Monday, October 29, 2012

Skepticism Warranted for Rodeo Drive Runners in Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf

(written by a friend of the blog, Jordan Miller)

The Rodeo Drive Stakes (previously known as the Yellow Ribbon) has traditionally been viewed as one of the key preps for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. With this year's Breeders' Cup being run at Santa Anita, extra attention will likely be afforded to those runners exiting the Rodeo Drive, given they will own a prep race over the Santa Anita turf course. Of the turf females pre-entered in the BC Filly & Mare Turf, three made their final prep in the Rodeo Drive, Marketing Mix, Nereid, and Stormy Lucy. Marketing Mix figures to garner the majority of buzz from among this trio given her sharp score in the Rodeo Drive and her prior excellent form back East and in Canada. However, an analysis of the previous 13 runnings of the BC Filly & Mare Turf suggests one should approach wagering on Marketing Mix or any of the other Rodeo Drive runners in the BC Filly & Mare Turf with caution.

Skepticism towards the chances of the Rodeo Drive graduates in the BC Filly & Mare Turf is warranted given the anemic performance of other past runners in the 13 previous editions of the BC Filly & Mare Turf. The statistics regarding the ineptitude of Rodeo Drive runners in the BC Filly & Mare Turf is nothing short of staggering. In the 13 previous runnings of the BC Filly & Mare Turf, 24 horses have ran their final prep in the Rodeo Drive. These 24 runners have combined for only one total placing, a 2nd by Banks Hill in the 02' edition at Arlington Park. (The total placings would have been two, but Wait a While, the 08' Rodeo Drive winner, was later disqualified from 3rd and placed last due to a medication violation. A positive that superfecta players should note is that 6 times, a Rodeo Drive runner has finished 4th in the Filly & Mare Turf. What makes the fact that only one Rodeo Drive runner has ever placed in a BC Filly & Mare Turf so significant is that many of these runners were sent off at low odds in the Breeders' Cup. Of the 24 Rodeo Drive runners to have competed in the BC Filly & Mare Turf, half of them went off at 7.50: 1 or lower. More profound, 10 of the 24 were sent off at odds of 5:1 or lower.

That only one Rodeo Drive runner has ever placed in a BC Filly Mare Turf stands in stark contrast to the performance of runners exiting the major East Coast preps, the Flower Bowl and First Lady( run as the Winstar Galaxy from 2000-2005), or those shipping from Europe. The Flower Bowl runners have a 4-4-4-6 record (Win-Place-Show-4th) in the race. The First Lady runners have a 3-2-1-1 record. European shippers have a 5-4-7 record in the 13 runnings of the BC Filly & Mare Turf.

One would expect that the Rodeo Drive runners to have performed better in those Breeders' Cups run over the Santa Anita turf (03', 08', 09'), but this hasn't been the case. Although running right back over the course they just ran over, the 1-2 finishers in the 03' Rodeo Drive could only muster 8th & 11th place efforts in that year's Filly & Mare Turf. Vacare, the 08’ Rodeo Drive runner-up, checked in 4th in the Filly & Mare Turf. (This excludes the previously mentioned DQ of Wait a While) The 1-2 finishers of the ‘09 Rodeo Drive returned to the scene for moderate 4th and 5th place finishes in the Filly & Mare Turf. So much for the theory of needing a prep over the Santa Anita turf course.

All this information begs the question be asked: “Why has the Rodeo Drive been such a poor prep for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf?” My hypothesis is that the race has been such a poor prep because its inability to draw relatively strong fields. Typically, Rodeo Drive fields are shallow, with at best only a couple truly elite turf distaffers. Structural aspects of the Rodeo Drive like timing in comparison to the BC, course layout or distance (like when the Jockey Club Gold Cup was run at 12 furlongs and produced beaten low priced BC Classic horses such as Slew o' Gold, Vanlandingham, Turkoman, and Easy Goer) have much less to do to account for the poor prep record.

As to why the fields for the Rodeo Drive have been so poor, the main reason is that the local colony of Cali turf distaffers from which these fields have been drawn from the last 13 years have been shallow. The Cali female turf colony has been significantly affected by a general decline in California racing; More specifically, the death, retirement, or decline in top stock of top turf trainers such as Charlie Whittingham, Bobby Frankel, Ron MacAnally, (and to a lesser extent) Richard Mandella and Neil Drysdale. It is significant that the only two horses to ever cross the wire among the top 3 in the BC Filly & Mare Turf from the Rodeo Drive [Banks Hill and Wait a While(before being dq’d)], had shipped in for the Rodeo Drive.

The effect of the weak local female turf colony on the quality of Rodeo Drive fields has compounded by the one structural aspect of the Rodeo Drive that has contributed to weaker fields, purse structure. In comparison to other preps, the race has been losing ground. (Chart below)

The affect of this purse deficit has been a talent drain away from the Rodeo Drive. The already weak pool of local Cali turf females from which the Rodeo Drive primarily draws has not been significantly bolstered by shippers. Instead, what has happened with the Flower Bowl and First Lady offering either equivalent money or more is that some of the few truly elite Cali turf females have bypassed the Rodeo Drive and shipped out for their final BC prep. The two Cali based runners to have won the BC Filly & Mare Turf, Starine (02’) and Intercontinental (05’), prepped in the Flower Bowl and First Lady respectively, while the Cali-based 00’ Filly & Mare runner-up, Tout Charmant, prepped in the First Lady. Furthermore, the Rodeo Drive has been badly outperformed by the Flower Bowl in attracting European stars seeking a North American prep for the Breeders' Cup. With a purse of just $250k and a shallow pool of local turf females, one should expect the Rodeo Drive to continue to have only a marginal impact on the BC Filly & Mare Turf.

The conclusion is simple: Horses that come out of the Rodeo Drive are consistently bet in the BC Filly & Mare Turf, and they consistently have underperformed. The record of Rodeo Drive horses in the Breeders' Cup is nothing short of a disaster. Thus, while Marketing Mix is a deserving top three choice based on traditional handicapping variables, and she certainly looked like a leading contender in winning the Rodeo Drive, at the very least the record of Rodeo Drive runners in past Breeders' Cups should give one pause before placing a wager on her this Friday. However, the past does not imprison the present, and the poor record of the Rodeo Drive as a Breeders' Cup prep does not preclude the possibility that Marketing Mix, Nereid, or Stormy Lucy will run well in the Breeders' Cup. Yet, neither do I think the statistics presented here to be irrelevant or some insignificant anomalies. Ultimately, it is up to the reader to determine how much weight they will attach to these stats.