As much as the Breeders’ Cup tugs like a magnet, it is still two weeks away. And frankly, there are big races before that on the front burner. They are happening on opposite sides of the world over a nine-hour period that will end before lunchtime Saturday.
The problem is in the language – specifically in translating the form guides from England and Australia into something that we spoiled bettors in America may understand.
Compare what we get here in the Daily Racing Form, Brisnet and even track programs with the flimsy narratives on offer almost anywhere else around the world. There is no question that America is the super power when it comes to past performances.
But that does not mean that bettors here should wring their hands in frustration trying to get a read on Saturday’s British Champions Day at Ascot, the $9.5 million Everest in Sydney or the Caulfield Cup in Melbourne.
Having traveled every year since 2008 to cover races in Europe after living in Australia from 2004 to 2007, I have learned how to speak fluent Racing Post and Racenet. It does not necessarily guarantee winning tickets. But at least I am able to arm myself with a range of expectations on the horses. That especially means reading pace and ground preference, two of the most important factors in any turf race.
So why not something of a primer now to explain why I like Coronet in the British Champion and Ten Sovereigns in The Everest?
One of the first things to know about any overseas race is the weather and how firm or soft the turf will be. I will presume that everyone has a favorite website or app to find forecasts for anywhere on earth. Then go to RacingPost.com or Racenet.com.au. Find the particular race of interest, and look at the top of the page. It will show the expectation for the ground that day. For instance, on the Racing Post site under “Cards” for Saturday at Ascot, where it has been raining all week, for most races it says “heavy.” That is as slow as it gets.
The next step then when looking at the entries is to click on the name of each horse and look at his or her past races. For that Ascot card, I want to see which ones have done well on soft, very soft and heavy ground. Coronet, for example, on Aug. 18 raced in a Group 1 race of “1m2f” (1¼ miles) on “Hy” (heavy) ground and finished “1/8” (first in a field of eight). That is a good sign.
Digging deeper, I click the date “18Aug19.” Up pops that Group 1 race, which was in France. I click “Comments,” and that is where the world opens up in the form of trip notes. “Always close up on inner, quickened to lead 1½f out, edged left from 1f out, stayed on final furlong, always holding runner-up.” In our forms that might read something like “3 3 1 2 2.”
Look below that to see comments on other horses like “held up in final pair” and “settled towards rear.” That means they are closers. Or if the first word is “led,” that is a telltale sign of a speed horse that also might be described as having “made all” (led from gate to wire).
Go back to the list of entries. To the right are columns that say “TS” (top speed) and “RPR” (Racing Post rating). Those are speed figures that may be used much the same way as Beyers.
From there it is just a matter of navigating from horse to horse, a process that is admittedly clunky. But with practice it gets less time consuming.
Racenet.com.au in Australia is more straightforward in comparing horses’ past performances since they are all on one page per race. One very expandable page. Print it out, and entire forests appear to be sucked out of the earth.
Click “Fields and Form” to find a race in question like The Everest on Saturday at Randwick. For each horse, click the plus sign to the right to open the stat drawer, which gets very specific about performance records on different types of ground over various distances and classes, even “1st up” and “2nd up” (first and second races after long breaks).
More important, though, is the scroll down to “Previous Runs.” In the case of, say, two-time defending winner Redzel, the trip notes of his last race in which he finished third of five say, “Blundered start. Led sett fence (led settling along the fence). Leader straightening (into the stretch). Kicked 350m. Run down latter stages.” That is roughly the equivalent of a PP line of “5 3 1 1 3.” in our form.
As for my choice Ten Sovereigns? Unfortunately there are no trip notes since he has not yet raced in Australia. In his case, I had to scramble back to Racing Post. Yes, this takes some work.
Oh, there is also that most un-American of racing distinctions. The post positions and program numbers do not match in England and Australia. Saddle cloth numbers are instead based on weight, age and gender. The gate assignment is shown in parentheses near the program number.
Those are the basics that I have put into use over the last decade and change, and with each passing year I feel more confident – even if I do not get any more rich.
There is no substitute for familiarity with racing colonies; that is no different over there or down under than it is here. The same goes for time spent handicapping.
I remember on my first trip to France for the 2008 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, I ran into Dave Johnson. Yes, that Dave Johnson, the announcer emeritus who has made the trip to the Arc for probably half his life. He asked me who I liked in some undercard race, and I said, “I’m just focused on the Arc.”
He shot me a look that combined disappointment with scolding and said, “You can make some good money here on all these races if you take the time to study.”
In that case, class is never dismissed.
With that, here are my thoughts and picks for the five championship races on the British Champions card at Ascot, where the ground will be somewhere between soft and heavy.
$750,791 Group 1 Champion Sprint
6 furlongs – Saturday 8:35 a.m. EDT
Three-time Group 1 winner Advertise (4-1) is the class of the field, but can he win on a bottomless course? That being in doubt, my money will be on Hello Youmzain (11-2), winner of the Group 1 Sprint Cup on a soft Haydock course last month. The 5-year-old mare One Master (11-2) is getting late money thanks to her win in the Group 1 Forêt on a very soft course at ParisLongchamp, but that was only two weeks ago. That is a quick turnaround from a testing race.
