staple in the California racing circuit and is considered the benchmark on the left coast. Big Race Bob has in fact been more successful on the road in these World Thoroughbred Championships. His career total of 18 wins have come in 12 different Cup events with 7 of those years in which he enjoyed trips to the champagne tent coming outside California.
“I think the most important thing about the Breeders’ Cup is having your horse fresh”, says Baffert. “Everybody wants to run in it, but sometimes getting there can be really tough. Developing a plan and trying to maintain fitness while remaining fresh can be very challenging.”
The purse money the Cup offers and the down-the-road implications are great reasons for any horseman to run. If there is one advantage to having the Breeders’ Cup in your back yard it is you don’t have the concerns of shipping.
“There is no doubt being at home means you are more willing to take a swing with a runner you may not be sure about”, says Baffert. “Health is absolutely the first priority and if that’s there putting a horse in the batter’s box is more likely if you don’t have to worry about shipping.”
For horsemen the home court may not be as big a factor for some, but what about the handicapper? The wagering aspect of the game can certainly be affected as locals are more likely to favor those they know. Will a Bob Baffert trainee likely be under the radar more at Santa Anita or Keeneland?
As the 40th running of the Breeders’ Cup plays out we can look at results and then decide the answer to our question.