By J. Keeler Johnson
As handicappers and bettors, we all like to play against favorites and look for longshots when possible. But wagering value can take on many forms, and there are occasions when even a short-priced favorite can be a great bet.
The history of the Breeders’ Cup is filled with tales of longshot winners, but it’s also stacked with stories of favorites who dominated and somehow paid more than they should have.
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Need examples? Here are 10 Breeders’ Cup winners who made short prices look generous with their powerful triumphs:
Life’s Magic – 1985 Breeders’ Cup Distaff ($2.80)
Life’s Magic was a four-time Grade 1 winner and runner-up in the 1984 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. For her second attempt at the championship, she was joined by her D. Wayne Lukas-trained stablemates Lady’s Secret (riding an eight-race win streak featuring three Grade 1 wins) and Alabama Nana (also a graded stakes winner). The three fillies were coupled in the wagering while facing just four rivals, and when Life’s Magic won easily over Lady’s Secret, the entry somehow returned $2.80 for every $2 bet. Doesn’t a 40% profit seem generous?
Open Mind – 1988 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies ($3.40)
Lukas was back in action for the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, saddling five of the dozen runners. Each filly in his extraordinary brigade had won or placed at the graded stakes level, so it was hardly surprising to see Open Mind lead a 1-2-3 trifecta sweep for Lukas. The only surprising part was the payoff—a relatively hefty $3.40.
Meadow Star – 1990 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies ($2.40)
She was undefeated in six starts, with five graded stakes triumphs to her credit. She hadn’t been seriously challenged and entered the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies off a 14-length romp in the Frizette Stakes (G1). Her easy five-length triumph in the championship established Meadow Star as a division superstar, and while her $2.40 payoff ranks as the shortest in Breeders’ Cup history, even shorter would have been acceptable.
Cigar – 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic ($3.40)
For a horse in the midst of an undefeated campaign, Cigar certainly wasn’t overestimated in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Bettors allowed the sensational eight-time Grade 1 winner to start at 0.70-1, leading to a generous $3.40 payoff when the horse described by track announcer Tom Durkin as “unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable” cruised home 2 ½ lengths in front.
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Favorite Trick – 1997 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile ($4.40)
Juveniles don’t win Horse of the Year very often, but Favorite Trick proved to be a rare exception after completing an undefeated eight-for-eight season with a decisive 5 ½-length romp in the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. How in the world a four-time graded stakes winner with Horse of the Year credentials managed to pay $4.40 in the Juvenile is one of the great mysteries of racing.
Azeri – 2002 Breeders’ Cup Distaff ($5.60)
How did the once-beaten filly Azeri return $5.60 when she led from gate to wire to win the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Distaff by five lengths? Maybe bettors doubted her ability to travel since she was racing outside of California for only the second time in 11 starts. Maybe they preferred her eastern rivals. In any case, the payoff generated by Azeri in her seventh consecutive graded stakes triumph was a gift for bettors who embraced her obvious ability.
Zenyatta – 2008 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic ($3.00)
The undefeated Zenyatta was an overwhelming favorite to win the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, and she lived up to expectations while effortlessly sweeping past her rivals to win by 1 ½ lengths with a $3.00 payoff. She would have been an even shorter price if bettors could have foretold the future and predicted her historic victory against males in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Secret Circle – 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint ($2.80)
The inaugural running of the short-lived Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint ironically produced two future winners of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, including Secret Circle. After dominating his first two starts in California by a combined 12 ½ lengths, the Bob Baffert-trained speedster ran his rivals off their feet in the 2011 Juvenile Sprint and held on to win by a length. Considering how he towered of the field on paper, a payoff of $2.10 or $2.20 would have been understandable. Instead, he returned $2.80.
American Pharoah – Breeders’ Cup Classic ($3.40)
There wasn’t much drama involved with American Pharoah’s victory in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. The acclaimed Triple Crown winner loomed as the lone speed horse on paper and promptly capitalized on his advantage by waltzing to an uncontested 6 ½-length victory. How often can you nab a 70% profit betting an athlete with rare talent and an obvious tactical edge? Not very often, which is why American Pharoah’s $3.40 payoff — though tied for the shortest in Classic history — represented genuine wagering value.
Newspaperofrecord – 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf ($3.20)
Once in a while, a horse comes along who appears so dominant you’d be willing to bet them at virtually any price. Such was the case with Newspaperofrecord. Undefeated with two blowout victories under her belt, the speedy filly would have had to fall over to lose the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Suffice to say, she did not, and when she crossed the wire 6 ¾ lengths in front, she returned $3.20.
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