$579,384 Group 2 Long Distance Cup
1 15/16 miles – Saturday 9:10 a.m. EDT
Stradivarius (1-2) has won 10 in a row for trainer John Gosden and jockey Frankie Dettori, including this race last year and this spring’s Ascot Gold Cup over 2½ miles. Mekong (25-1) is worth a look underneath thanks to a seven-length handicap win last year at Haydock on heavy turf. By the way, because of all the rain lately and the wear and tear on Ascot’s primary turf track, the Long Distance Cup, the Fillies & Mares and the Champion Stakes will be run on the inner course normally used for steeplechases, shaving about 100 yards off each race and providing turf that may be new enough to merit a rating of soft.
$708,136 G1 Fillies & Mares
1 7/16 miles – Saturday 9:45 a.m. EDT
Gosden and Dettori also team on this race’s favorite – Star Catcher (13-8) – winner of a taxing Prix Vermeille two weeks ago in Paris. Stable mate Anapurna (4-1) and Tarnawa (13-2) also have shown the ability to win on sodden ground. For value’s sake I am turning to Fleeting (7-1), the Coolmore 3-year-old that finished a competitive second in the Opéra at ParisLongchamp.
$1,416,272 G1 Queen Elizabeth II
Straight mile – Saturday 10:20 a.m. EDT
Winner of six in a row including the Wildenstein two weeks ago in France, The Revenant (5-2) looks too good for the rest of this field. Curiously, trainer Francis Graffard is adding a hood, perhaps trying to avoid a repeat of the distracted albeit victorious effort in Paris. Late money has come in on Century Dream (14-1), third in this race last year. He could pay a nice price just hitting the board.
$1,749,417 G1 British Champion
1¼ miles – Saturday 11 a.m. EDT
In a less than stellar field, Magical (7-4) won’t have her rival Enable to deal with as she tries to go one better than her win in last year’s Filly & Mare. The mid-pack running Coronet (7-2) is my choice since she could pick up the pieces if the early pace is too quick. My swing for the fences – or for the cricket ropes – is underneath with Pondus (22-1), the longest shot on the board that has finished second in his last two starts on heavy or soft turf.
For those who will be up very late in the west or overnight in the east, here are my opinions on Australia’s two big races Saturday – or late Friday – or whatever.
$9,549,400 The Everest – Randwick
6 furlongs – Saturday 1:15 a.m. EDT
While course horse Santa Ana Lane (7-2) and glorified miler Arcadian Queen (7-2) are the co-favorites with California names, this has turned into the No Respect Special. The 7-year-old Redzel (10-1) won the first two runnings of this race in 2017 and 2018. Ten Sovereigns (25-1) shipped in from Ireland for Aidan O’Brien, and his jockey Ryan Moore is skipping Ascot in hopes of taking 10 percent of the $4.7 million winner’s purse with him out of Australia. With no rain in the Sydney forecast, the ground should be good, which is to Ten Sovereigns’s liking. One could do worse than betting an each-way ticket on him and Redzel.
$3,412,825 Group 1 Caulfield Cup
1½ miles – Saturday 2:15 a.m. EDT
On what is expected to be a wet Melbourne day with a soft track, the Juddmonte 6-year-old gelding Finche (6-1) is the favorite. He is coming off last year’s fourth-place finish in the Melbourne Cup and a second-place effort two weeks ago in the Turnbull Stakes prep at nearby Flemington. But that was on better ground. My lean is to Vow And Declare (8-1), a 4-year-old closer that should like the added distance, and The Chosen One (16-1), a Group 2 winner on this course and at this distance that will be carrying much less weight.
Racing notes and opinions
Instead of becoming a broodmare next spring, Enable is coming back to race in 2020, a burst of good news for racing fans that was announced Wednesday by Juddmonte Farms racing manager Lord Teddy Grimthorpe. “She has come out of (her second-place finish in) the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in good form and will not race again this year,” the Juddmonte website said. “Her racing program will be determined entirely on her well-being, so no racing plans will be announced at this stage. The (Arc) remains an important target.” Enable will again next fall try to become the first horse to win three Arcs.
Rejecting the Classic and the Sprint, owner Rick Porter decided to put Arkansas Derby winner Omaha Beach into the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. “We put our heads together, and that’s the decision,” trainer Rick Mandella said Thursday. This makes total sense. Omaha Beach’s win in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship was always meant to be little more than a paid workout, and the fact that he has never raced more than nine furlongs made the 1¼-mile Classic a competitive risk. Now this sets up a terrific showdown between Omaha Beach, Catalina Cruiser, Mitole and Improbable. In futures betting off shore and overseas, Catalina Cruiser is best priced at 7-2; Omaha Beach 4-1, Mitole 5-1 and Improbable 9-1.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. It appears more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Racing Post’s Lee Mottershead handicaps the five big races on Saturday’s British Champions card, and he discusses this weekend’s Australian features – the $9.5 million Everest and the Group 1 Caulfield Cup. Longtime sports writer Rob Miech talks about his new book Sports Betting for Winners. There is also Twitter feedback about the upcoming Breeders’ Cup. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google and Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts.